Jonathan and Harley were interviewed by Parade about running in The Amazing Race:
Jonathan Knight Faces The Blind Unknown of The Amazing Race Season 26
As one of the newest kids to hit the race-around-the-world block known as The Amazing Race, singer and performer Jonathan Knight knows a thing or two about pressure — and that notion’s about to be put to the test as he competes in the 26th season of the Emmy-winning reality competition series.
Knight is joined by boyfriend Harley Rodriguez on season 26 of The Amazing Race, premiering tonight (February 25). The new season pits 11 teams of dating couples against each other, but there’s a catch: Five of the couples have never met before. Six established relationships, versus five blind-dates, meeting for the very first time just as the race begins. No pressure, right?
Does Knight feel he has an advantage entering the race with a longtime partner? And why on Earth would the New Kids on the Block veteran sign on for such a stressful competition, given his public history with panic attacks? Turns out, that’s exactly why Knight wanted to compete — or, at least, one of the biggest reasons.
I spoke with Knight and Rodriguez about why they signed up, how they prepared, their greatest fears, their thoughts on the new twist, and why each episode of The Amazing Race should be six hours. (Hey, you’d watch it, wouldn’t you?)
How did The Amazing Race come together for you guys? Were you fans of the show, or were you approached?
Jonathan Knight: I’m a huge fan of the show. Harley’s a fan, too, but I was more of the die-hard fan. For the last few seasons, I kept calling casting, trying to get on the show. My tour schedule just never synced with their filming schedule. For the last three seasons, it was a no go, and then this year, I got a phone call and they said they were doing couples this season, and it would be perfect to have us. It just so happens that my schedule is clear this year, so everything worked out perfect.
What were your reasons for wanting to compete? What was the draw of going from fan watching at home to racing around the world?
Knight: Oh, man. [Laughs] It is just the most … it’s everything you would never do in your every day life.
Harley Rodriguez: Yeah, it’s just so action-packed. You’re constantly going and going and going and going. It’s an adventure. It’s awesome. I love adventure and I love traveling and doing crazy things. And it’s all about the unknown. By watching the show, nobody knows what they’re going to do and where they’re going next. It’s kind of like letting go and going with it.
Obviously, you guys are big fans of each other. Of course! But embarking on an adventure like this, were you at all worried about what the stress of The Amazing Race could do to your relationship?
Rodriguez: Oh, we knew we would be testy. We knew we’d snap at each other and stuff. That happens in real life. You hear stories about couples breaking up after being on Amazing Race. My feeling is, it wasn’t the race that broke them up; they were already on the verge of breaking up. We knew [fighting] would happen, and it did happen. At the moment, you’ll be like, “You suck!” But ten minutes later, before you know it, it was just in the moment. He doesn’t really suck. He’s the best thing in the world.
How did you prepare for Amazing Race?
Rodriguez: You have to watch the show ahead of time. And you can physically prepare for it. Mentally, some things… it’s about all of the knowledge you have. You never know what it’s going to be like before you start. It’s all unknown. There’s tests of strength and mental stability. You have to kind of just go with the flow. As long as you’re open to the unknown, you’ll be surprised at what you can do.
Knight: Before we even started, we would watch episodes on TV. We would say, “If that challenge comes up, who would do it?” We knew who would be better at doing certain things.
Rodriguez: Once you start watching the challenges on TV, I would be thinking, “Oh, I can do that, and that, and that.” I was memorizing capitals of countries in case that came up. There are things you can prepare for from watching the past shows.
Knight: But then you start the race and 90% of that goes out the window. [Laughs]
I can imagine. It’s interesting, because you have to be strong, you have to be smart, you have to be resourceful… but so much relies on luck, too. If you get the wrong taxi driver, you’re finished.
Knight: I think Bertram van Munster, the producer and creator, pretty much said it best: The Amazing Race really mimics life. You do the best you can do and you keep moving forward, but you never know what’s around the corner. You never know what cards you’re going to be dealt. We kind of felt that a lot of times. You just do the best you can do and keep pushing forward and hope for the best.
