Last fall, Conneaut native Chuck McCall and his wife, Wynona, crammed more adventure into a 30-day span than most people experience in a lifetime.
The McCalls, as contestants on the popular television show, “The Amazing Race,” have visited some of the world’s most exotic locales and accomplished death-defying stunts in hopes of claiming a $1 million grand prize. Chuck, 47, and Wynona, 49, were one of 11 two-person teams that began the show, and their cleverness and endurance have kept them in the running — despite being the oldest couple still in the hunt.
“Race,” a pioneer among reality shows, is famous for sending contestants to far-flung destinations and subjecting them to outrageous mental and physical challenges. When contestants complete a challenge, they learn their next destination. The first team to reach the final destination wins the grand prize.
So far, the show has taken the McCalls — along with a two-person video/audio crew —to such places as Bora Bora, New Zealand and Vietnam.
“I’d never been out of the country before,” McCall said. “Maybe Niagara Falls once or twice.”
McCall, in town visiting family and friends the past few days, said “Race” has been a life-changing experience. Thanks to the show, a man who already enjoys the great outdoors enjoyed some outsized fun — like jumping out of an airplane.
“I really enjoyed the skydiving,” he said, laughing. “There’s some unbelievable stuff we’ve been able to do.”
Not surprisingly, McCall can’t talk about the outcome until the show concludes in the next few weeks. Communication with family was forbidden while the show was being filmed in parts of November and December. During that period, Chuck’s mother, Diane, said she received weekly calls from a “Race” staffer who assured mom her son was still in one piece.
“But I knew he would be fine,” Diane said.
Chuck, born and raised in Conneaut, is a member of the Conneaut High School class of 1984. His work for the now-defunct Phar-Mor organization took him to Florida and — eventually — to Alabama, where he would meet and marry Wynona, a beautician and hair stylist. The couple, who live in Daphne, Ala., have three children and are grandparents.
Since the show began airing, Chuck said life hasn’t been the same. He’s recognized everywhere — thanks in part to his trademark long, curly hair. He’s done numerous interviews and has been a guest speaker in schools.
“I didn’t think it would get this big,” he said.
Ironically, the McCalls did not seek out a spot on the show. When it became known the producers were seeking a “southern couple” for an upcoming season, a friend submitted their names.
“A great opportunity landed in our laps,” he said.
Their turn on “Race” was actually delayed a season when Chuck’s father, Fred Jr., became ill last year. He died in May.
“When Chuck heard his dad was sick, he was here the next day,” Diane said. “That’s the kind of son he is.”
The family is very tight-knit and supportive, said McCall, who returns home two or three times year. “I’m here in the fall for deer-hunting season,” he said, smiling.
Family, in fact, baby-sat the children while the couple were away filming, he said.
After circling the globe late last year, McCall returned to his job as a manager at a Wal-Mart in Daphne. The community has rallied around the couple since this “Race” season began, he said.
“I get high-fives from customers and people ask for photos,” McCall said. “The whole town is amazed. They thought everyone on those shows were (professional) actors.”
An avid hunter and fisherman, McCall said his favorite stop on the show was Africa. “So much wildlife there,” he said.
Wynona, however, would most likely return to Bora Bora and its tropical beaches, McCall said.
The break-neck pace of the competition didn’t allow time for leisurely sight-seeing, and their accommodations sometimes just a mat on a dirt floor. “There weren’t any five-star hotels,” McCall said.
Chuck attributes their longevity on the show to an ability to strategize and recognize each other’s strengths.
“We communicate,” McCall said, although he quickly concedes the show is more difficult and exhausting than he imagined watching it at home.
Family members in Conneaut are McCall’s biggest fans. The clan holds an “Amazing Race” party on Sunday nights when the show is aired, said sister Millie Polchosky.
“And I had never watched the show before,” she said.
Sunday night proved the exception. On the one night a “Race” celebrity — and possible winner — could join them in the living room, “Race” was bumped from the lineup by a country music awards show.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Polchosky said, laughing.