Scaling two-story cargo nets in Cambodia. Racing across New Delhi in a rickshaw. Binge eating sheep’s buttocks in Kazakhstan. It certainly isn’t the normal itinerary for a young New York actor, especially one starring off-Broadway in a hit musical revival. But Nick Spangler, appearing nightly as romantic hero Matt in The Fantasticks at the Snapple Theatre Center, isn’t your average performer—he’s the champion of the thirteenth season of CBS’s The Amazing Race. Spangler and his sister Starr were announced as the winners of the global reality competition on the show’s final episode on December 7, splitting a $1 million pot of prize money and additional goodies from cars to trips to Hawaii and Anguilla. However, as Spangler explains, the biggest challenge he faced was keeping his win which had to remain confidential until the finale episode aired a secret and keeping his head while his Fantasticks castmates turned into devout, and occasionally relentless, Amazing Race fans.
I was en route from Portland, Oregon, from the finish line of The Amazing Race, heading back home to New York City. While connecting through the Ft. Worth airport, I dialed a number on my cell phone for the first time in four weeks. Our phones had been confiscated upon arriving at the start of the Race. Who did I decide to call? My agent, of course! Now that the race was over I needed to check in. And I was glad I did.
The first thing my agent said to me was, “The Fantasticks is reopening off-Broadway and they want you to play Matt.” I was ecstatic. Four days later I began rehearsing. I was thrilled to be working, but something was different. First and foremost, I now had half a million dollars, my half of the first prize winnings on The Amazing Race! But, more pointedly: I was not racing anymore. Yet I found myself running to hail cabs I did not even need. I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted it! And sleep…While on the race my sister Starr and I had to train ourselves to fall asleep on demand. I was stuck in the habit of sleeping in fits of four or five hours.
My Fantasticks castmates were chomping at the bit, wanting to know where I’d been, what I’d done and, most importantly, what place I had finished in. All this was, of course, classified, and I was under contract not to speak about it. I didn’t tell my cast, or my parents, or even my girlfriend…and I live with her!
When The Amazing Race premiered on September 28, I took the night off and flew to California to watch it with my family and 200 of our friends. As soon as the show aired in New York I was flooded with text messages from the cast who were watching backstage, thanks to a new TV donated by our very own Scott Willis. It was nice to know that 3,000 miles away they were cheering for me.
The Fantasticks performs at 7:15 on Sunday nights, so every week we would be in the middle of a performance when The Amazing Race went on the air. Everyone crowded into the greenroom around a fuzzy TV set to watch with unabashed glee as my sister and I raced across the screen. Not a single entrance cue was missed.
Every time the Race cut to commercial, I would launch into a story about “what really happened” or how the episode didn’t convey how difficult some of the challenges were. Sometimes I would get teased about the Race—while onstage. Once J.T. Waite who plays Henry ad-libbed a line about traveling to the country that I was appearing in that week on the Race, and Steve Routman our Bellomy would often whisper updates to me about what was happening on TV. Once he even made a fake Amazing Race clue envelope and filled it with instructions telling me to “Stand on a box in Venice and be whipped and burned”—something I actually do in The Fantasticks.
Now that the show is officially over, I’m anticipating a lot of sarcasm and a few pats on the back when I return to work this Wednesday at the Snapple Theatre Center. The Amazing Race may be over, but The Fantasticks is still going strong.