Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

January, 2005

Around the World and Back Again
By Patrick Tandy

Hindoyan

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 WAYS
Elder law attorney Mirna Hindoyan (left) and her cousin and Amazing Race 5 costar Charla Faddoul at the 2004 Emmy Awards

“We were in Atlantic City one weekend, and it was like a mob scene,” says Towson-based elder law attorney Mirna Hindoyan of a recent outing to the Jersey Shore with her cousin Charla Faddoul. “People were chasing us, asking for autographs.”

Such has been life for Hindoyan and Faddoul since their starring gig last summer on the fifth season of CBS’s Emmy Award-winning reality series The Amazing Race, in which 11 teams competed for a $1 million jackpot in a round-the-world race spanning five continents that would have left Phileas Fogg dizzy. Offers to audition to host other programs. Speaking engagements. Public recognition. And fan letters and e-mails from around the world.

“I would get mail from all over the world,” explains Hindoyan. “A lot of young girls would tell me that they idolize me for being such a strong female character on the show. For Charla, they were telling her that she’s an inspiration for them. It was just a really rewarding experience for us.”

Indeed, a sixth-place finish was more than enough to qualify the Syrian-born cousins for the great if somewhat unforeseen race to fame that awaited their return to America.

“Charla and I – we were just shocked,” laughs Hindoyan. “Sometime right in the middle of when the show was airing, when we started leaving the house, it was like everywhere we went people knew us. I think our biggest fan base is at the Wal-Mart, though, because you have a cross-section of America there, and they watch a lot of TV.”

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“It starts with 11 teams of two: people who have preexisting relationships, whether it be boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, family members,” explains Hindoyan, an avid fan of the series since it first aired in 2001. “You start out in the US, and you travel to each country by a clue. In each country you have to complete some obstacles along the way that are particular to that country. For instance, in Argentina it involved tango dancing. In Egypt, it involved something to do with a pyramid. And on each episode, the last team to arrive at that [country’s] pit stop is eliminated.”

“The first season it was two attorneys that won the race,” she notes. “When they won the race I figured, ‘Gosh, they’d never even traveled around the world, and I have.’ I’ve been traveling since I was two, so I could definitely do this thing.”

Hindoyan first filled out the application for the show three years ago, but the idea was shelved when she was unable to recruit a partner. Then, one day the phone rang.

“My cousin Charla called me,” explains Hindoyan. “She had gotten an e-mail from a Little Person association that she belongs to. She’s a Little Person – she was born a dwarf. She’s the only one in our family, so she’s very unique in that way. She said to me, ‘Mirna, there’s a posting here saying that it’s the last day to try out for The Amazing Race, and the association really thinks a Little Person should try out this time. Do you want to do it?” All I needed was a partner, so all those years I was waiting, trying to convince my attorney friends and other people to do this race for me – and here I have someone calling me! So the timing was perfect.”

Together, Hindoyan and Faddoul put together a three-minute audition videotape and sent it in to the network. “I thought, ‘Wow, what are we going to do?’” says Hindoyan. “Everybody else is going to sit on their couch and talk about themselves. We have to do something that’s going to capture somebody’s attention in the first five seconds.”

“First, we presented ourselves very seriously,” she continues. “We were sitting in an office. I had my legal books opened. I was on page 500, reading away, and Charla’s banging on my book with my gavel and she says to me, ‘Mirna, you’ve got to concentrate here – I’m talking to you. We have to apply for The Amazing Race. Let’s go do it!’ So we showed a serious side. We explained that we speak four languages, [that] we’d already been to 30 countries around the world. We explained why we were good for the show, and why we felt we could win. Then we fast-forward to Charla driving a Mercedes convertible, because we wanted to show that even though she’s short she’s able to do anything that any average-sized person can do. She pulls up and we introduce ourselves…and she says, ‘Even though I’m little, you’d better not mess with me or I’ll call my lawyer!’ And I show up with my cell phone and briefcase, ready to defend her. Then we thought, this isn’t enough – we’ve got to do something to really capture their attention. So Charla hoists me on her shoulders, just to prove how strong she is, and we start laughing, [then] we yell, ‘We’ll see you on The Amazing Race!’”

The tape captured enough attention to set it apart from the roughly 25,000 such auditions that the network received. A preliminary interview in New York was followed by a series of auditions in cities around the country. Eventually the word came down to the cousins: the slot was theirs.

“We had about a month to prepare for the race and to put everything in order,” explains Hindoyan, for whom setting aside a busy law practice to travel the world for a month-and-a-half was no lesser obstacle than the network’s strict contractual forbiddance of her providing details of her plans to anyone. “It was really hard for me. I had about 50 cases that I had to wrap up or bring to some sort of closure before I left, because I have clients depending on me. I practice elder law, and most of [my clients] are in a really difficult situation – it’s not something you can put on hold.”

By working up to 14-hour days, Hindoyan was able to essentially clear her caseload. What little time was left outside of work she divided between physical training at the gym and listening to travel and foreign-language tapes.

“We filmed the show [last] January and February, and the show did not air until July,” notes Hindoyan. “CBS revealed the teams [to the public] in June, and of course there was a lot of buzz about our team because we’re so different. People were saying things like, ‘It [will be] a good thing if they even survive the first episode,’ because the race is very grueling. You don’t have time to eat. You don’t have time to sleep. They give you a very limited amount of money, just [enough] to be able to get from country to country.

