Imagine flying around the world — Central America, Europe, Utah — visiting fabulous locations, taking on challenges and competing for a $500,000 prize. And then imagine doing it with your dog.
That’s what a dozen lucky humans and their canine companions do in the new Amazon Prime series “The Pack,” which is both familiar and unlike anything we’ve seen before. It is, essentially, “The Amazing Race” with dogs, but there’s more to it than that.
Utah native Mitra Najibeh Yosri, who competed with her dog, Bozley, found the “The Pack” deepened their bond.
“It’s one thing when he follows me from the bedroom to the living room,” Yosri said. “But to see my dog trust me to hop on a helicopter and to rappel off the side of a waterfall is a totally different experience. And it made me so emotional so many times on the show.
“I was just like — you are my best friend. You’ll do anything I do. And you know that you can trust me. … It was incredible to see.”
(All 10 episodes start streaming Friday on Amazon Prime.)
“This was truly an adventure,” said former Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, who’s the host of the show. “We got to see incredible things and go to incredible places. And the dogs and the humans on the show were absolutely incredible as well. So it was as fun as it looks.”
The dogs play soccer and look for “earthquake victims” on a training ground in Mexico City. Along with their people, they rappel down a waterfall in the jungles of Costa Rica, and run a maze and try to navigate the streets in Vienna. They play elaborate versions of “tug” and “fetch” in Florence, battle the snow in Switzerland and play croquet in Paris.
The dogs have to demonstrate herding skills at Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) in England. And then take on Utah’s desert.
There are multiple direct links to Utah. Vonn, of course, competed in the Beehive State frequently — her first Olympics were the 2002 Salt Lake City Games — and she recently bought a home here. In addition to Yosri, another contestant has made Salt Lake City his home. And the last leg of the race, in which the winner was crowned, was filmed in Utah.
The humans and their dogs are split into two groups and compete as teams at each of the locations, which also include California, Austria, Italy and France. Members of the losing team then compete against each other, with the human-dog pair who finish last being eliminated.
(The winner also gets to designate which charity will receive $250,000, and another $250,000 will be spread among charities in all the countries they visit.)
“It was a pretty unbelievable experience,” said Mark LeBlanc, who calls Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood home. “It was the sort of experience you can’t re-create on your own. I can travel to all these different countries. But can I be forced to search a city for a specific building? No, not really. Not while also trying to outrun other people and their dogs.”
It’s a competition, but it’s the polar opposite of cutthroat. Not only do the human contestants become friends along the way, but so do their dogs. “You could see, especially as time went on, that the pack was very, very tight,” Vonn said. “And I loved it. It’s so genuine.”
Including the “little love affair” between Snow (a standard poodle) and Derby (a golden doodle) that was “so cute,” she added.
Yosri said that the 12 contestants and their dogs became “best friends. During eliminations, even, it was so special the way we were treating each other and helping each other out as much as we could.”
She talks with at least one of the other contestants “every single day,” she said, and they send group texts and “see each other when it’s possible. We’re all a big family now.”
Mitra and Bozley
Yosri and her dog, Bozley, are both Utahns born and raised. “People are always surprised when they hear that I am from Utah — I’m Iranian, and I’m covered in tattoos — but I actually am a Utah girl,” Yosri said.
Although, she said, she “kind of didn’t fit in growing up in Utah. My family is Middle Eastern and we weren’t religious, so it definitely felt a little out of place for me.”
Which is one of the reasons she went looking for a dog nine years ago. She found 8-month-old Bosley, a border collie-St. Bernard mix, online. “Someone was trying to get rid of him,” Yosri said. “They didn’t want him anymore.”
It was love at first sight — on her part.
“He actually really didn’t like me at first,” Yosri said. “He was growling at me when I went to go and take him. But after a short amount of time, we became attached at the hip. He’s my shadow. He doesn’t leave my sight. And I can’t imagine my life with any other dog.”
And when she decided to move to the Los Angeles area six years ago, Bosley went with her.
“I love Utah so much. I think it genuinely is the most beautiful, amazing state,” Yosri said. “But for me, at this point in my life, it just wasn’t for me anymore. So I had to move to the big city.”