Some people who compete on The Amazing Race are just there for the adventure, hoping to meet new people, make friends, get as far as they can by playing a noble game. And then there are others who are all too happy to U-Turn their rivals, and be as manipulative as they can to get ahead in the race. What was your philosophy entering the race this season, as far as how far you were willing to roll up your sleeves?
Knight: We weren’t trying to be [expletive], but there are times when you have to be an [expletive]. Everybody is in this to win it. You can’t always be Mr. Nice Guy. But there are times when maybe you don’t have to U-Turn somebody. You don’t have to be a jerk. But there are times you have to pull out all the stops. It’s every man for themselves out there.
Rodriguez: Yeah, that’s one of the first things that came up. We all had a little bit of downtime where we all got to meet each other. Of course, we went through talks like, “Alright, no U-Turns, no nothing.” But you never know if someone is going to be like, “Alright, I’m going to U-Turn these people.” Until we watch it, we won’t know who did what to who. It’ll be interesting.
Jonathan, how do you think your experience traveling the world and performing with New Kids on the Block helped you out on Amazing Race, if you think it helped you out at all?
Knight: I think my traveling experience helped. I think a lot of people in America don’t leave America. I’ve had experience traveling around and getting to know other cultures. I think some people can go to another country and be intimidated by that culture and not feel comfortable, and stuff like that. But I’m so well-traveled. We’d go to some strange country, and I’d seen it all. It wasn’t like a shock to me at all.
Did you ever feel like you could lean on your fame for any of these challenges? Break out some New Kids classics for the people on the street?
Knight: Ah, I don’t know… [Laughs] I’m the most humble person so I don’t think I could do that. I probably would if I really had to, but before [the season] I never thought about pulling that card, no.
What were some of your biggest fears going into Amazing Race? As you said, you knew there would be moments of tension between you. Beyond that, what were your concerns?
Rodriguez: Mine would be getting physically hurt, and then being not just out of the race, but coming back and being invalid for X amount of time. You see on the show that people do get hurt. They twist their ankle or whatever… that was my biggest fear, getting hurt out there.
Knight: Mine was having to do any kind of challenge involving heights. Probably for a month before we left on the show, I’d be lying in bed, and I’d wake up terrified, after having a dream that I was falling out of an airplane.
Rodriguez: Yeah, that would be my challenge. [Laughs]
The twist this season is that, yes, it’s couples this year, but half of the teams are blind dating couples, meeting for the very first time at the top of the race. What did you think about the twist when you found out about it?
Knight: It was fun. We knew something was going on, but we didn’t know what it was. I think that, first of all, to do this thing? It’s kind of crazy. But to do this thing with somebody you don’t even know? We have the advantage that me and Harley know, “Okay, I’m not jumping out of a plane.” If it’s something more to do with mind and memory, it’s something he’ll do. So I give the single people props for going and doing this with someone they don’t even know.
Rodriguez: And it’s going to be really fun for us to watch. We weren’t in the cars with them, we weren’t in all of the locations with them. Our interaction with them was minimal, so it’s going to be really good TV this season, seeing how they get on each other’s nerves and how they can work it out.
Knight: Yeah. For me, even just being a fan of the show and then being on the show was amazing. It’s such a well-oiled machine out there. The producers and everybody do such a great job. I wish they could do a six-hour version of each episode, so you could really get a full day, really get the full experience of what it’s like. You see the one-hour edited down version on TV. It was a lot more intense than I thought it would be going into it.
Jonathan, you’ve been public in the past about your history with panic attacks. Was this a real challenge or concern, going into a situation like The Amazing Race?
Knight: It was. That was also probably 80% of the reason I did this. I was talking to a friend maybe, I don’t know, a while ago. She’s always telling me to run toward your fears instead of running away from it. It was just… going through the audition process and all that stuff, even if we hadn’t made it on the show, I was just so proud that I did that. I think the fans were all shocked. “This is so outside the box for you!” It was a good personal accomplishment for me.