Gutsy grandmas: Locals compete on CBS TV’s "Amazing Race 2"
When Claire Jinks and Peggy Kuhn were first introduced at Donner Lake four years ago, they’d probably heard little about the so-called “reality TV” phenomenon, let alone known they’d eventually become a part of it.
The two women, Kuhn, 63, a Tahoe Donner resident and Jinks, 65, a second homeowner in the area, will be one of 11 teams racing around the globe for a chance at $1 million on CBS’ “The Amazing Race 2.”
These “gutsy grandmas,” as they like to call themselves, will make history when the show premieres at 10 p.m. on March 11, as they will be among the oldest women to appear in any of the barrage of reality shows that have overwhelmed the networks over the last couple years.
“We’re just a couple of globetrotting Truckee gals,” said Jinks, a retired journalist and part-time Los Gatos resident.
Globetrotting seems an appropriate way to describe the show, which involves teams of two racing from one country to the next, completing various mental and physical tasks along the way in order to advance in the competition. Toss a limited budget, sleep depravation, travel restrictions and a competitive element into the mix and voila, you’ve created a perfect climate for the drama and excitement that is innate to television’s hot genre.
Teams who are the furthest behind are eliminated throughout the race, and the first pair to reach the final destination wins the race and $1 million.
“Of course, we wanted the money,” said Kuhn, a concierge for the Resort at Squaw Creek. “But we also did it just to see if we could actually hang in there.”
Kuhn first got the idea to apply for the show’s first season after seeing an advertisement on the Internet a little over a year ago.
“I called Claire and got her excited about it, and not too long after we shot our submission video in all of our favorite Truckee hangouts,” Kuhn said. “CBS must have loved it because they called us immediately.”
The pair then went to San Francisco for an initial round of interviews, followed by 10 days in Santa Monica for a series of “grueling” personality, intelligence and physical tests.
“We were basically in lockdown,” Kuhn said. “They let us out to see a movie once in awhile, but that was it.”
While the two were positive they’d made the cut, soon after they received word that they had not been selected because they failed to meet the “demographics” the show was looking for.
“I was just dumbfounded,” Jinks said. “We thought for sure that we’d made it.”
The two would get a second chance though, with auditions for the “The Amazing Race 2” last October, when CBS called the women to see if they were still interested.
“I think [CBS] realized they’d made a mistake by not choosing us the first time,” Kuhn said. “Even though we were mad, we still wanted to do the show, so we accepted.”
After another series of tests, shots and bureaucratic hoops, the two embarked on their adventure Jan. 1 and didn’t return until more than a month later.
Because the show has yet to premiere, CBS requested that participants refrain from discussing specifics of the show and the eventual winners.
However, there were a few things that Kuhn and Jinks could share, like the fact that they made lifelong friends with all of the other amazing racers — all of whom were at least 20 years younger.
“All of the other teams were just great,” Jinks said. “All of them had grandmothers and so they really connected with us. I knew they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us.”
Other teams included a pair of nightclub bouncers, married pastors, former roommate writers and sister hair stylists, to name a few.
Kuhn said it also helped that the other teams didn’t perceive the gutsy grandmas as much of a threat, competition wise.
“Everyone loved us,” she said.
As far as feeling that their age was a hindrance, though, Kuhn said it wasn’t really a factor.
“Of course we can’t run as fast as 25-year-olds can, but the game is really more about luck and being in the right place at the right time than stamina and physical power,” she said. “It’s about getting the cabby that speaks English or knowing when to go right instead of left.”
As for how Jinks and Kuhn’s relationship held up under pressure, Kuhn said they’re just as good friends as they were before they left.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anyone else,” Kuhn said. “Claire is really amazing, the woman knows no fear.”
Kuhn remembered a time when Jinks lost a toenail on a rough hike, but continued through the day without even mentioning it to her partner.
“That night I noticed that her toe was all bloody and I asked her how long it had been bothering her. She said all day, but never once did she complain about it to me,” Kuhn said.
That’s not to say that there weren’t times when both women wanted to give up and go home, though.
“At times, the living conditions were pretty difficult,” Kuhn said. “I think the sleep depravation was the worst thing. Sometimes, you’d have to go for three or four days without sleep. You had to get used to sleeping in airports, on beaches, in sleeping bags in the middle of the jungle with bugs biting you.”
According to Kuhn, showers were also a precious commodity, not to mention food they felt safe eating. Combine that with having cameramen in your face and a microphone attached to your body 24 hours a day, and it’s easy to see how things could get difficult.
“They never gave us enough money. We always ran out,” Kuhn said. “We went without food a lot of the time and were very careful not to eat things that we thought potentially might make us sick. We drank bottled water and ate lots of bread, carbs, potato chips and candy. Really, our diets were pretty crummy.”
Kuhn said they only had to use their age to their advantage a couple of times, though.
“This one night we were going to have to sleep on the beach because we were late arriving to a destination and there were no more rooms,” she said. “Luckily, the woman who owned the inn felt bad for us, I think because of our age, and she gave up her own bed for us. Claire gave the woman her ring.”
Other times, the grandmas had to take matters of comfort into their own hands, like sneaking into an employee shower at an airport, despite the fact that they could have been arrested.
Despite the grueling conditions, both women said they would do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance.
“I would highly recommend something like this for all of the older ladies out there,” Jinks said. “We had such a great time, it was really the experience of a lifetime. This is what you do before you slip into senility.”
Kuhn said it’s been fun to live the life of a celebrity for the time being.
“On one of our flights, we had people ask us for our autographs,” Kuhn said. “At work, too, they had a poster of the world and a sign that said, ‘Where in the world is Peggy Kuhn?'”
Kuhn said she couldn’t have done the trip without the support of her coworkers, in particular.
“Everyone was so supportive of this,” Kuhn said. “They totally picked up extra shifts while I was away. I love my job and didn’t want to have to give it up for this.”
Kuhn said she will never forget her experiences on the show.
“It’s great being able to say I’ve visited some of these places even if it was just for a moment,” Kuhn said.
The Bar of America will be showing the premiere of “The Amazing Race 2” on Monday, March 11 at 10 p.m. It will also be shown on local CBS affiliates.
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