Exclusive: Mel and Mike White talk about 'The Amazing Race'
By John Bracchitta, 03/30/2009
In a season of The Amazing Race where bad cab drivers seem to be the reason behind almost every elimination so far, at least Mike and Mel White's story gets some points for originality.
After recovering from an initial mistake that led Mike, a 28-year-old writer, producer and actor from Santa Monica, CA, and his father Mel, a 68-year-old writer/clergyman from Lynchberg, VA, way off course because of bad directions, the father and son team were ultimately finished off in Thailand by their cabbie's learning of the locations of each of the Race leg's remaining clues, and then mistakenly traveling to them out of order during Sunday night's broadcast of The Amazing Race on CBS.
On Monday, Mike and Mel spoke to Reality TV World about how their unique cab situation unfolded, why they were the only team to misread their clue and not travel directly to the Phuket Zoo, and what Luke Adams told Mike on the plane ride to Thailand that still has him confused to this day.
Reality TV World: You guys had two things that seemed to cost you time in that leg last night. The first was having a hard time finding a cab when you first got to Phuket and the second was having a hard time finding someone that knew the monkey statue was at the zoo. Which one do you think was more responsible for your elimination? Which one did you lose more time on?
Mike: Well it was definitely the moment where, well, I mean we were behind and it took us a while to get that cab, but we actually caught up with all the teams at the Tang beach. Our cab driver at that moment said he knew where the gorilla was, like he was on the phone or something and he was like "I know where it is!"
And we saw the teams and we saw them going this other way, but they seemed confused and they were so frantic and psychotic that it was like... I don't know. In a moment's decision we were like "Well this guy lives here, he probably knows what he's talking about" and it just seemed getting out and running around with those crazy people didn't seem like it was going to be that [productive] (Laughs.)
Mel: We also talked to people in the Bangkok airport to find out where this was. Everyone we talked to said it was at the Tang beach, so that reinforced our bad information.
Reality TV World: Just going back to the airport, what led to you both having so much trouble finding a cab in Phuket? Were they just not around?
Mike: Well we were always the last to get a cab because everyone would race off the plane and my dad had an injury, but usually we were able to make up time. And actually we did make up the time, but this time there were literally just five cabs out in front of this airport.
It was a smaller airport and everyone just got their cab. And one of the rules is that you can't take any other kind of car service than a cab, so there were all these people who were willing to drive us, and there were all these limo drivers and whatever but we had to wait for a cab. So we lost time there for sure.
And then when we got the cab driver he was just kind of completely out of it.
Reality TV World: You kind of addressed this a minute ago, but on the show last night there was a point when you were at the beach area when someone said the statue was at the zoo, but for whatever reason you didn't listen to him. Was that because of all the people who were telling you otherwise?
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Mike: At first there was speculation that the gorilla was at the zoo just when we saw the picture, it was like "Oh, this is the zoo," but for some reason it was one of those "It's so obvious it can't be that" kind of situations.
Like my dad said, when we ran around at the airport they all said it's at the Tang beach and it's not at the zoo. And so then when they were saying it was at the zoo you feel like you're showing a picture and they're like "Oh, it must be at the zoo." It's not like they said "Oh yeah, I know that's at the zoo" until that one guy they showed who was like "No, that's definitely at the zoo." Then we just kinda said "Okay, we gotta go to the zoo."
Reality TV World: How long did it take before you found that guy?
Mike: Not as long as it showed on the [episode]. It made it seem like they were halfway through that next challenge while we were still going "I don't know, what do we do?" That was just a weird editing thing I think.
I mean we were lost. But we lost more time with the cab driver way after that because after we completed that stuff with the tiger and the elephant, [the cabbie] kept driving us to the places that were on [The Amazing Race], but like not in order of when we were supposed to go. He would take us to the boats and then he would take us to the finish line because he was calling his dispatch and finding out where other cabs were going. So he would take us to places that we were ultimately supposed to go to but not in the order we were supposed to go there, so it was just confusing.
