Members of the Church who have competed on reality TV shows know all too well how hard it can be to stay true to their faith under pressure. Of the many Mormons who have appeared on reality TV shows, here are a few of our favorite stories.
The Amazing Race
Competing on The Amazing Race was a dream come true for Connor O’Leary and his father, Dave. The father-son team were strong competitors after they first beat Dave’s prostate cancer and Connor’s testicular cancer. “From the outset,” says Connor, “we wanted to race, hold our integrity, and show our true character, which is what you do in everyday life.” But theirs was a dream cut short. Like their LDS predecessors on the show (Lena and Kristy Jensen, who were eliminated early in Race 6 in a challenge that came down to luck), the O’Learys also went home early after Dave tore his Achilles tendon in Leg 2. “That,” Dave says, “at least mentally, put an end to the Amazing Race for us.”
Though the pair did continue for another two legs with Dave on crutches, they were forced to withdraw at the start of Leg 5 so that Dave could get surgery to repair the injury. It seemed their brief Amazing Race dream was over until about a year later, when the phone rang. Dave recalls, “A Race representative started asking me how my Achilles was and how my rehab went. I thought, ‘Boy, this is really nice! They care enough about me to check in and see how I’m doing!’” But the conversation took a turn. “Then the questions got a lot more specific, and the guy who I was speaking with said, ‘Do you have a sense of where this is going?’ And I said, ‘Yes, and we’re in!’”
Just like that, the father-son team was back on the show, one year older and wiser, too. And this time, they wouldn’t have to withdraw. This time, they would win leg after leg and prizes like trips around the world and a 2015 Mustang for each of them. And these two cancer survivors would even make it all the way to the end and claim the $1 million prize.
“For me,” shares Dave, “it was the most satisfying moment of my life to be able to be there with my son, recognizing what he has gone through from a health standpoint. To be on that mat was truly surreal.” Connor adds, “It was an amazing experience to be able to win with my dad and to be the first parent-child team to win was pretty special.”
In fact, in their record-setting run, in addition to being the first parent-child duo to win, the O’Learys also became the first Utahan and Mormon winners. At age 59, Dave was also the oldest winner ever with Connor, age 22, tied for the youngest winner ever. They split the prize money from the show, which they plan to invest and donate to cancer research. Reflecting on their roller coaster experience, Dave reveals, “I never really believed we could get there. I didn’t! I thought, we’ll give it our best shot. We’ll have fun in the process.” He adds, “We recognize it’s a game. We recognize it’s not life. But it was a pretty fun thing to do!”