It’s true what they say: America runs on Dunkin’. And Dunkin’ operating partner, Arun Kumar, is now running the race of a lifetime on The Amazing Race.
The Emmy Award-winning competition series, hosted by Phil Keoghan, is now airing its 33rd season with 11 new teams. Teams of two travel around the world completing various mental and physical challenges, racing against the clock to meet Phil at the finish line before their competitors. The grand prize? A whopping $1 million!
Superfans Arun Kumar and his daughter, Natalia, are one of the lucky teams competing this season. Hearing back from a show producer, and let alone actually being casted, is no easy feat.
“My family and I have watched every single episode of The Amazing Race for the past 20 years,” Arun shared. “We always thought how awesome it would be to be on the show, but never in a million years did I think it would actually happen.”
Arun had always wanted to send in an audition tape with Natalia, but they never did. Then, in 2016, Natalia sent in an audition tape with her fiancé without telling Arun.
“I get a call in 2019 from Natalia saying she auditioned three years earlier, and now the casting director wanted to know if she was still interested in being on the race,” Arun explained. “But now her fiancé was unable to participate because of his medical residency. So, I told her to contact the producers and tell them her dad would like to participate instead.”
Natalia did just that and within a few weeks, the two were off to Los Angeles to complete several rounds of in-person auditions, interviews, and background checks.
“I’ve always played sports throughout my life – baseball, softball, and cricket as a kid in India. And Natalia was the varsity track captain in high school,” said Arun. “The Amazing Race is about much more than just athleticism alone, but I think our backgrounds came in handy.”
Arun grew up in India, where he completed all of his formal education before moving to the United States in 1995. He settled in Metro Detroit with his brother, who encouraged him to submit employment applications.
“I applied for several jobs, including Arby’s. Of all the places I interviewed, Arby’s made me feel the most comfortable,” Arun shared. “I didn’t know anything about QSR, but I joined as a Trainee in 1995 and was eventually promoted to Area Supervisor. I stayed with Arby’s for nearly 20 years before joining Dunkin’ in April 2014, where I’ve been an Operating Partner ever since. I am so grateful to Arby’s for giving me a chance when I first moved to this country.”
At first glance, it may not seem as though the daily tasks of an Operating Partner would prove to be beneficial on The Amazing Race, but Arun explained that there are lots of similarities between the two.
“I’m always so hands-on at work with my team in the restaurants, and I strongly believe this helped me in the race,” he said. “I’m always on my feet and making decisions on the fly, which was really helpful during the race. I love to face challenges and analyze complex situations in the restaurants – and Natalia and I had to do this a lot on the show. Working in the restaurants also taught me the importance of trusting your teammate to do the right thing.”
Contestants who earn a spot on The Amazing Race are typically away from their families, friends, and jobs for roughly a month, with no access to phones or computers. Although he had to step away from the restaurant biz during filming, Arun knew his team was more than capable of operating smoothly during his absence.
“I’m lucky to have a strong team that could manage my business for the month I was away,” Arun said. “You have no contact with the world, but I was confident that my restaurant team wouldn’t let me down.”
Season 33 initially began filming in February 2020, but after three episodes, production came to a halt due to COVID-19. All 11 teams were sent back to their respective homes and waited a long 19 months before production resumed and concluded in the fall of 2021.
Arun encourages anyone who hopes to join The Amazing Race to keep trying, even if it means auditioning more than once.
“This was one of the most exciting opportunities of my life. I am proof that dreams do come true, and that age doesn’t matter,” he said. “If you work hard in life and have a great attitude, things will happen in your favor.”
Tune in to CBS on Wednesdays to cheer on the father-daughter duo at 9 pm ET. Currently, The Amazing Race has aired 5 episodes of the latest season.