Volleyball’s Beard Bros go from beach to ‘Amazing Race’

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Riley and Maddison McKibbin traveled enough to circle the globe three times while playing on the international beach and snow volleyball tours last year. As professional athletes, they also know a little bit about performing under pressure.

Even that couldn’t prepare them for “The Amazing Race.”

“I will tell you that on the race, it’s a completely different animal,” said Riley McKibbin, who with his brother will be competing on the travel challenge reality show that premieres for its 32nd season on Oct. 14.

“You know what to expect” as a pro volleyball player, he said. “When you’re on the race, you have no idea if the challenges are going to be playing to your strengths or to your weaknesses. … So just trying to harness those nerves and adrenaline and try to put it into a productive way was probably the biggest thing.”

First airing in 2001, “The Amazing Race” sends pairs of friends or relatives around the world to eat bizarre foods, learn local dances, decipher a riddle or bungee jump from a bridge or skyscraper. The team to finish last in each episode is usually eliminated until there are just three left racing to the finish line and a $1 million prize.

The McKibbins said they watched the show growing up and would yell at the contestants on TV about all the mistakes they were making. They applied unsuccessfully once or twice before being cast for this season.

“It’s just the ultimate test of brains and brawn,” Riley McKibbin said. “Finally being able to put all of your theories to the test, and really measure up against all of the trash that you talked as a little kid to the contestants on the TV — I think that was like the most special part for me.”

This season, 11 teams left the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in November 2018 and headed to Trinidad and Tobago, with future stops including France, Germany, Kazakhstan and Brazil for those that last that long. The brothers aren’t allowed to say where they went or how long they lasted, though they estimated that between volleyball, vacation and the show they’ve now been to 50 countries; they keep track on a map that was out of view of the camera they were using for the Zoom interview with The Associated Press.

“We had this plan, we just want to see as many different countries as we possibly can,” said Maddison McKibbin, who is two years younger and the bushier of the siblings known on the AVP beach circuit as “The Beard Bros.”

“We kind of had this motto of, ‘Just don’t get last. Don’t get last, and you’ll advance,'” he said. “And that was our thing, because I think we just didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities that we could have seen to travel the world.”

In addition to the Hawaii-born McKibbins, competing on “The Amazing Race” this season are former NFL players DeAngelo Williams and Gary Barnidge, Olympic hurdlers Kellie Wells-Brinkley and LaVonne Idlette, and a sprinkling of dating couples, siblings and spouses.

The show often highlights the conflict between teammates. The McKibbin brothers say they’ve had their share of those through the years, but on the volleyball court they usually have a few weeks before the next tournament to get over it.

On the show, they needed to solve their problems quickly.

“You’re normally super exhausted after a tournament. And there is a good chance one of you is mad at the other one and you just want to chill and, like, not talk about what just happened,” Riley said. “But the race showed us that, yeah, we need to do that.”

Riley McKibbin, 32, was a first team All-American at Southern California in indoor volleyball and a member of the team that reached the NCAA final in 2009. Maddison followed him to USC and was on the Trojans when they played for the collegiate title in 2012.

The brothers also played indoor professionally together in Greece before teaming up as a beach volleyball twosome on the domestic and international tours; they are currently ranked No. 11 on the AVP. They also play on the nascent FIVB snow volleyball tour, where they have one gold and one silver in the three events held so far.

Spending all that time together gave them a familiarity that can be an advantage on the race when competing against a couple that has been dating for a matter of months. Going in, they knew Maddison would handle any challenges involving heights; Riley speaks Italian and can drive a manual transmission, but he is a nervous traveler.

“And that’s where I come in,” Maddison said. “I hold on to all the passports.”

The show was originally scheduled to air in May, but CBS postponed its release amid the coronavirus pandemic. Filming of the 33rd season was suspended in late February and the contestants and crew were pulled off the road.

During the lockdown, the McKibbins have remained home in Hermosa Beach, California, except to compete in the AVP domestic beach volleyball tour’s makeshift, three-tournament mini-season in nearby Long Beach. They have also been cranking out YouTube videos where they provide volleyball tutorials and behind-the-scenes peeks at life on tour; their channel has almost 74,000 subscribers, and one video has been viewed more than 1.1 million times.

So much has changed since the filming that the McKibbins said it will be strange to watch themselves traveling and surrounded by people.

“So life has definitely changed. … It’s like the polar opposite of what we’re experiencing right now,” Riley McKibbin said. “It probably is going to be a little weird, but it’s we can kind of live vicariously through this show. Which would be a good little escape from the reality right now.”