We kept showing up at different parts along the race and we were like "We need to go here eventually but we don't need to go here now!" (Laughs).
Mel: We pulled up to the rickshaw finish line and there was one rickshaw there for [Mark and Michael Munoz] and we almost took it and started down the race track and Michael said "This is the end of it, not the beginning!"
Reality TV World: Oh okay. So that's what you think ended up costing you more than anything?
Mel: Oh yeah definitely.
Mike: The fact that we were just a couple of minutes behind [Jennifer and LaKisha Hoffman], like, if he had just not gotten lost once along the race on the route I think we could've snuck in there, but it wasn't meant to be.
Reality TV World: And actually with the "100 barrels" Detour, how long did that take you? Did you gain ground on Jen and Kisha?
Mel: Well yeah. To see that they finished not that far in front of us was kind of hopeful but it didn't work. We gained ground, we worked fast on that boat.
Reality TV World: About how far behind Jen and Kisha did you arrive at the Pit Stop?
Mike: They said like five minutes. I mean Mark and Mike obviously got there ahead of everyone else because they and that long penalty and they still survived it.
But besides that penalty I think all of the teams ended up very close in the same amount of time because usually they whisk all of the teams away for when you arrive at the mat because they don't want you to see who's arrived and where you are in the placement order. But we got there so close to everyone else that all the teams were there. So we knew we were last, but we must've gotten in there close.
Mike: She was in the ambulance. The ambulance was still there.
Reality TV World: Kind of going off of Margie and [ her son Luke], you both seemed to be one of the first teams to notice that they were a force to be reckoned with and would not really be hindered by Luke being deaf. Do you think some of the other teams had initially written them off an not seen them as one of the bigger threats in the game?
Mike: Well they won the first leg, so it was clear that they were competitive. I don't think we realized how willing they were to do anything to win until a few legs into the race.
Mel: Yeah, the deaf boy said to Mike "That gorilla is signing with his two hands."
Mike: Yeah, that's something that never showed up on the race, which I wish had. I mean he told me while were flying to Phuket that the gorilla was actually signing something, and that the placement of his hands could show the location... like the location was in sign language of what the gorilla was doing with his hands.
I don't know why he told me this because it was totally not true! I ended up staying up the entire night on the train trying to get it out of him and going around to different people on the plane and people who knew sign language. It was the weirdest thing. And then at the end of it when we lost I was like "Why did he do that? That's so weird..."
Reality TV World: Who did you consider to be the biggest threat in the game while you were there? Mel: Luck plays such an important part, and by the time we met everybody they all had gifts and skills and energy, so I didn't feel like anybody had an advantage. Did you Mike?
Mike: Um, well I felt like Luke and Margie were a strong team, and [Tammy and Victor Jih] were. The teams that continued to place in the front were obviously Tammy and Victor and Margie and Luke, and I felt that on any given day we could've beat -- and we won and came in second a couple of times. I felt like we were strong competitors and could beat any of the teams on any given day.
But at the same time those were the teams who just kept going on. And they were also a source of information. It seemed like Tammy and Victor and Margie and Luke were always people who had more information than other teams, and a lot of times that information was wrong (Laughs)
A lot of times the information was [like with] the gorilla. you realize maybe I shouldn't have [listened].
It's funny watching the show now because we thought at the time that Margie and Luke were working with us. Only in retrospect do we realize they were kind of working against us.
Reality TV World: It seemed like, even during last night's leg when things were looking down for you guys, that you both were having fun out there and trying to not get too stressed. Was that a strategy of both of yours going [into the Race]?
Mel: Well Michael told me right from the start "Don't get aggro dad." (Laughs) And I think that his reminding me along the way that this is only for the fun of it really helped, and so we were convinced that's why we're there. I didn't see it as a strategy. I just thought it was a goal. If it was a strategy it lost.
Reality TV World: Mike you took a little jab at [Jaime Edmondson], calling her a "mean girl." Could you talk a little about where you got that impression of her from?
Mike: (Laughs) Other than having my eyes and ears open?
