Jen Hudak is a two-time halfpipe skiing world champion and two-time Winter X Games gold medalist, known for performing all sorts of death-defying stunts. She insists she isn’t afraid of anything.
Except, maybe, a fear of seeing herself on television. The Park City woman was gung-ho to compete in the upcoming season of “The Amazing Race,” which premieres Wednesday at 7 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2. But she wasn’t interested in seeing how the CBS television series turned out.
“Going into it, I was, like, ’I am not going to watch a single episode. I don’t want to see my face or hear my voice,’” Hudak told The Salt Lake Tribune.
She teamed up with fellow free skiing champion Kristi Leskinen — they’re #TeamExtreme in a season that features former NBA players Cedric Ceballos and Shawn Marion, Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi and a fellow driver, competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut and a fellow competitive eater; along with lifeguards, champion debaters, firefighters, musicians, “Big Brother” alumni and goat yoga instructors. Really.
(The actual “Race” is run before the show begins airing. The new season began production on Oct. 1; the results are kept confidential until the finale airs.)
Hudak has wanted to compete in the round-the-world competition for a million dollars for a long time. She and her ski coach applied to “Amazing Race” four years ago, but never heard back. A year later, Hudak applied to “Survivor” and “made it pretty far along in the casting process,” but didn’t get on the show.
And then, this past summer, a “Race” producer called “to see if I was interested in going on. And I was, like, ‘Yup,’” she said with a laugh.
Hudak and Leskinen are no strangers to competition, but this is considerably different than freeskiing.
“With skiing, we train specifically for a certain task in a specific run and work on a specific trick,” she said. “But with this, you don’t know what they’re going to ask you to do, so you can’t really prepare. You just have to hope that you had enough life experience to take anything that they throw at you.”
“The Amazing Race” isn’t just about racing around the globe. Contestants must complete tasks and overcome challenges.
“This is weeks of competing intensely, versus a 30- or 45-second halfpipe run,” Hudak said. “It’s definitely different, but equally as awesome.”
The “Race” casting directors asked Hudak if she had someone else in mind to compete with her, and she immediately pointed to Leskinen. They competed against each other for a dozen years, “and have probably gotten closer post-retirement and bonded over that shared experience and finding life after free skiing.”
“But we’d never spent more than a week at a time together. And certainly not 24-7, glued to the hip nonstop,” Hudak said with laugh. “Honestly, I don’t even think I’ve spent that much time with my husband.”
They agreed beforehand to “communicate to the best of our abilities and make sure that we’re not bottling things up and getting on each other’s nerves. And don’t take anything personally.”
They looked to two other Utahns for an example — Dave and Connor O’Leary, who had to drop out of Season 22 because of an injury but came back to win Season 24.
“I haven’t met them, but both Kristi and I really admired the way that they ran the race. Hudak said. “They’re both really good people and were kind throughout their journey.”
The two members of #TeamExtreme have “insane travel stories” from their time as competitive skiers. It once took Leskinen 52 hours to get from New Zealand to Arizona, “which somehow involved her going all the way to Pennsylvania.,” Hudak said. “And same for me. I’ve missed flights on my way to World Championship events or a World Cup final event. And we’re sweet-talking the flight agents to upgrade us so we’ll be able to sleep on the plane because we literally get off and have to be competing the next day.
“I think all of that kind of stuff was advantageous for us.”
But the “Race” also includes one physical challenge after another. And Hudak said #TeamExtreme had a leg up there because they have “no paralyzing fears.”
“We’re not scared of heights or extreme situations,” she said. “Obviously, we’re free skiers and enjoy mountain biking and climbing and all sorts of crazy stuff. So we didn’t have to worry about that kind of stuff.”
A longtime fan of the show, Hudak has seen more than few contestants get into trouble because they either can’t swim or can’t drive a manual transmission car. But that was another nonissue for #TeamExtreme.
“Kristi is like a fish and I can tread water for a long time,” Hudak said. “I won’t drown, let me put it that way.”
And she “borrowed a friend’s stick-shift car” to practice. “I’ve driven stick a lot, but I don’t do it regularly.”
Hudak is no longer worried about the TV aspects of this TV show. “I actually totally forgot about the cameras,” she said. “ I’m such a competitor that anything that wasn’t purely about the competition was nonexistent to me.”
And she’s decided she’s anxious to see episodes of the show after all.
“I should probably be more nervous than I am,” she said. “I’m not too worried about how much of an idiot I’m going to look like.
“You’re going to see the real Jen, let me put it that way.”