Poker players Tiffany Michelle and Maria Ho did something amazing this summer.
Neither won the WSOP Main Event, nor did they repeat as last woman standing.
Instead, the pair was cast on the 15th season of the award-winning CBS reality show The Amazing Race.
"Poker is something we do, but we don't want our lives to be driven by it," Michelle said. "When we first heard about it, it didn't take us long to say 'Heck yes, we want to do this.' Poker is always going to be around but The Amazing Race doesn't come around quite so often."
Getting the Call for The Amazing Race
In the poker world, Ho and Michelle are famous for being the last female player surviving in poker's biggest event in consecutive years. Ho managed the feat in 2007 while Michelle made it even deeper in 2008.
When they got the call for The Amazing Race this summer, it quickly became apparent they would both have to miss the 2009 Main Event. The decision was easy, according to Ho.
"I didn't give it a second thought," said Ho. "It was a little different for Tiffany, who was actually defending her title as last woman standing, but I hands-down wanted to be on the show. I'm glad we saw the big picture."
It wasn't the first time that Michelle had been approached to do reality TV, but it was by far the best offer.
"After my run at the Main Event there were a lot of opportunities," said Michelle. "Obviously there are a lot of crummy reality shows, but getting to star in a multiple-Emmy winning show is an amazing opportunity."
As soon as Michelle and Ho received word they would appear on the show, they set about preparing for the journey by watching a number of the previous seasons and going over possible scenarios from a strategic point of view.
In other words, they approached the game as poker players.
"I watched the very first season and I was completely intrigued," said Ho. "It's kind of the purest form of reality show. It's not a popularity contest and you don't get voted off. You compete hard or you go home."
In an ironic twist, Ho and Michelle were cast as the only all-female team for Season 15 of The Amazing Race. No all-female team has ever won the show.
"Once again we were living the whole male-dominated dynamic of the poker world, but we were really excited to take this on together," said Michelle.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the show was the timing. Since filming began in the middle of the WSOP Main Event, both Ho and Michelle were required to be vague when talking to fellow poker players about their plans.
"You understand why they don't want people to ruin the surprise," said Ho. "We see it all the time in poker when everyone knows the result of the Main Event before it's shown on television."
Despite the distraction, Ho managed to put on an impressive poker performance in one of the last events she played this summer. She finished 11th for $41,040 in the prestigious $10,000 World Championship Limit Hold'em event.
"I was getting a lot of questions," Ho said. "It was hard because I didn't want to lie to anyone when they asked if I was playing the Main Event."
Representing Poker to the Mainstream
Now that their appearance is public knowledge, both Ho and Michelle say they knew all along there was more on the line then just their individual reputations.
"We really wanted to go out there and represent poker in the best way possible," said Ho. "Sometimes poker is shown in a negative light because of the gambling aspect and we wanted to change that."
Michelle went so far as to say they had something to prove and Ho agreed.
"We're pretty unique in the poker world because it's a male-dominated game and we wanted to prove that we are some kickass girls who are nice, but also really competitive," said Ho.
"We wanted to get away from the whole pretty girls playing poker thing and prove that we are gamers," added Michelle.
Although the pair weren't able to disclose any information on the actual Amazing Race experience, it's obvious the bond between them remains tight.
"Tiff is a badass chick," laughed Ho. "I got to see how that translated into the race first hand. She's a competitive person and I love her."
Michelle went on to say that whatever happened on the show they agreed to be very forgiving of each other.
"Our relationship is probably stronger now," added Ho.
With the show completed both girls suddenly have a plethora of new career options, but the siren call of the good old poker game seems to be strong.
"I miss being able to play poker," said Ho. "I'm not going to say that I'll play every tournament, but I obviously love it. I'm going to make my best efforts to play the Aruba Poker Classic and WPT Festa al Lago."
Michelle, having recently re-signed with sponsor Ultimate Bet, was a bit coy about her future prospects.
"At this point I think we have to go for either a presidential campaign or world domination," she joked.
The 15th season of The Amazing Race begins airing on CBS Sept. 27.