She was just a stress case from the first minute, and it was stressful just to be around her. It just felt like we were all sort of irritating extras and she was the star of the show and we were kind of getting in the way of her fulfilling her destiny of winning [The Amazing Race]. (Laughs)
But that said, watching the show as an audience member I definitely enjoy that she's on the race because it makes it [fun]. I mean, if everyone has a casual, laid back attitude it's kind of a snore. You need [someone] who has that fire in the belly like Jaime does, and kind of her funny world view. It makes it entertaining.
Reality TV World: Mike you had said you felt like "a traitor" for going on a reality TV show because of your background as a scripted television writer. Could you explain why you felt that and where that tension comes from?
Mike: Well I mean, in a way a lot of our hours of television now are reality television now and it just creates less opportunities for writers because so many jobs are being lost to reality shows. In a weird way you feel like it's weird to be a part of the thing that's like cannibalizing the opportunities for your own kind.
That said, I am a huge fan of reality television, and I think that The Amazing Race is a great show.
Reality TV World: You are one of the more well-known contestants to appear on The Amazing Race in recent memory, did the other contestants recognize you at all or did you keep talk about your Hollywood background to a minimum?
Mel: Oh people talked to him, in fact it did us good. One person wanted to take a picture with him, and so after I took the picture I said "Now, can I use your iPhone?"
Mike: And the truth is that in Siberia and places like that it really wasn't a factor. I mean, at the very beginning when we were leaving LAX there were people that would recognize me, but in general it didn't really factor in.
Reality TV World: Mike you had said you were a fan of the show, but could you talk about how you ended up on The Amazing Race? Who applied originally and why? Just kind of how it all materialized.
Mike: A friend of mine just made an audition tape, just like everyone else. [Me and another partner] went to the semifinals for Season 13 and he kinda basically freaked out and was like "I can't do it," he got too nervous about going. So the idea of doing it with my dad came up and it worked out.
Reality TV World: Could you both talk about that Roadblock challenge last week where Mel you had to feed the camels? Was there any reason to initially believe that the challenge was not going to be as physical as it turned out to be?
Mel: Well I didn't read the clue well enough at the beginning...
Mike: Well the truth is all they said was "Who want's to spend time with a maharajah's camels," and so we thought that maybe he was gonna ride a camel or lead a camel somewhere. it wasn't clear that it was gonna be a lot of schlepping of heavy stuff. It just looked like he was gonna work with animals, and at the time anything that had didn't seem like it had a lot of running or gymnastics or whatever, it felt like 'well, let's get him to do that."
It was an honest mistake, it definitely was not clear what we were gonna do... And you have to choose who's gonna do it before you know exactly what it is, and then once you've chosen you can't go back and can't change your mind.
Mel: And [in the challenge just picked the first camel group that I came to, which was the farthest away from the hay and the water. So it was really a stupid choice because I hadn't read it carefully. I [also] started taking the hay from Victor's pile and [someone] had to stop me and say "That's not your pile it's Vic's!"
Reality TV World: And Mel to follow up on that, were those baskets located out of view so it was tough for some people to see them?
Mel: Right next to the hay! I mean, like 10-15 steps. You couldn't miss them it was just a whole pile of baskets and once you read the clue carefully that said "use the natural, historic ways to carry it" and there's only pitchforks and baskets, you think "God that was so stupid of me."
Reality TV World: How much time do you think you saved using the baskets as opposed to the tins.
Mel: Well, it put me from last to the head of the troupe there, so thank goodness. Victor was gone already, but the others were there and gonna be ahead of me when I found it and I was able to get ahead of the rest of them.
Reality TV World: There was also that paragliding challenge during the second leg where the bad weather threatened to knock out the challenge entirely and force you, Mel, to walk down the hill with your [groin] injury. It obviously didn't come to this point, but were you going to eventually try to make the walk down or were you gonna be up there and wait however long it took for the weather to clear up?
Mel: There was no question that I would have had to walk down after a while. We'd already given up, I thought I'd wrecked it for Mike and that we lost. So when the wind changed I had never really given careful consideration to the walking down.