"The Amazing Race" debuts on CBS on Wednesday night with two best friends from Dayton, Tennessee, among the teams angling for a $1 million cash prize. Cody Buell and Nathan Worthington, both employed by La-Z-Boy, were recruited for the travel competition series after casting agents saw an Instagram account of their favorite pastime: catfish noodling.
"I hung up on them several times because I thought it was a scam," Buell said of the initial phone calls from reps of the reality show. "I finally got curious and talked to them. After I checked it out, my jaw was on the ground."
Worthington said he thinks producers saw the entertainment value in having people on the show who catch catfish with their bare hands, a sport known as noodling or catfisting (note the second "t" in the spelling).
"I think they were interested for the excitement of it," he said. "They wanted a little bit of craziness."
The show's premise is that teams of two people with a relationship to each other (often family members, friends or co-workers) will compete with other teams in a race around the world. The race is split into legs, and each leg requires teams to decipher clues, navigate in foreign lands, interact with locals, perform physical and mental challenges and find transportation on a limited budget provided by the show. The goal is to arrive first at the end of each leg of the race to avoid the possibility of being eliminated.
* Season 32 of “The Amazing Race” premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday on CBS.
Filming of the 32nd season took place almost two years ago, from Nov. 10 to Dec. 3, 2018.
Worthington said he initially dismissed the idea of being on the show because he didn't think he could be gone from work that long or leave his wife and two children behind while he crisscrossed the globe. His wife, Tiffany, convinced him it was "the opportunity of a lifetime," he said, so he ventured into the HR department at La-Z-Boy with the unusual request for time off.
"Cody is in management. I work on the floor," Worthington said. "I thought he would have an easier time getting off. He told me to talk to the lady over human resources."
When he told the HR director they had an opportunity to be on "Amazing Race," she apparently had another kind of reality show in mind, perhaps a singing competition.
"She said, 'You mean you're going to sing "Amazing Grace"?' I told her that might be an interesting show, but I don't know if anybody would watch it," he said, laughing at the recollection.
Once he cleared up the confusion, she approved their time off.
Worthington, 39, and Buell, 33, have been friends for eight years, since Buell moved to Dayton from Paint Lick, Kentucky, to work as La-Z-Boy's environmental and sustainability manager. Buell said he asked during his job interview if anyone at the company could take him catfish noodling. He describes himself as an adventurous person who has tried horse wrangling, bull riding, hang-gliding and scuba diving among sharks.
"I'd always seen noodling and always wanted to do it," he said. "When I interviewed, I asked if anybody there did that. They introduced me to Nathan."
Worthington said he's been noodling for about 11 years now. His previous noodling companions were also co-workers, but one lost interest and another moved away. Buell arrived in February 2013, just before noodling season began.
Watch the catfish noodling adventures of Cody Buell and Nathan Worthington at the following sites:* Instagram: Cody Buell* YouTube: Cody Buell* Snapchat: jeep88xj* Website: www.catfistinkings.com
Catfish spawn in spring and summer in secluded spots along riverbanks. The noodler sticks a hand into these nesting holes to try to entice the catfish to protect its eggs or defend the hole. Once the catfish bites, the noodler grabs the catfish by the gills and pulls it out.
Buell said he and Worthington are catch-and-release noodlers. "I actually did my second master's degree thesis on the bio-accumulation of toxins in catfish," he said. "It's all catch and release."
Contestants are contractually sworn to secrecy about the outcome of the show, but a few bits of information have been released by the network.
The contestants began the race at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and traveled first to Trinidad and Tobago.
"Eleven countries and 20-something cities in 30 days," said Worthington. "Whatever you can carry on your back is what you have for the month. When [host Phil Keoghan] says go, you are on your way. If you're going in the wrong direction, you just have to figure it out."
Both he and Worthington said they enjoyed the experience and still keep in touch with their fellow contestants.
"The people were great. I cannot say it enough. I've said it to every person I can. I preach it high and low. Every person - every contestant, every member of the production crew, every member of the film crew - they were sweet, they were loving, they were kind. They're all like family to me," Buell said.
He and Worthington have made it to one of the two reunions the contestants have had since filming ended, "and we talk and text every day, the whole cast does," Buell said.
"It's amazing the people we got to meet, especially coming from a small town," Worthington said. "There were Olympic hurdlers and professional football players and professional volleyball players. We would have never had the opportunity to meet people like that. At first it was pretty intimidating. As time went on, they just turned into friends."
Email Lisa Denton at [email protected]