Kristi Leskinen and Jen Hudak are used to winning. Two of the most influential and successful skiers in the sport—Leskinen was a pioneer of women’s freeskiing who lobbied for the women’s events to be included in the Olympics, and Hudak was a two-time world champion and two-time Winter X Games gold medalist in the halfpipe—will make their debut as Team Extreme on tonight’s premiere of The Amazing Race on CBS.
Now in its 30th season, The Amazing Race follows 11 teams of two as they solve clues and tackle physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges in a month-long race around the world. The first team to cross the finish line splits the $1 million prize.
Hudak, who had previously auditioned for Survivor, was contacted for the final casting of The Amazing Race in July and says tapping Leskinen to be her teammate was an obvious choice. Just two weeks before filming began in October, the pair got the final green light, leaving them little time to prepare.
“Fortunately, we're both active all the time, so the fitness was there,” says Hudak.
“After the first casting, we had some confidence, so we started strategizing on what to pack,” added Leskinen. “We brought sleeping pads that weighed about a pound and really packed down. Though we can't elaborate on whether or not we used them, we brought items in case we had to sleep in random places. And lots of snacks. We figured it would help us compete well if were well rested and fueled.”
Toted as one of the most competitive seasons of the show to date, Team Extreme leaned on their experience as professional athletes, relying not only on their physical strength but their mental stamina to give them a competitive edge against NBA stars Cedric Ceballos and Shawn Marion, competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut, Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, and others.
“Both [physical and mental toughness] were equally important,” says Hudak. “If we were weaker or less sharp, we wouldn’t have been the team that we are. That's the cool part of the race—it tests you as an all-around person.”
Leskinen added that their time as professional skiers also made them expert travelers and communicators. “Those skills are part of the whole package of being a professional athlete,” she says. “And man, it was so nice to travel without a ski bag!”
While Leskinen, the first women to throw a rodeo 720, and Hudak were competitors during the peak of their ski careers, they were also united in their efforts to get women’s freestyle skiing included in the competition circuit. Alongside the late Sarah Burke, they wrote letters to event organizers and sponsors and lobbied the International Olympic Committee on behalf of women skiers.
“The race is a pressure cooker. All of a sudden you're faced with a million challenges and neither of you know the answer. The frustrations come in, but Jen and I figured out how to work together quickly,” says Leskinen.
In the history of The Amazing Race, there have been only three all-female teams who have won, so while Hudak doesn’t see it as an advantage, she says between her and Leskinen, they have enough masculine strength to balance their femininity. They came to compete and still got to be women, she says.
“Jen and I certainly had a lot of pride being an all-female team. We’ve been women in male-dominated sports our whole careers, and so often what we do is about proving that we as women are capable,” says Leskinen. “We love the challenge that the race could pose and the chance to prove, again, we are capable of beating the boys.”