A trio of Seattle teachers from The Bush School finished in first place and won the $1 million grand prize in National Geographic Channel’s “Race to the Center of the Earth” Monday night. The complete series will be available on Disney+ starting Friday, May 14.
“Our whole goal was to complete this as a team and to support each other and to really live those words that are easy to say and harder to execute,” says James Batey, the Bush school physical education teacher who put together the “Race” team. “And I think we did. It came through on the show. … We were able to persevere together.”
Created by “The Amazing Race” producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri, “Race to the Center of the Earth” follows four teams of three as they race simultaneously in four far-flung locations before they meet up in Hawaii and then head for a central location where the $1 million grand prize can be found.
Staged pre-pandemic, over 15 days in fall 2019, the seven-episode program follows four teams racing simultaneously as they traverse Russia, Canada and South America in the race’s first stage. The Seattle teachers were racing through Southeast Asia.
Batey, who lives on Vashon Island, recruited Bush School outdoor education teacher Jay Wyatt of Madrona and Spanish/French teacher Marilina Kim of Ballard as teammates.
All three teachers lead experiential education wilderness trips for the school, backgrounds that helped prepare them for “Race.” They also had team meetings every night where they’d discuss highs and lows of the day, mirroring the nightly conversations they have with students while on wilderness trips.
“There were tears at times, there was discussion, and being able to listen to each other and change our behavior and support each other in that way was a challenge,” Batey says, “but one that we all took on full force.”
In the finale, filmed over two days, teams raced by outrigger canoe, electric mountain bike and sea kayaks across the Hawaiian island of Maui (and later the big island of Hawaii) before swimming out to a buoy with a crab pot hanging off it filled with stacks of what appear to be bills that made up the $1 million prize.
“We were never told either way [if that was real money or a prop],” Batey says. “We didn’t take that money with us so you can assume what you want. When I saw it I thought it was real cash, but now that I’ve had time to reflect, it was probably just [real money on top of each stack].”
In the final leg, Batey had to massage Wyatt’s cramped quads (“He’s 99% muscle so it was like massaging a tree trunk,” Batey says), Batey’s left calf locked up while using a kickboard and Kim dislocated her finger after crashing her mountain bike (a medic snapped it back into place).
“The biggest thing was Marilina’s finger,” Batey says. “We were mountain biking 10,000 vertical feet off a volcano and the ash on that trail was incredibly loose. … It’s a testament to her grit and drive and ambition that after that, she just flexes her hand and says, ‘Let’s go.’ And she got better at mountain biking after she fell.”
Batey says he was excited for viewers to see that moment given early episodes showed her having a hard time swimming and as the outsider of the team.
“I knew she had this heroic moment in her future,” he says. “I’m just so happy she got to show how tough she is. That was really cool.”
The teammates will split the money evenly.
“We all have different plans for it,” Batey says. “Marilina is talking about building out an epic, Sprinter camper van. Jay is always buying snow machines or taking trips across the world, so I’m sure he’ll do something like that. I’m looking forward to travel with my family. We’re gonna be trying to go abroad and do a bunch of different things that just enrich our family’s experience and build on that year after year.”