Over nine years, CBS’s “The Amazing Race” has cast plenty of parent-child combos. None have won the million dollars.
And none have a story quite like Georgia residents Andie DeKroon and Jenna Sykes.
Cumming resident DeKroon had an unplanned pregnancy at age 22. Unmarried, she elected to give Sykes to an adoptive family. Over the next two decades, she had ten kids she is raising with her husband Joe, an IT consultant.
In 2008, University of Georgia student Sykes decided she wanted to know her birth mom. DeKroon agreed.
For the next 18 months, they wrote old-fashioned letters. No emails or phone calls.
“Jenna’s mom knew her child,” DeKroon said. “She needed to be eased into a relationship.”
“I was very overwhelmed just knowing her name,” Sykes said. “Taking it slow by letter worked for me.”
On September 27, 2009, Jenna posted a seemingly innocuous Twitter feed: “Watching The Amazing Race… Wish I could do it!”
DeKroon, also a fan of the show, had an idea. They had not yet met in person. But they both had an adventurous streak. DeKroon thought, “Why not make the show an opportunity to get to really know each other in an unusual yet meaningful way?”
The pair recorded separate audition tapes and combined them. “When we saw each other’s tape, that was the first time we heard each other’s voices,” DeKroon said.
In March, they decided to have the families meet all at once at DeKroon’s home for the first time. “Everything was really really natural,” Sykes said. “There was never an awkward moment, even when all 10 kids came running at me.” Later that month, they met again to interview in Los Angeles to get on the show.
Six weeks later, CBS placed them on the cast for the show’s 17th edition. Soon after, they were traveling around the world. Though they can’t yet detail what happened or whether they’ve won the million, both said the experience was indeed amazing.
“We got to spend this time together 24/7 under these crazy circumstances,” Sykes said. “We got to know each other in a way no other birth parent and child has ever gotten to know each other. There were no distractions from every day life.”
CBS did not allow DeKroon to contact her other family members at all during the three-plus weeks of the race. The producers would merely tell her husband weekly that she was alive.
“As hard as it was,” DeKroon said, “getting to spend time with my first born after 21 years of wondering about her was priceless.”
Learn more about them here at the CBS website.
“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m. Sundays on CBS