When ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush’ sent its contestants to a region near the Chinese-Korean border and challenged them to down 1.2 kilograms of Kimchi, most teams became frantic. Charles R. Melvoin ’10 and Ryan K. Burke ’10, on the other hand, quietly drew back their chairs, thanked the servers, and finished the fire-hot Korean dish in under fifteen minutes.
“I found myself with Ryan, constantly reflecting upon our performance and strategizing for the coming challenges,” Melvoin said. “Knowing that at that point in the race there should have been an eating challenge, we didn’t eat a lot of breakfast that day.”
While the U.S. version of ‘The Amazing Race’ brings U.S. citizens to exotic locations around the globe, ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush’ takes international contestants to obscure locations within China and challenges them to engage with local customs, whether that be eating Kimchi or rounding up ducks.
The third season of ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush’ features five Chinese teams, five foreign teams, and one team consisting of a foreigner and a Chinese citizen. All of the teammates have known each other for at least three years. Melvoin and Burke, whose team name is the ‘Harvard Boys,’ met their freshman year, having been randomly assigned as roommates in Greenough.
For Burke and Melvoin, the tangible prize of the competition—a trip around the world valued at $60,000—was the least appealing aspect of the show. According to Melvoin, what instead compelled the two to apply for a spot was the opportunity to travel to little known areas of a country that fascinated them both.
Melvoin’s love for China began at when he was 12 years old, when he began studying Mandarin, under a teacher who had left China at the start of the Cultural Revolution.
“Now, Chinese classes are absolutely saturated with students,” Melvoin said. “But to be one of only a few and to receive that kind of attention from a pretty incredible intellectual who had left China was really special.”
After graduation from the College, Melvoin completed a Masters in development with a focus on China at the University of Cambridge. He moved to Beijing in 2011 to work for Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google.
The route to China was less direct for Burke. Having enjoyed the gap year he spent backpacking through Asia, he said he searched for job opportunities abroad senior year. When an offer arose in Shanghai, he jumped at the chance, although he knew little more Mandarin than “ni hao.”
The decision to bring the “Harvard Boys” onto the show hinged on both their enthusiasm for Chinese culture and the Harvard brand name, according to Rachel Berkley, a casting director and story editor for ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush.’ She said she had imagined that the idea of Harvard graduates coming to China to restart their lives would be appealing to Chinese viewers.
“Many Chinese people, they might not know anything about Western culture or America, but they know the name Harvard,” said Berkley.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Sept. 24
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a casting director and story editor for ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush.’ It is Rachel Berkley, not Rachel Berkeley.