Monday, October 27, 2008

Before the Race with... Ty and Aja

Ty White & Aja Benton
5th Team eliminated,

This past April, as The Amazing Race's eleven teams prepared for their upcoming adventure, I had the opportunity to sit with each one. As I met team after team, I was often impressed by their skills and determination. Yet only one team would ultimately bring home the $1 million prize.

This past Sunday, we saw the fifth elimination of this season (following Arthur & Anita, Anthony & Stephanie, Bill & Mark and Marisa & Brooke.) Ty White and Aja Benton are college sweethearts from the University of Michigan, who have had to go it as a long-distance couple ever since Aja moved out to LA to pursue her dreams as an actress and makeup artist while banker Ty remained in Detroit. As I sat with them this past spring -- on the day the teams got their first glimpses of each other -- I observed them snuggled close, holding hands, just happy to be in the same room again together. I asked about their relationship, and just why they thought they would win The Amazing Race.

Must Hear TV: You guys have been dating for nine months but never lived together during that time. So this will be your first chance in a while to spend a good chunk of time together. Is that a good thing?

Aja Benton: It’s a good thing.
Ty White: We’re looking forward to it. We’re very positive.

MHTV: What if you find out you’re not compatible?

TW: We’re hoping that that’s not the case, but if it is, friendship is always a possibility.

MHTV: What are your strengths as a couple and as a team?

TW: We’re determined.

MHTV: Yeah, they all say they’re all determined. Come on. What else?

TW: I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose. I’m going to stick it to the other teams in order to win.

MHTV: What does that mean? Will you go as far as sabotage?

AB: Yeah!
TW: Absolutely. I’m not going to do it outright, because I don’t want to, by sabotaging one team, make nine other teams say, “Look out for them!” It will be underhandedly, and there’ll be a time and place where one team will unfortunately discover my wrath. And hopefully they won’t take it too personally. It’s all in the spirit of the game.

MHTV: What are your other strengths? You’re younger than a lot of the people on this race. And you seem physically fit.

TW: I’ve noticed that. I think that some of the older teams, they’re going to be more methodical, more calculating and maybe not have the instinct that we might have, where the impulses just kick in.

MHTV: Or the strength. This game requires a lot of running around.

TW: Yes. And I’m hoping that pays off for us. I don’t know what they have in store for us, so maybe all of that won’t really matter. Or maybe if it does, it’ll come into effect and help us out a lot, because we’ll be able to use that to our advantage.
AB: And we’re extremely intelligent too. And we work really well together. Because we’re in a long-distance relationship, we communicate in a way that isn’t as easy. Other people see each other every day, so for us, it might be easier for us to work together, because we haven’t gotten tired of each other. Or we haven’t argued as much as the other people have.

MHTV: And you’ve probably had to do a little bit more soul-searching about the relationship to keep it going.

TW: Absolutely. We have to come up with creative ways of being together and staying together. It’s easy when you see someone every day to take them for granted. And us being far apart, we have to come up with all different kinds of ways. Sleeping on the phone together, trying to get closer. Talking. She calls me all the time at work, and text messages. You wouldn’t want to see the amount of text messages we send.

MHTV: Have you traveled abroad together?

AB: We haven’t done much of that. We went to Vegas together once.

MHTV: That doesn’t count, drunken revelry. I mean hard stuff.

TW: Nothing difficult.

MHTV: Have you traveled individually a lot? What did you learn in other countries to apply here?

TW: She has, but I wouldn’t count where I’ve been – Canada and Puerto Rico.
AB: I studied abroad in Ghana for 5 months. And I know how to adapt and assimilate to a certain extent, and submerge yourself in a culture. Especially when you’re trying to accomplish tasks, you have to be careful not to offend people and not to insult their culture.
TW: I’m sure that’s going to play a role.

MHTV: Of the teams I’ve met so far, you’re the only African-Americans. Will that be an advantage or disadvantage?

AB: We’re the only people of color. I was surprised.
TW: I would say I was very surprised, but I like to put a positive spin on it. I’m a glass half full guy. I look at things and I try to figure out how that might play to our advantage, as opposed to disadvantage. And I see us being in other countries where they won’t automatically just assume that we’re American. I’m sure there is some country where we, just the way we carry ourselves, will be obvious.

MHTV: Well, you’ll be carrying around giant backpacks, and followed by a cameraman, so I think they’ll figure it out…

TW: Exactly. But I like to think that it’ll help us out. Especially I like to think somewhere in the African countries. That’ll definitely help us out and play to our advantage. It might be a disadvantage in other countries. I’m looking forward to being everywhere and I think that I’m looking at it and thinking our race may help us.

MHTV: How do your families back in Michigan feel about this?

AB: They’re excited.
TW: Mom is thrilled, my sister is thrilled, and Dad isn’t so excited.
AB: He’s a real skeptic.

MHTV: Well you’re leaving a good job to go do this, in banking.

TW: Yes, and he’s conventional. He does everything by the book, and he’s always been like, “This is my life, this is what I’m going to do.” They’ve always known me to be the one who’s eventually going to take some risk and do something crazy. This just happened to come up, and he’s like, “Rather than working, you’d like to chase this?” But I say, work will be there. I’m coming back. Maybe, hopefully, in a more advanced role. You’ve got to chase some dreams, and you’ve got to do some things to try to leave a mark somewhere.

MHTV: How did you get time out of your lives to do this?

TW: By coming up with a crazy story for work for why I had to leave. I had to tell them – it was the most ridiculous story. I was like, Mom’s sick, and I have to go help.

MHTV: What a horrible, superstitious lie to have to tell!

TW: I just had to come up with the most ridiculous thing I could tell them. And luckily my boss’ boss likes me, and so he was like take care of what you have to take care of, and just come back when you’re ready.

MHTV: So when he tunes in, will he be pissed?

TW: He’ll probably be a little peeved, but I’m going to tell him in a fashion, probably a couple of weeks before we’re on the air. When they tell us we can tell, I’m going to tell him.

MHTV: What was your audition video like?

AB: I was on the beach. It was really silly. I was talking about how I was going to swim to him if they didn’t put us on the show. How I was just going to get over there to him. And how we really needed to do [the show] so that we could spend time together.
TW: I think that’s what actually gave us a leg up on everyone else. I don’t know the dynamics of anyone else’s relationship, but I believe that us being in a long-distance relationship, I think them wanting to see us together and how we interact. I’m sure they want to see if we argue. But I’m excited about it. This whole experience has already been great and wonderful, and I wouldn’t want to spend it with anyone else.

Season 13
Sundays at 8 PM Eastern

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