Even though it meant leaving behind Utah’s winter sports scene.
“I was snowboarding four days a week at the very least. I was obsessed with hiking up Big and Little Cottonwood canyons,” Yosri said. “Those parts of Utah will forever be with me.”
And the minute she met Mark LeBlanc, she “had an inkling that he was a fellow Utahn. We can spot each other from a mile away.”
Mark and Ace
LeBlanc and his dog, Ace — along with his wife, Elizabeth, and her dog, Charlie — moved to Salt Lake City three years ago. A native of Louisiana, LeBlanc fell in love with mountains as a child and continued to visit them as often as he could as an adult, and his wife shares his passion.
“We thought, if we’re just waiting all year for our trip to roll around, then why don’t we just move there and live that life every day?” he said. “That’s what I do now — I’m climbing mountains and skiing on a daily basis.
“There’s a certain level of freedom you have when you live in Salt Lake City and you can just walk outside and go into the mountains and do whatever you want.”
And Ace, a 10-year-old border collie, is usually at his side.
“It’s such a better place for me to get him the physical stimulation that he needs,” LeBlanc said. “There’s no mileage on flat ground that I can run to tire this dog out. But I have seen him get tired after climbing 10,000 feet on Grandeur Peak.”
Lindsey and Lucy
Vonn, a four-time World Cup overall champion and gold medalist at the 2010 Winter Olympics, co-hosts “The Pack” with her King Charles spaniel Lucy, who really is as calm and well-behaved as she appears in the show.
“She was falling asleep with me on the zip line. That’s how chill she is,” Vonn said with a laugh. “She loves meeting people and seeing different things. I’m very lucky to have her.
“But she’s really the star of the show. I’m just like, second — she’s the diva.”
Asked how her dog would have fared in the competition, Vonn burst out laughing. The two of them tested all the challenges “and I kept saying, ‘Lucy, we wouldn’t have done well if we were actually competing.’ The only thing that surprised me was she did so well with the digging. She’s never done it before, so I was shocked that she did it, like, on command.
“But up until the show, she wasn’t even able to do a high five. So I was proud of her for learning. That’s a big deal to us.”
“The Pack” was a learning experience for Vonn as well — her first time hosting a TV show. She was looking for a challenge after retiring from competitive skiing in 2019, and the show ticked a lot of boxes for her. She got to travel to “non-ski resorts” without all her ski equipment, and she got to be “around other dogs and I also got to be on TV. So it was kind of the perfect storm for me.”
Hosting the show was “definitely was very intimidating at the beginning,” said Vonn, whose previous TV experience was being interviewed and a bit part on an episode of “Law & Order” in 2010, and she felt like “kind of a fish out of water.” Memorizing lines and delivering them in “The Pack” was “extreme as far as adrenalin and having to perform on the spot, which I found to be so similar to ski racing. And I really enjoyed it.”
And she looks comfortable on camera.
It’s clear that all 12 contestants have close bonds with their dogs. And those bonds were strengthened through the competition.
“It was an awesome experience,” LeBlanc said. “Ace showed me things that I never thought he was capable of, and that was pretty special.”
In one challenge, the contestants and their dogs had to perform a task in the midst of a large group of people.
“With all those distractions and the crowd and everything else, he gave me an unparalleled amount of focus for a crazy amount of time and just performed in a way that I thought was quite impossible,” LeBlanc said. “It still gives me chills to think about it. That’s probably the closest I came to tears.”
And Ace is clearly capable of a lot, as you might expect of a border collie. But even breeds that aren’t service dogs — including a rat terrier, a schnoodle, and a chihuahua/miniature pinscher mix — do things you’d never expect a pet to pull off.
(The dogs and their owners went through a boot camp of sorts, learning a few skills before the competition began.)
And it’s beyond adorable to see the contestants and their dogs flying from one country to another and just enjoying the trip, even as they compete for half a million dollars.
“Bozley’s flown first class as many times as I have,” Yosri said. “I just think that’s hilarious. But now he’s a bougie dog. I don’t think he’ll be able to fly economy. He got used to the good life.”