Interview: Can These Two Flight Attendants Win “The Amazing Race?”

Given how much time on The Amazing Race is either spent on airplanes, waiting for airplanes, racing to airplanes or making airplane reservations, it’s tempting to think that any contestant with a little extra knowledge about air travel might have an advantage. That theory will be put to test Sunday night as Season 19 (you read that right) of The Amazing Race kicks off on CBS.

Flight attendants Ron Zeitz and Bill Smith will be the racers with the extra airplane knowledge, having 35 years of flying experience between them while working for American Airlines. Zeitz, 43, and Smith. 48, are also partners of nearly thirteen years. And ten of those years have been spent watching every season of The Amazing Race, usually thinking they could run the race as well as any of the actual competitors. caught up with the couple to discuss how their expectations of the Race were challenged by reality, whether or not their work as flight attendants did give them an advantage, and whether this season gets the racers in their underwear. We also find out how who flirted with whom when they first met on that flight thirteen years ago.

AfterElton: Before we get started, I have to tell you I was a flight attendant myself once upon a time.
Bill Smith: When we met Michael, Ron wasn’t a flight attendant he was a passenger so he started flying after we’ve been together a little over a year.
Ron Zeitz: There was something special in the air.
BS: Babe! Anyways, go on Michael.

AE: Now I have to ask, who flirted with whom on the plane? [laughs]
RZ: I flirted with Bill.
BS: Wait a minute.
RZ: Don’t lie. We’re recording. [laughs]
BS: Michael, this is how it went down. I was working the flight…
RZ: Literally.
BS: Babe! Don’t say literally, that was not nice.
RZ: [laughs]
BS: And I was offering breakfast baskets, because we were still offering breakfast baskets back then, and I offered Ron and his friend some extra juice. He says I was plying him with my wares.
RZ: Yes.
BS: I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but the reality is I offer extra juice to everyone. But I will tell you when he walked on the plane, I was kind of like, “Wow!” So we started chatting because it was a very late flight and I thought what a nice couple [of friends]. … I kind of had a little eye for Ron, and at the end of the flight he asked for my number. He called me two days later, left me a message, I called him back and we spoke for an hour, and I truly mean, the chemistry was there instantly. We’ve been together ever since and that was July 13th of ’98.
RZ: 1998. Thirteen years.

AE: That’s really sweet. From watching your view interview and reading a little bit, I know you guys have been watching the show from the beginning, and thought you knew what to expect. So I’m curious, what most surprised you about the experience?
RZ: I think for me, you know, you watch the show each week as a viewer and everything is kind of told to you as what to expect, what the teams are going to be expected to do and what the outcome of each of the tasks is going to be. We would always watch and say, “How could they not be getting this? I can’t believe they are not getting this.”

But when you combine … when you’re actually on the Race, you combine the adrenaline going on, the stress, and other factors that are going on around you…

BS: And the fact that you haven’t got any briefing from Phil, like the viewer at home has.
RZ: You soon realize how these things play out on camera, why these things aren’t going the way they are supposed to be going, and that aspect was a real eye-opener for me.
BS: I know that in an hour show they probably have hundreds of hours of film, but when you watch the tasks and you see the teams and they are just wiped out or they are just emotionally spent, and you think, “Yeah, I know they ran a little more then they came across that hill and I know they probably took a little longer to do this,” but you think, “How can they be so wiped? Mentally, emotionally, physically?”

Well, when you run the Race, the 20 seconds of your run is so much more and we knew it was more in real time and we’re not naïve to that, but just how much is involved of the actual running of the Race as opposed to watching the perfect edited version in the end.

AE: What did you think of Phil? [Phil Keoghan is the show's host.]
RZ: Phil
is a great guy. He’s hilarious. When you’re watching the show you see
him as being very intense, and I have to say that he was incredibly
welcoming and hospitable and really warm and genuine.
BS: That’s a great summary for Phil.

AE: It seems like sometimes he has this sort of impish sense of humor that pops through occasionally.
BS: Yes, he does. [laughs]
RZ: And without getting into any details, you see that more on the Race itself. He definitely does have a great sense of humor.

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