Curious as to how Mike White (the multi-hyphenate behind films like School of Rock and Nacho Libre) ended up a contestant on The Amazing Race? White talked to Defamer about what exactly got him running.
So where did the idea to do the show come from?
I'm a not-so-closeted reality TV fan, a traitor to my own. I think I've watched probably every Survivor and Amazing Race—I'm a weird reality fanatic, I guess. During the strike I was watching my usual shows because I couldn't work, and at some point I was like, "What the crap! I should just go on The Amazing Race." I actually just made a video, I didn't try to pull any strings, I just made a video with somebody besides my dad and sent it in.
I was gonna go with this screenwriter that I met on Freaks & Geeks, this guy Jon Kasdan. Our little sorta reducible idea was "neurotic screenwriters who never leave the house." And it turned out that he really was too neurotic to leave the house. We got to the semifinals of the prior season, Season 13, and he had sort of a meltdown at the Hilton at LAX and was like, "I can't do this!"
So how did your dad get involved?
We had gotten pretty far along and you know, it's a relationship show and they want to show the most interesting relationships, so they encouraged me to go with someone in my family [father Mel White, the founder of the gay rights group Soulforce].
You know, it's an interesting trajectory: so many reality stars want to make it in Hollywood, and you're sort of doing the reverse. Were you concerned about becoming known for reality instead of writing, directing, acting?
[laughs] Honestly, I just can't give a flip about that. For me, the show's about to start airing, and it really is less about that than being able to go do it. Like, the idea of just traveling and partying and having this crazy experience was reason to do it, and let the chips fall where they may. I think I started off by thinking, "How can I be in the race but not of the race?" but after about ten minutes, I was just like, "I've gotta be of the race to do this right."
So how was the idea of doing it different than actually doing it?
It was actually way more fun doing it. You're in a circus! You're running through airports with a camera crew and there's like, dwarves and giant Amazonian women's basketball players and everyone's in matching outfits and it's so fun. You know, when you're in LA, you're always like, "Maybe there's something more fun going on somewhere else," but for that period of time where you're on the race, there's definitely nowhere else you'd rather be than there.
So when you're on that starting line with Phil, and the race is about to begin, what should we know was going through your head?
The whole time, I was just like, I wanna get to LAX! [The race starts in Los Angeles.] I didn't think we had many advantages past the point of getting to the airport. I didn't want to be in the back of the train—I was like, "All the times I've dropped friends off at LAX needs to come into play now!" But you'll see, it doesn't exactly end up the way that I expected.
Have you seen the first episode yet?
I haven't seen any of them. I've seen the promos.
How do you think you'll be portrayed? Like, what elements of your story do you think are the ones they're highlighting?
Honestly, I did read a review of the first episode, and the reviewer said I'm perpetually grinning. [laughs] If that's all they have me as, the "laughing fool," then that's fine with me. That's how I was on the race. For the first 24 hours, I literally could not stop smiling. I felt like Jason Bourne and his old gay dad, driving this Mercedes to the airport trying to outrun these musclebound mofos. It was literally the time of my life.
Did any of the other contestants recognize you?
A couple, not many. I mean, I'm the king of "you look vaguely familiar." I think some people scratched their heads. It didn't necessarily endear me to anyone, like they were trying to suck up to me because I'm from Hollywood or whatever.
Had you done anything to prepare for it beforehand? Like, a lot of map reading?
We did have enough time for my dad to go insane with the idea of matching outfits. His long-dormant dream of walking around in matching outfits finally came to the fore! They encourage you to wear a color scheme just to identify the teams, and ours was royal blue. So my dad was like, "Oh, we've got to get matching outfits!" and I was like, "Dad, we don't have to wear, like, the exact same clothes. Wearing things with a similar color is enough." And he got so frustrated! And so he went into my closet and saw the stuff that I had pulled out for the race, and went out and bought the exact same clothes! And so I was like, "I guess I'm gonna be that guy, wearing the same thing as his gay dad on national TV."
What was the industry reaction when it was announced that you were on the show?
I think there's two separate people. Half of the people are like, "That is the coolest thing you could ever do," and they're jealous, and half of the people are like, "Why the hell would you ever want to do that?" Especially some of the more Hollywood A-lister types, they're like, "Did you have to fly economy?" [laughs]
Well, yeah! But what I like about them is that they had no discernible advantages at all, no physical advantage, no intellectual advantage, and yet they just had the will to succeed. I wanted to channel them. A little crazy doesn't hurt in the circumstances they throw you into.
Have you met them?
No, I want to!
I'm sure you will now that you're all on the reality alumni circuit.
I'll go do a college speaking tour with them. [laughs]