by Jan Mayer
Heart-touching scenes and shocking surprises were the norm for Relative Race Season Three, which began filming in Washington, DC. Producers BYUtv and Lenzworks had promised to change things up this season, and indeed they did.
Then: Shock and Aw-w-w
Instead of the usual 4 married couples, this season included only 2 married couples: Team Red, Troy and Nicole Hitt, and Team Black, Johnathan and Rebecca Hoyt (winners of the Relative Race Season Three $50,000). Michael and Dylan Anderson, a father and son duo on Team Blue, and sisters Jamie Grace Harper and Morgan Nichols on Team Green completed the lineup.
Within minutes of the show’s start, producer and host Dan Debenham revealed that competitors Troy and Johnathan are cousins. Next, instead of being given a car, each team was whisked away to the airport to take an unexpected flight. By the end of the first day, each team had met cousins they would spend the night with—though the race didn’t officially start until the following day.
Once the teams were on the road, they were only allowed to navigate using paper road maps, a loaner car, and a flip phone with a camera. Before finding their relatives, they were required to complete two challenges. Players were given a strike if they went over their allotted time; 3 strikes sent them home.
The prize money of $50,000 was a good incentive to win the race, but each team also had a personal reason for wanting to be on the show.
“Before I was 5, my mom and dad split up, and I hadn’t seen my dad since. I wanted to know if he was still alive and if he tried to connect with me—if he even tried,” Troy said. During the race, Troy bonded with new family members but was heartbroken when he learned that his father had died in 2002. He was fortunate that his father’s brother could fill in many details. Troy’s uncle had kept some personal belongings of his father, including his wallet, photos, and the urn with his remains.
“I have gained so much,” Troy said. “It’s bittersweet for me—it’s definitely the closure I was looking for. I feel like I have finally found my dad.”
“When I was 2 years old my mother passed away in a tragic way. My sister, Ashley, and I were adopted by my father’s sister, and the other side of the family disappeared. It was a touchy subject, and we didn’t know anything about that side of our family. I wanted to find someone who knew my mother and could tell me about her,” she said.
During the show, Rebecca met cousins, her mother’s sister, brother, great-uncles, and her younger half-sister. Each one filled in details of her early years, and expressed their love and longing to find her since she was taken from them.
“I found exactly what I was searching for. To have a conversation about my mom was refreshing, deep, and real. We are more alike than I would ever imagine. Before this, it was like she was a mythical creature. Now she’s real,” Rebecca said.
Michael and Dylan explained that they wanted to be on the show to find Michael’s biological family. “Don’t get me wrong, the money’s great. But more important to me was that I wanted to know who I was looking at in the mirror every day of my life. I was adopted at birth, and my [adoptive] mother told no one where I came from. She burned all the papers,” Michael said. “When I was a 12-year-old boy and my [adoptive] parents had both passed away, I had no one—I was so alone. Why was I given up? I just needed answers.”
During Relative Race Season Three, Michael not only met cousins who were the first blood relatives he’d ever met, but he also met a sister and his birth mother, who has always lived only 25 miles from him but didn’t know what happened to him. He was taken from her at birth; she never got to hold him. “Meeting my family changed my life,” he said.
One of the most touching moments of the season actually occurred 2 weeks before the race began. A Relative Race producer asked Michael and Dylan to drive to a bed and breakfast. As they walked up the sidewalk an elderly couple greeted them. Michael extended his hand and heard the words he’d been longing to hear his whole life.
“Hello, son. I’m Wayne. I’m your daddy.”
Michael burst into tears. Sobbing, he rushed into the embrace of his father. “This is my son Dylan,” Michael said as they pulled Dylan into their hug.
“I found my dad . . . my father . . . my blood,” Michael exclaimed. “Happy doesn’t describe it. This is one of the best days of my life.”
The segment was filmed early because Wayne was dying of kidney failure and feared he wouldn’t survive long enough to meet his son.
“I didn’t know that you were born. If I had, you would have been with me, buddy,” Wayne expressed.
“A part of me just got filled in. A piece of the puzzle was just placed,” Michael said with emotion in his voice.
Jamie and Morgan, who are professional singers with several awards under their belts, hoped to connect with family with similar interests. As it turned out, several cousins were also professional musicians. But they also discovered that their heritage was not all African-American.
When their very fair, redheaded airport driver told them he was their cousin, they were blown away. "I was completely caught off guard that he was white. My mind couldn’t process it,” Morgan said. During the race, they discovered they had Irish DNA and also that one of their ancestors was a freed slave. When they struck out on day 8, they graciously expressed their feelings.
“The privilege to meet our family has been astonishing. If we have to be the first ones to go home so that Troy, Michael, and Rebecca continue to have experiences with their parents that they deserve, it’s worth it to us. We are honored to be part of their story and can’t wait to see how they continue to do the rest of this race,” Jamie said.
Now: Life-long Heart Changes
What happens once the crazy racing is over and teams go home? Has the experience of Relative Race had a long-term impact on the contestants?
One of the photographers for Relative Race, Joe Greer, and his wife Maddie were Team Black last year on Season Two. He never knew his father, and his mother died in a car accident when he was 4. He was raised by an aunt and uncle.
“Lots has happened in the last year. . . . Relative Race has radically changed my life for the better. It has given me the opportunity to explore relationships I had no idea existed. It has helped me repair and rebuild my idea of family and what I want for the future with myself and Maddie. It’s been tough, but it’s been very rewarding,” Joe said.
During the show he was introduced to his sisters and his birth father, who died 10 months after they met.
“I’m thankful that I met my dad when I did. Being able to meet him was one of the best gifts I’ve had in a long time. Ultimately, it led me to more family on that side that I had no idea existed. Getting to know my sisters has been such a treat! There was a deeper connection that has carried on. We’re just enjoying every minute that we have with each other and making up for lost time,” Joe expressed.
For Team Black, winners of the $50,000 prize for Relative Race Season Three, the adventure of the race became an important life lesson. “I want to be able to pass down to my daughter that of all the adventures mom had, she wasn’t afraid to step out into the darkness and chase something that was unknown. For me, that was really enjoyable—just the adventure, no matter how it turned out. It was something I was brave enough to do,” Rebecca explained.
The prize money Johnathan and Rebecca won is ear-marked to help Rebecca complete a degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Service. But before spending anything on themselves, the couple donated some of their winnings to the Red Team.
“They’re such beautiful people, and when they got back [to Humble, Texas] their daughter was getting married and their home was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. I honestly do care about all the people we met—including the other teams. They were amazing,” Rebecca said.
She explained that the haunting questions from the past have been traded for new relationships and a new perspective on the importance of family history.
“When you go through your whole life just wondering who your family was—did they love you, where did they go, why didn’t they ever come for you—and then close that chapter and have answers, there’s peace beyond description. It feels like nothing could ever destroy that peace because now you have that love that you searched for,” she explained. “It’s completed a space in my heart for these people I knew, but I didn’t know. It’s filled me with joy and completeness.”
Rebecca said that another long-term benefit of being on Relative Race Season Three was that the couple was given the research they used to track families.
“Since doing the show and learning about the people in my family, it makes them real. They’re real people, not just names on a piece of paper from a long, long time ago. That has changed my outlook completely. Now I want to do my family history—not just because I want to know where I came from. I want to know about them as individuals. The more you dig, the more you want to know them as people.
“I can’t stress enough how important family history is. It’s not just about what we’re looking to find. We might be the answer to someone else’s prayer. It’s not always about what we want. That’s really powerful. I hope people keep that in mind when they’re feeling stuck—they should keep on digging,” Rebecca emphasized.