In October 2019, a trio of Seattle teachers took part in a 15-day “Race to the Center of the Earth,” a seven-episode competition series that premieres at 10 p.m. Monday, March 29, on National Geographic.
No, contestants were not digging to the Earth’s molten core but hurrying toward the geographic center of a race that spanned multiple continents.
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 and then head for that central location. The first team there splits $1 million.
Three teachers from The Bush School, a private school with experiential and wilderness programs as part of its curriculum, make up a team sent to race through Southeast Asia. Other teams simultaneously traversed Russia, Canada and South America.
James Batey, a physical-education teacher who lives on Vashon Island, saw an online notice that the show was recruiting contestants and enlisted 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. Kim guides rock-climbing expeditions; Wyatt leads mountaineering trips; and Batey takes students sea kayaking, mountaineering and backpacking.
“What we loved about that team specifically is that they were teachers and they love to travel, they love adventure but none of them were professional athletes,” said “Race” executive producer Doganieri. “And their back stories — who they are and their goals in life — we just felt that it really fit the National Geographic personality, the feel of the show, the feel of the network. And they knew each other but they hadn’t really traveled together so we’ll look for that possibility of a little drama with teams.”
Batey, who previously appeared on game shows “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in 2013 and “Wheel of Fortune” in 2016, says he keeps an eye out for TV experiences that seem fun and potentially lucrative, although “Race” is the first reality competition he applied to be on.
Teams didn’t know where in the world they would be dropped — producers said an outside third party randomly drew which team ended up on which course — or what they would be doing beyond a list of 100 potential tasks, including horseback riding, all-terrain-vehicle operation, rock climbing and sea kayaking.
“In our preparation, we just tried to generally get fit, get strong, work on our endurance and get to know each other a little bit as well,” Batey says.
While Batey and Wyatt had climbed Mount Rainier and gone on bike trips together, neither of them knew Kim outside of being a co-worker.
“So we did a couple day trips around Seattle and then we had one big session in the Cascades as a team and we spent about 24 hours just moving,” Batey says of hiking the Enchantments near Leavenworth and climbing Prusik Peak, which marked Batey’s first-ever outdoor-rock-climbing experience.
“We all had times [on ‘Race’] when our gaps in knowledge showed and we knew that was gonna be an issue going into it,” Batey says. “We knew that we’re all not gonna be superstars at everything but together we should be able to overcome whatever was placed in front of us. We’re just really proud of our effort as a team to make sure everyone felt supported. We move at the speed of our team and not the speed of the fastest person.”
Batey said though he doubts his teammates will apply for future reality shows, he’s game.
“I’m looking forward to whatever I can get onto next,” he says. “It’s such a cool experience. … I’m gonna do everything I can to maybe pursue this in the future.”