"Amazing Race" contestants wow local students with visit

Students from teacher Nelson Rojas’ Spanish classes jumped up and down on the wooden bleachers in the gym at Corona del Mar High School on Friday. They were shrieking and cheering in excitement as several contestants from the hit CBS reality show “The Amazing Race” leaped out of a storage room.

These included season 15 winners Meghan Rickey and Cheyne Whitney. The contestants visited Corona del Mar on Friday to talk to Rojas’ students about the importance of learning foreign languages.

“Stick with your language in college. I wish I would have kept going,” Whitney told the students. “It’s really going to come in handy in everyday life and in the business world.”

For the past eight years, Rojas has been using the show to get his students excited about learning Spanish and traveling.

The Emmy-winning series follows pairs of contestants in a race around the world to win prizes. Rojas’ students watch the show and then discuss aspects of it in Spanish. At the end of each school year, Rojas’ students play a version of “Amazing Race” at their school with clues in Spanish.

Rojas has been a fan of the show since it debuted in 2001.

“I just loved to travel and it helps to make my curriculum more alive,” Rojas said. “I want [my students] to get excited about travel. They don’t even have to study Spanish, I just want to go somewhere.”

Rojas convinced the contestants to visit Corona del Mar by having his students bombard them with messages on the social networking website Facebook.

Sitting on folding chairs in front of Rojas’ students in the gym, the contestants answered questions about the challenges they faced on the show.

“Will you go to Winter formal with me,” one young man asked Rickey as his classmates giggled.

Students on Friday also got a surprise visit from Phil Keoghan, the host of “The Amazing Race” for the past 15 seasons. Keoghan appeared in the Corona del Mar gym via an Internet video conference link. A native of New Zealand, Keoghan spoke to Rojas’s students about being a good guest when traveling abroad.

“I think the most important thing to remember is to treat the people you meet with respect,” Keoghan said. “When you travel to another country, it’s like you’re stepping into someone else’s home. It’s important to show respect and interest in their culture.”

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