Learning a synchronized swim routine with the Russian synchronized swimming Olympic team is not something that most tourists traveling to Moscow book a tour for. When most people dream of traveling the world, racing doesn’t come to mind either.
But for UC Davis alum Ryan Danz, competition ruled the world as he made a mad dash through six countries across the globe as a contestant on the 21st season of “The Amazing Race,” which aired from September to December 2012.
“I had watched the show off and on since its inception,” Danz said. “It’s one of those things to me that anybody would do in a second if given the chance.”
“The Amazing Race” first aired in 2001 and now has over 10 million viewers per week. It is a reality television show in which 11 contestant pairs advance through nations across the world by gathering clues and performing challenges relevant to life in the featured countries.
Danz, who graduated from UC Davis in the winter of 1999 as an economics major, competed in the show with his girlfriend Abbie Ginsberg.
“Ryan was a great partner to have — he’s very driven, strong and determined,” Ginsberg said. “He was high in intensity, but I could rely on him as a partner.”
The couple traveled through China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Russia and Amsterdam, and were eliminated on the ninth episode, which aired on Nov. 25.
“We accomplished one of the best records of all time,” Danz said. “We won several rounds, including the first round, and we also placed within the top four on many others.”
Since the couple won the first leg of the race traveling from Los Angeles to Shanghai, the prize money eligible to them alone was doubled, increasing their incentive of winning to $2 million.
Although both contestants’ families were aware of the couple’s participation in the race, Danz’s mother Marilyn Pallister watched the show without any idea of the final outcome.
“I was going back and forth for two months,” Pallister said. “Everyone would say to me, ‘You know the ending!’ And I would tell them that ‘what you see is what I see.’”
Before competing on the show and having received a notable amount of fame nationwide, Danz lived and worked in San Diego, Calif.
“In 2011, Abbie and I were watching a previous season and we decided we would work on an audition tape,” Danz said. “There’s thousands of people who apply, and it’s one of those things that you think, ‘Why would they pick me?’”
Ginsberg said that Danz’s persistence, enthusiasm and follow-through on creating an audition tape were what allowed them to get to where they are now.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, lets do it,’ but to actually say, ‘Let’s put a tape in’ is a whole different thing,” she said. “That’s the cool thing about Ryan. When he gets an idea in his head, he is on it the next day.”
The couple found out they would be contestants in April of last year, and filmed in May and June.
“I thought it was going to be a perfect venue for them to share their relationship in,” Pallister said. “It’s almost like someone is paying you to travel around the world and experience different cultures and different foods.”
The experience for the contestants may look like fun and games, but Danz described some parts as frustrating.
“In the beginning, it was a lot more stressful than we predicted and planned for,” Danz said. “Abbie and I had our tiffs during training, so when the race started we had gotten some of our stuff out of the way.”
It was evident to both Danz and Ginsberg that the pair was getting stronger as a team and as a couple as days passed.
“Where my strengths are, he might not be so strong, and he is better than me at a lot of things too,” Ginsberg said. “We balanced each other out as a couple really well.”
Although viewers see the contestants moving from one country to the next every week, contestants were traveling every two to three days.
“There was so much adrenaline in every moment that travel didn’t exhaust us,” Danz said. “Travel was time to sleep, eat and re-energize. To slow down and get back to normalcy.”
Overall, even with the rough physical and mental challenges the duo had to face, along with the hardship of losing, Danz said that he enjoyed his time on the show.
“Even though we couldn’t win, we got to travel to places that we would have never imagined,” Ginsberg said. “You aren’t seeing the tourist areas. It’s a one-of-a-kind tour of the world.”
Danz said he learned many life lessons along the way.
“Watching the show back, I got to see myself in a different light, how competitive I am,” Danz said. “The pro to this is that it’s an important quality to have if you want to be successful. The con is that it was also abrasive.”
As the show progressed, both America and the other competitors viewed the pair as an alpha couple — ones who would do anything to win, something that Danz didn’t think was portrayed accurately.
“It’s like when you realize that maybe Santa Claus isn’t real, and seeing your parents putting the presents under the tree,” Danz said. “Having been such big fans, it was a reality check that it is a TV show first and then an actual race, which was kind of disappointing.”
A clip of Danz mentioning being a UC Davis graduate did air on the show.
“Every experience that he had at UC Davis has become a part of who he is now,” Pallister said. “[UC Davis] really is a shining bright star in the whole valley.”
Danz was recently contacted by a publisher and asked to write a book about his passions for practicing law and the Brazilian martial art form Jiu Jitsu, to be titled Jiu Jitsu Jurisprudence.
As advice to college students both in Davis and across the world, Danz said that it is important to take steps every day toward a goal.
“For me, I always try to do something every day to open a door, to advance myself,” he said. “My goal right now is to sell as many copies as possible. You can’t skip from A to Z. You have to go through B to Y.”
RITIKA IYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.