By Juanice Gray, Editor
They’re in your business, in your heart and at your door.
But what if they weren’t?
Some don’t know their bloodline or have simply lost track through the generations.
For some, the search to find family leads them to websites, genealogy libraries and newspaper archives. For one Ruston couple, it led them to Natchitoches and the way they got here could lead them to the bank. They are contestants on the hit BYUtv.com television series Relative Race, now in its sixth season.
DeShae Pardon signed up with her husband, Chris, for the show. “My friend and I had been talking on Messenger about Ancestry and literally the next day an ad popped up on Facebook…on a whim I applied, without telling my dear sweet husband,” she laughs. Two months later they got the call confirming they were selected as contestants. DeShae was adopted at birth and wanted to locate her blood relatives.
Chris grew up knowing his immediate family and thought he knew most of his family, but as of episode five, featuring Natchitoches, he had two surprises, relatives he did not know about, one from each side of his family.
Appearing on the show meant leaving their toddler son, Houston, and taking time away from work. They said one of the most difficult parts of being on the show, aside from leaving Houston for 10 days, was being cut off from friends and family and not being able to call your go-to person for support. Contestants are not allowed cell phones or digital maps. “The second thing,” DeShae said, “was, as much as you can prepare with map reading, is people don’t realize, there are very few cities that have street level maps and you have to rely on people. What do people rely on? Their phones, and that is against the rules so you have to find someone who knows the way.”
“I think Chris and I communicate better since being on the show because we had to rely on each other so much,” DeShae said. “The episodes look really quick, but we’re filming 14-16 hours a day. You’re up really late visiting with the family when there are no cameras. You’re up really late and then up really early and with all the emotions you’re physically and emotionally exhausted, but it’s worth it.”
“Filming is done consecutively, so what you see is what we actually did every single day. Our employers were really gracious to let us have that time,” she said. Only her mother was told what the couple was actually doing because she was their son’s caregiver while they filmed. Everyone else was kept in the dark.
The Pardons only knew they were boarding a plane and what airport they were flying into. “When we get those texts from Dan (Debenham, the host), that’s the first time we find out where we’re going next. It’s true reality TV. Nothing is scripted. The emotions, everything we do and feel, is in that moment. It’s been really neat to watch the episodes because we don’t get to see what the other teams are doing. Through the conference call we see who they met, but that’s all,” she said.
DeShae and Chris, who are NSU graduates, were excited to find out they were headed to familiar territory. They arrived on a Sunday, when everything was closed and all their plans of visiting Front Street businesses to get directions were thrown for a loop. “We went down Second Street and across from City Hall the church goers were coming out of church. That was literally a Godsend,” DeShae said. “The guy gave us really good directions.”
Those directions led them to the outskirts of town. “We turn on Patrick and made the entire loop, around by the marina, because there was no street sign for Melle Street. That cost us a good 10 minutes.” The contestants have a time limit to reach their destination. The slowest team gets a strike. Three strikes and you’re off the show.
“One cool thing we found out later was, and this is such a God thing, this is crazy. One of the people outside the church, his friend was a relative on a previous season!” she said. “He texted his friend and said that show you were on, Relative Race, I think Team Green from Season 6 just asked us for directions. It came full circle!”
In Natchitoches, it wasn’t DeShae’s family waiting, it was Chris’s second cousin, Becky Emerich and her husband, Kevin. Meeting family is an emotional roller coaster. DeShae had her share of highs and lows, and when the family members turn out to be related to Chris, it gave her an emotional break. “I got to relax that day,” she said.
“I knew just from seeing the show before that there would be a chance of meeting my relatives, but I never really thought about it,” Chris said. The twist in this episode was that Becky was also adopted and had been on a search for her family. Chris was the first blood relative she’d ever met. “To know that because I always support my wife (laughs) and did the DNA test, that opened up somebody else’s door that may or may not have ever opened had I not been a part of this show,” Chris said.
“Becky had been on Ancestry DNA for two years and had no hits, none.” DeShae said. “It was Chris’s DNA that led her to finding out the names of both biological parents and two half siblings.”
One bonus was also finding medical history. “I’ve started to have conversations about that with the family I’ve met,” she said. “My whole life I’ve had ‘What’s your medical history?’ and I don’t know. Now I can check some of those boxes off on forms.”
Each episode the teams have to complete a challenge. In Natchitoches they dressed in oversized sumo wrestler suits and had to walk slack lines. “We had so many laughs. A: we looked ridiculous and B: we got into so many situations, you couldn’t help but laugh,” Chris said. “I felt like an upside down turtle,” DeShae adds.
Something DeShae found out after the episode aired, was that one of her best friends from college was on the patio at Maglieaux’s watching them compete in the challenge. “He was there, dressed in a green T-shirt watching us from afar and did not know that it was us,” she said.
The Pardons said they are still in constant contact and are building relationships with family they met through the show and they’ve all met Houston, who’ll be 4 in February. “Getting to share him with them was kind of our ultimate goal. It’s his family too,” she said.
Relative Race airs Sunday nights on BYUTv, available on any internet connected device and most cable and satellite providers. The winners of the show get $50,000. Past seasons are also available.