If you haven’t been watching the fast-paced family-finding reality show “Relative Race,” start now and you can get caught up in time for the series finale on Nov. 18.
“Relative Race” equips four, two-person teams with a car, a paper map and a flip phone. No smartphones allowed. Then it sends them to a new city each day to compete a challenge and find the home of a previously unknown relative. (Producers identify the relatives ahead of time with DNA testing and genealogy research.)
At the end of each day’s race, the slowest team gets a strike. Three strikes and they’re off the show. Teams that make it to Day 10 compete for a $50,000 prize.
While Family Tree Magazine is rooting for everyone, we have a soft spot for our hometown team. That’s Team Black, 20-something siblings Joe and Jerica Henline. Here, they’ll give you an in-person sneak peek behind the fun, family-filled scenes of “Relative Race.”
Warning: spoilers ahead!
Meet Team Black
On a show known for touching family reunions (seriously, you’ll need a box of tissues), Joe and Jerica were the only team not hoping to meet an unknown parent and siblings. Precious on Team Green grew up in the foster system and hadn’t seen her family since age 5. Mike on Team Red didn’t know his biological father. Nor did Josh, on Team Blue.
“I remember asking them, ‘wait a minute, we’re not looking for our parents,’” Joe says. “They encouraged us, that ‘we want you for a reason, to add that fun touch. You’re still going to have valuable discoveries along the way.’”
I’d have to agree with the producers. Joe, especially, brought a lot of quirk and lightheartedness to the show (he suits his hair well!), and Jerica was the perfect calm counterpoint.
“I think it was their primary goal to get me as far out of my comfort zone as possible,” Joe says. Over the course of several episodes, we learned he’d never thrown a football, driven through a car wash or gone camping.
During auditions, the siblings filled out lengthy questionnaires about favorite foods, activities, likes and dislikes. “They know you almost better than your family does by the end of the process,” Joe says.
With relatives they met on the show, they racked up new experiences including sleeping in tents (twice), playing flag football and tubing on a lake. Jerica loved visiting an alpaca farm. “I really enjoyed getting to feed alpacas,” she says, “and seeing the baby alpaca … and getting to compare Joe to an alpaca.”
This calls for a visual:
“We realized going into this that we’re going to be the underdogs, just based on our size and that we’re not very athletic,” Joe says. They were the nice, fun-loving team from the Midwest, going up against competitive teams that declared their victory from the start.
Team Blue’s Josh is a martial arts fighter. “We saw the blue team as our biggest competitor for sure going into it,” Jerica says. “Then pretty soon we realized the green team was as well.”
“And so was the red team,” adds Joe.
Team Black had earned two strikes by the end of Day 6. Joe had competed after being up sick all night. But on Day 7, they conquered the Arch-ematics challenge (use a bow and arrow to hit the target with the right answer to a math question). Then they quickly found a tourist center with directions to the campsite where their relatives waited.
After setting up tents and exchanging stories over dinner outdoors with their newfound cousins, Joe and Jerica learned during their Skype debriefing that they’d taken the day’s coveted first place spot, with a reward of next-day immunity.
With that, Team Black went from underdog to contender.
Ready to Relative Race
“We had the radio in the car with us that the producer would use to communicate,” Joe says. “Every morning, we would get our mic packs put on, we’d get in the car, and the first thing we would hear from that radio is “GOOD MORNING TEAM BLACK!” from our producer.” Then they’d be off to their next address.
Spending all day in the car with somebody, trying to navigate in a strange city without GPS and on a deadline, is bound to cause arguments. Each team experienced a day defined by tension—except for Team Black. Even on Day 6, when Joe decided—while on the clock—that their car was filthy and needed a wash.
I asked if there were disagreements that just didn’t make it to the final cut.
“I don’t feel like we ever did argue very much at all,” Jerica says. “But I think when we’re involved in stuff like this, we’ve worked together enough in a working relationship that we don’t fight.”
“We were thinking, we want to go on a fun adventure together as siblings, and I think it helped having that perspective—just trying to have fun along the way,” Joe adds. “There’s definitely tense moments, but I don’t think we ever totally lost our temper with each other.”
After snapping a selfie in front of a sign to prove they’ve arrived inside city limits, teams get the address to the location of the day’s challenge.
When they found out they’d be on the show, Team Black had a month to binge-watch past seasons, train at the gym, and play games that honed their communication skills.
Can it be my job to come up with these challenges? On any given day, contestants might try to put historical events in order, keep aloft giant balloons earned by answering trivia, or aim fuzzy tennis balls at color-coded Velcro targets on their teammate’s body.
The “Zoomed In” challenge required teams to identify pictures of extreme close-ups. “We struggled,” Joe says, “but because I’m a photographer, I’m thinking in terms of lighting and angles and stuff, we did a pretty good job of identifying them pretty quickly”
“Impersonate Me” had teams guessing each others’ impressions of famous figures having a tea party, babysitting or some other activity. But this Millennial duo was unfamiliar with 80s and 90s icons like Mr. T and Jerry Seinfeld.
“The hardest part was we were enjoying the challenge so much, we were just laughing at ourselves,” Jerica says.
Once they’d completed a challenge, it was back to the car with their relative’s address.
“It just seems like ‘this is going to be so awkward,’ knocking on somebody’s door and meeting them for the first time on a tv show,” Joe says. “But it was actually the opposite. We just bonded with all the relatives.”
Day 2 sent them to Glen Allen, Va., to meet their cousin Don and his mother Joyce. Joyce’s mother was the sister of the grandfather Team Black never met.
Joe and Jerica’s relatives showed them old photos and played a 1943 recording of their grandfather singing with his band, the Buzzard Town Tongue Twisters.
“We were not expecting that of all. That’s a really interesting side of our family history, and knowing that our grandfather was involved in music,” Jerica says. “My favorite moment with that was hearing my grandfather’s voice for the first time. And even more so was sharing that with my dad, who had not heard his father’s voice in a long time. That was really really special.”
Other relatives included more-distant cousins. Joe and Jerica don’t know their exact relationship to some of them. But they’re keeping in touch, and the relatives are talking to each other, trying to sort out their connections.
The siblings presented each new relative with a necklace that had a key Joe had engraved with the word “family.”
Family members are still coming out of the woodwork. “People [are] reaching out to us via social media, saying, ‘I was one of the in-the-running relatives but we didn’t get chosen, but we’re related,’” Joe says.
Relative Race Spoiler alert!
Do they make it to the end? Now that episode 9 has aired, I can tell you that sadly, Team Black went home after receiving their third strike. But they went home happy, having forged new relationships with relatives.
“It’s hard to describe that instant connection,” Joe says. “It’s almost like you’ve always known each other, even though you still have to learn about each other.”
“We didn’t realize how that family connection instantly makes you want to know more about that person and their story,” Jerica says. “Being able to meet new family members has been a great joy that we weren’t sure about at first. We were a little bit nervous, not knowing what it would be like. But it turned out to be such a blessing and a joy that we never expected.”
Episode 10 of Relative Race will be free online starting Sunday night, Nov. 18, or see if your cable service or streaming app carries BYUtv.