KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. Army major deployed to Afghanistan is among the 22 contestants competing for a $1 million prize on the current season of the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race.”
Maj. Tara Carr was among 4,000 people who vied to get on the show, which involves a series of challenges in a race around the world. She and her partner on the show, Boston police Sgt. Joey Covino, placed first in the last two episodes and are leading the pack heading into Thursday’s show, the sixth of the 12-episode season. The show runs until June 1.
Carr, who is serving with the Defense Intelligence Agency at Bagram Air Field, had hoped to take part in the competition with her husband, Tony, a West Point graduate who now works for the State Department.
“(We) were like ... we’re going to kill it,” said Carr, who described the couple as “super fans.”
But because of a twist this season, which was filmed last summer, only Tara was selected.
In past seasons, contestants joined as partners: husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, best friends. For this season, the 29th, the contestants were paired instead with other contestants they’d never met before — a change that piled more stress onto an already high-pressure competition.
“You have to get to know your partner in the first few hours and come up with a [game plan],” said Carr, 38, a former military intelligence soldier who became an officer through the Army’s Green to Gold program.
As the No. 8 finisher in the show’s initial challenge, Carr was among the contestants who got to choose their partner. She took a risk. Covino, 46, had placed last in the challenge, but Carr, used to sizing up a variety of people in the military, saw promise.
“I was looking for someone more experienced and more mature,” Carr said. And at 5 feet 6 inches and 128 pounds, she also wanted someone physically strong as a hedge against the show’s more demanding tasks. A hockey cap and bulging muscles signaled that Covino might be an athlete. She was right.
“He’s run 14 Boston Marathons,” she said. “He’s fast.”
Carr credits her military background and Covino’s experience as a police officer and former Army cavalry scout for getting them this far.
“It’s like going to basic training all over again,” she said. “You don’t know who your battle buddy is going to be, but you have no choice but to work with them.”
Carr, like other contestants, is mum on the outcome.
Contestants spend much of the show literally running from place to place, often on very little sleep. Carr said her experience with field exercises came in handy, especially knowing how to pack light.
“After 20 years in the military, I know what I need,” she said. She brought an extra pair of running shoes and packed a tiny sleep sack, which served her well on the nights when the only sleep contestants got was on an airport floor.
But Covino, who recently grew his hair long, ended up bringing too many toiletries.
“At the first airport, I was like, we’re tossing all your hair products,” Carr said.
Despite that initial hiccup, she said, the partners share core values. “He’s very determined and very hard working ... I got lucky because he had the qualities I was looking for.”
Deployed to Afghanistan for the run of the show, Carr is missing out on sharing the experience with her fellow contestants. Instead, she wakes up early on Friday mornings to watch the show, which airs Thursday evenings in the States, with her husband over FaceTime.
Being separated from her four children, now ages 2 to 7, was one of the most difficult parts of the show, Carr said, but being parents motivated her and Covino to stay focused on the prize.
“Every step I took was for them,” she said.