From YouTube to Network TV
Jumba Power! It's impossible not to root for Sugar Land's father-son team in TheAmazing Race
The 17th season of CBS’s The Amazing Race hits televisions screens Sunday night, and the show gives Houston a team to root for with Sugar Land father and son duo, and YouTube celebrities, Michael and Kevin Wu. CultureMap recently spoke with the team about their strategies for running the race as well as their online projects.
Though Michael and Kevin might be new faces on network television, Team Jumba, which we will be calling Team Houston from now on, are hardly unknowns. Anyone who spends much time on YouTube has probably seen Kevin’s comic videos. His channel KevJumba, with its million plus subscribers, is the 12th most-subscribed-to channel of all time on YouTube.
Those million subscribers appear to be just as much fans of Michael — known to the online world as Papa Jumba or KevJumba’s dad — as they are of Kevin.
During his junior year at Clements High School in Fort Bend I.S.D, Kevin began making videos about his life and opinions, school, stereotypes, and his family. Eventually, he cast his dad, in the role of his dad. Over the few years from high school into college, Kevin says those videos evolved, “From a hobby, to a passion, to a career.” The millions of views of his work attests to the connection people have with his videos.
Michael takes his accidental Internet celebrity in stride. Some of that popularity he isn’t even aware of until Kevin informs him, like the Facebook fan page someone started for him or the iPhone app built around some of his funniest lines in the videos. Can a Papa Jumba action figure be far behind?
So might Team Houston actually win the Amazing Race? Let’s take a look at their odds. At 58, Michael is certainly not the youngest person to run the Race, that distinction actually falls to Kevin, who is 20. However, fans of KevJumba productions will know that Michael has raised Kevin on the tenets of Tai-Chi, straight A’s and clear pee, so signs point to the team being fit in mind and body for the grueling race.
But will that be enough? Anyone who has watched even a few seasons of the show knows the world-wide course is unpredictable, yet there are some constants. Sooner or later each team will be confronted with heights, bad traffic, extreme heat or cold, weird food, stubborn livestock or unruly wildlife, and perhaps worst of all, cars with manual transmissions. They will also have both brain and brawn challenges, which racers sometimes have to be perform in anything from their underwear to lederhosen.
How will Team Houston fare? Kevin told CultureMap that before the race they already planned to divide tasks when possible, with Kevin taking the more strenuous tasks and Michael taking the ones that might require more careful thought and patience. Heights could be a problem though, as Michael confessed he has some fears but knew before racing that he could work through them.
Long before applying for The Amazing Race was even an idea for the team, Michael extolled the virtues of learning to drive a stick shift, as is hilariously depicted in one of Kevin’s early videos, "Put It in Purse," so they should have few car problems. Michael believes being experienced Houston drivers might help them navigate in other countries and Kevin feels being Houstonians “used to dealing with really extreme hot weather,” would benefit them if they are sent to tropic or desert locations.
Michael and Kevin speak fluent Chinese so that might give them an edge, depending on this season’s race route. Administrators at Fort Bend I.S.D. might also want to watch to see if those semesters of high school Spanish Kevin took were useful.
An animal task might also be a problem. As video evidence shows, Kevin sometimes has difficulty just getting his dog, Jackie, off his bed. It’s anyone's guess what will happen if the team has to bathe a camel, shear a llama, or herd a colony of meerkats.
No matter how far they go in the race, there are good odds that the team will represent Houston well. Perhaps one reason for The Amazing Race’s popularity and many Emmys is that, unlike some other reality shows, the show is usually light on cringe-moments for the audience. Mean-spirited team bickering and the occasional bouts of ugly Americanism do happen, but they tend not to overwhelm the action.
Speaking with Kevin and Michael makes it very difficult to imagine that they could ever be one of those cringe-worthy teams. KevJumba productions illustrate how well the father and son team work together, and any filmed squabbles are filled with affection and played for laughs. Reality seems to be very close to the scripted version of their relationship.
Over a year ago, Kevin started a second Youtube channel, JumbaFund, where any revenue he makes from views goes to charity and viewers can vote for which charities to support. As Kevin discussed JumbaFund with CultureMap, Michael jumped in to say how proud he is of his son’s project, especially since “he just did this on his own.” Kevin immediately countered with how much he has learned from his parents’ examples, and that his father stressed “Now that you have this online popularity, you should use it for something good.”
Amazing Race viewers looking for this season’s cutthroat team will probably have to look elsewhere.
So tune in Sunday night and root for the home team. Whether Team Houston comes in 11th or first place in The Amazing Race, we have two clear winners worthy of our cheers.