“All the arrangements are done last-minute, and that’s part of the excitement of the show. It’s so action-packed and fast-paced you never know who’s going to run into trouble. I mean, there were times we were pulled over by the police. We were afraid that we were going to go to jail. You know, we were driving on the wrong side of the road sometimes, we were doing things that you’re not supposed to be doing. It’s in the course of the real world, so things happen. A lot of our negotiation skills really had to come into play because we had to sweet-talk our way out of a lot of things and basically sweet-talk our way into having people help us all the time – that was our key strategy.”

The cousins were not so particular, however, in the presence of the two cameramen who shadowed their entire journey.

“Unfortunately, [we] did not let that influence what [we] said or did, and that’s why Charla and I made for such good reality TV,” laughs Hindoyan. “You’d be surprised with a lot of reality shows – many of the people who are on the show have been trying to make it in Hollywood for a while. They’re probably sending in audition tapes show after show and year after year. This was the first audition tape we ever sent in. And we were kind of naïve, competing with people who had been on TV before. We were competing with people who had mastered the art of beauty pageants; we had a lot of pageant girls this time. They were very careful with what they said. Charla and I were just completely sincere, and they were probing us, [trying] to get certain responses out of us, and we should have known they were probing us. We just went with it. We weren’t censoring what we said very well, but, you know, it made for good TV.”

Indeed, for Hindoyan the seasoned, multilingual world-traveler, the greatest challenge was not so much in getting there as in who would be waiting for them when they did.

“The one thing that no amount of preparation could prepare us for was dealing with the other teams,” notes Hindoyan. “I’ve been to law school. I’ve been around very competitive people, but these were by far the most cutthroat people I’ve ever met. I guess when you dangle a million dollars in front of people, anything goes. Just being able to stay pleasant with them and deal with them on a daily basis was the hardest challenge of this race.”

But even at its most exasperating, the experience was not so easily left behind. “Returning home was really hard,” admits Hindoyan, who is still contractually forbidden to reveal exactly where her team was eliminated from the running. “It was really hard to come back to normal life. Here we were, living this dream – you know, chance of a lifetime. We knew that we were going to be on TV. We basically lived a Hollywood life. Everything was paid for, we saw all these different places, and now we have to come back and just be normal people working at an office 9-5, and I think that was the hardest part of it for me. It took me a couple months…I still don’t even know if I’m back into the swing of things. It took me a while to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to go back to living a normal life now.’”

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“The first day when the show aired, we hadn’t seen any of [it],” says Hindoyan. “We watched it with the rest of America. I had a big party at my house. My heart was shaking so fast: ‘What moments did they capture on TV? What moments didn’t they capture?’ I mean, the camera crew’s with you 24/7, but they get tired sometimes, so they don’t catch everything. It was just such an adrenaline rush – it was like reliving the race all over again.”

Moreover, her role as both viewer and star afforded Hindoyan a rare firsthand glimpse into the “reality” of reality television.

“When we were doing the race, they would take moments to pull us out when we had time to interview us and say, ‘What did you just do?’ or ‘Explain what just happened between you and the other team.’ And we’d explain it to them. I noticed in the sixth episode [that] there was a scene of me being interviewed in the third episode where I’m talking about something completely different that’s put in the sixth episode. I actually said the words, but they just pieced them [together] from different parts. So things like that – they take liberty with creative editing. And it’s easy for things to be taken out of context because each episode was about three days of filming. They would take bits and pieces of what you said and put your most exciting moments [into the episode], so it’s easy for things to be taken a little out of context there. But for the most part The Amazing Race is pretty accurate. What you see is what you get.”

“I’m a huge reality TV buff,” Hindoyan laughs. “It’s something I like to do to unwind in my spare time, but my favorite has always been the Race. I think every show is different. And you have so many new shows out there. Some of them are very tacky, and the main purpose is to exploit people, for them to make money. The Race has a little bit of that quality, as well. It’s television, it’s entertainment – there has to be some entertaining factor. But our show was put together so well. You know, I could have tried out for Survivor or some of the other shows, [but] I don’t think I would have tried out for any of them other than the Race. It’s kind of like a clean, reputable show. If you don’t win, you take something away from it – you get to travel the world. That, to me, was reason enough to do it.”

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For Mirna Hindoyan, the offers and opportunities continue to come in: theme-park appearances, speaking engagements (the first of which will be at Towson University, of which both she and Faddoul are alumni) – even an invitation to the Emmy Awards. But regardless of where her newfound celebrity leads her, there is no greater certainty than her lifelong love of travel and the lessons learned.

“One thing I’ve learned from my experience is the more you travel the world, the more you realize everybody in the world is the same,” offers Hindoyan. “We have the same desires, the same feelings, the same emotions – we just live in different countries, you know? We might dress differently, we might pray differently, we might eat differently, but ultimately you’re the same. And if you ever need help, just ask someone. I mean, people are so gracious and they’re more than willing and able to help you…and also you’ll learn a little bit from them. Don’t just go there and be in your own little sheltered world. Don’t look for the McDonald’s. Don’t hide in your hotel, don’t take taxis everywhere. Take time to walk, to talk to people, to learn about them, and that’s just going to be the best part of your journey. Those are going to be the parts of the trip that you remember. You just have to pay a little bit more attention to the way you represent yourself because you’re representing Americans everywhere when you travel abroad.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2005

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