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The Amazing Race, Amy DeJong, Maya Warren

Amy DeJong, left, studies candy. Maya Warren studies ice cream. The two UW-Madison scientists took their friendship on an international odyssey as contestants on "The Amazing Race."

For most of the past six years, Amy DeJong and Maya Warren’s relationship has involved laboratory coats and sugar.

DeJong studies candy.

Warren studies ice cream.

Starting at about 3 a.m. at Times Square on a June morning, the UW-Madison graduate students took their sweet science backgrounds in a new direction, starting an international odyssey as teammates on “The Amazing Race.”

What happened after that early-morning sendoff, they’re not at liberty to say. In “The Amazing Race,” 11 teams of two race around the world for about 25 days, completing challenges along the way and competing for a grand prize of $1 million that goes to the winning pair. It will be aired on national television on CBS starting on Friday night in episodes neither has seen.

“I’m very excited to finally see it and be able to talk about it,” said DeJong, 24, a doctoral student from suburban Chicago who focuses on candy crystallization.

In 2012, a married Madison couple, Dave and Rachel Brown, won the “The Amazing Race” after claiming eight legs in all, making them the most successful team in the show’s 20-season history. Their journey, a visit to five continents, nine countries and 22 cities, included scaling skyscrapers in Honolulu and paddling their way twice across a pond while standing on a surfboard-like raft.

Warren, 29, a doctoral student from St. Louis who researches the physical properties of ice cream, had the initial idea to try out for the show.

“We sort of knew we’d have an upper hand in being noticed,” she said.

Female scientists who research dessert don’t regularly walk onto the set of the popular reality show. Plus, Warren said, “we look very innocent.”

DeJong went along for the adventure with her friend and labmate.

They were chosen after auditioning in Chicago last October. DeJong feared the relentless glare of the camera before they started. Warren was excited about it.

Once the starter set them off, they said cameras faded from their minds as they focused on the missions ahead.

“It actually surprisingly wasn’t difficult to adjust to,” DeJong said.

More difficult were the ever-changing nature of the challenges they faced and the new direction their relationship took. Previously, they knew each other mainly as labmates in the relatively obscure world of food research. They take dessert seriously. Not that there aren’t moments of levity.

DeJong remembers serving as co-panelists on various researchers’ sensory studies. For five years they’ve sampled cheese, oatmeal, pizza and ice cream together, all in the name of science.

“Going on the show was something completely different, a chance to have fun together,” DeJong said.

They also wanted to raise the profile of scientific researchers, flashing some personality that lurks beneath the lab coats.

“It was a thrill,” Warren said.

Viewers can take part when the first episode airs at 7 p.m. Friday.

DeJong will watch with family and friends in Madison. Warren will host a party at her parents’ home in St. Louis.

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Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal