Reality TV's "The Amazing Race" pits groups of two against each other in a grueling trek around the world that demands teamwork, smarts, endurance, a talent for getting along with all kinds of people, and the ability to work well under intense pressure while getting very little sleep.
Twin brothers Jamil and Idries Abdur-Rahman of suburban Lake County figure they can win this thing and the $1 million prize because that's pretty much been their lives.
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Growing up in the diverse Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, the African-American, Muslim brothers attracted friends of all colors and religions. After high school, they completed their undergraduate work -- together -- at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Then it was on to Rush Medical School -- together. After their medical residencies, where they worked at hospitals less than 2 miles apart, they opened a women's health care practice -- together -- in Ottawa, Ill., and recently they were hired -- together -- at the Vista Health System's medical campus in Lindenhurst and state-of-the-art New Family Center at Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan.
Now 36, the brothers are teammates for the 22nd installment of "The Amazing Race," which premieres at 7 p.m. today on CBS. Jamil is in the process of moving his family to Barrington, and Idries is busy with his family's move to Grayslake, but they'll find a way to watch the show together.
"It'll probably be a little more fun to do that," Jamil says with big smile.
After all these years together, the twins still enjoy each other's company.
"There's always been competition," admits Idries, "but we're doing all these things together."
Teammates on a youth baseball team, they soon turned their attention to academics and the pursuit to become doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.
Idries persuaded Jamil to team up on "The Amazing Race."
"I've always, always wanted to do it," says Idries, who notes school, work and family kept him too busy to apply until this fall. The show began shooting at the start of November and didn't wrap up until the start of December.
While the pair are prohibited from giving away results of the show or leaking details and plot twists, they clearly met some challenges. But the usual obstacles caused by having no food and no sleep were no problem for them, the brothers say.
During their medical residencies, the brothers practically lived at the hospital. "Thirty-six hours is pretty routine," says Idries, who worked at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County while Jamil labored at nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital. (Laws have changed since then, limiting medical residents to no more than 24 consecutive hours on duty.)
"We're used to working with each other in stressful situations," says Idries, who notes that delivering babies is by definition a life-or-death procedure. But the stress of "The Amazing Race" is different.
"In residency, when you were done, you were done," Jamil says.
"With this, you didn't know what was going to happen," Idries adds. "In your job, it's stressful, but you know what to do."
"With medicine you have tools in your toolbox," Jamil says. "If one doesn't work, you try the next one."
There is no standard of care for contestants trying to solve puzzles or find the quickest way to the next destination. But the brothers say they usually were on the same page.
"We started off like that," Jamil says. "We didn't have to discuss it much at all."
They say they didn't have a fight during the game, but "it's hard not to bicker over little things," Jamil concedes.
For men used to being judged by test scores and comparisons to their peers, one of the most frustrating things was the uncertainty of the race competition.
"When you are there, you are like, 'Where's everybody else?'" Idries says. "I didn't know if we were in first place or last."
Whenever he had doubts, Jamil would tell himself, "I'm here and I don't want to go home."
One of the most difficult things was being away from their families for a month. Idries is married to Nikia, a lawyer, and they have sons Adam, who turned 15 on Friday, and Noah, who turns 10 next week, and daughters Najiyah, 11, and Hana, 4. Jamil is married to Rubi, a nurse whose family hails from Mexico, and they have sons Laithe, 11, and Leo, 2.
"My wife, she's a fan of the show," Idries says. "She said, 'I will be sad not to see you for a month, but I'm so excited.'"
That excitement rushed over Jamil at the starting line at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles when host Phil Keoghan dropped his arm and yelled, "Go!"
"The funnest moment to me is the start. It's so surreal," Jamil says.
"Running through the airport is fun, too," Idries adds.
While the show took them to exotic locales from the beaches of Bora Bora to the sheep fields of New Zealand, the brothers say they were too focused on the tasks at hand to take in the sights.
"We went to some pretty cool places, but it's almost like we weren't there," Jamil says.
"What you see on TV is what it's like," Idries says, noting adrenaline kept him going.
"It was more emotionally demanding than physical," says Jamil, who, like his brother is a fit 5 feet, 11 inches and 180 pounds.
Of course, how the brothers come off to viewers depends on the editing of the show.
"We see it with everybody else for the first time," Idries says.
"When people see it, hopefully we will dispel some myths," Jamil says, noting the brothers represent a lot of cross-sections of the country, from male OB-GYNs to twins to African-Americans to Muslims to people who grew up in the city and now live in the suburbs.
"Without sounding corny or cliché, it was an amazing experience," says Jamil, who says he and his brother liked the host and even the other contestants. "Everybody from the top down was awesome."
"I can cross it off my bucket list," Idries says.
The publicity and instant fame doesn't seem to have had an impact on their relationship.
"I'm the better doctor, and I'm better looking," Idries jokes with an impish grin.
"And I let him believe that," Jamil says with a laugh.
Regardless of how they end up doing in the competition, the experience was just another fun and rewarding thing these twins have done together.
"At the end of the day, it's a game," Jamil says, "and no one is going to lose their life."