The full story of how Twitter saved an Amazing Race team from elimination

Perhaps the most surprising and interesting part of last night’s The Amazing Race 19‘s premiere was when Kaylani Paliotta’s passport was returned to her with the help of Twitter. Here’s the full story of how that went down.

Kaylani lost her passport at a gas station, and though the camera operator noticed–teams never seem to notice what apparently but actually significant things their camera operators are filming–she and her teammate, Lisa Tilley, did not. When they got to LAX, they freaked out because Kaylani couldn’t travel without her passport.

Host Phil Keoghan told the New York Times that the camera operators actually notified producers at the airport that the team forgot its passport, so “We were planning on eliminating this particular team, because there was no way they were going to travel.”

But Twitter saved the day, as we saw during the episode, which for the first time acknowledged how people report on the race as it is being filmed, and even included a Twitter cameo by one of them.

Ryan Storms, who identifies himself as a graphic artist, photographer, and apparel stylist, first tweeted about being filmed for the show after being asked for directions. That was at 10:12 p.m. on June 19. (I’m assuming the timestamps on Twitter are local and thus it was 10 p.m. Pacific time, but at the very least, the timestamps that I’m citing here indicate the amount of time that elapsed during these events.)

He then wrote what ended up on TV, exposing his discovery and bad spelling to the world: “after being randomly filmed for the amazing race I see that one of them dropped there passport!!”

He posted about the discovery at 10:58 p.m., when Ryan also wrote, “Looks like I have to look her up on #Facebook.” (It was a very productive stop for Ryan, who also spent time flirting with a woman who gave him her phone number.)

Reality Fan Forum’s Peach (who Phil calls an “uber fan” in the Times, and who moderates the forums where contestants are identified and the race is stalked) replied to Ryan, and someone else asked him if he could get the passport to LAX.

Shortly after, at 11:21 p.m., Ryan even reached out to CBS, writing, “I have one of your girls Passports!!!” It’s unclear if that had any impact, but that account is CBS publicity. This was late at night on a Saturday, but it’s possible a publicist with the production could have been monitoring it or other Twitter activity.

An hour and 15 minutes later, Ryan wrote, “I’m joining the #AmazingRace LAX here I come!!!”, and he actually arrived 51 minutes after that, at 1:26 a.m.

Two hours later, Ryan wrote, “due to copyright laws I can’t tweet anymore about what happened but everyone watch the @AmazingRace_CBS in Sept!!” That makes no sense at all, of course, but he obviously signed one of the show’s waivers, which includes threats about revealing what you’ve observed. And none of that has anything to do with copyright law at all.

But on television, we obviously saw at least some of what happened transpired: Kaylani was paged, and she was approached by a man who said, “We found your passport.” It’s unclear who that man is, but we saw him and Ryan with Kalyani and Lisa, and Ryan said, “I just walked around my car and it just happened to be there. There was a group that actually came and talked to me; it actually wasn’t their group, it was a group of white guys.”

In an on-the-fly interview, Ryan explained to the camera, “Obviously, there’s no phone number attached to a passport, so I tweeted it … this other lady tweeted me back. She was like, they have no communication, they have no cell phones, and no way to contact anybody else, so pretty much her dream was going to die right now if I didn’t get her this passport.”

Despite the evidence–and the tweets are pretty clear–some are skeptical that this wasn’t orchestrated by the producers, and that includes one cast member, Survivor winner Jenna Morasca, who all but accused the show of cheating.

She did that on Twitter, of course, writing, “What did everyone think of Kaylani ‘losing’ her passport then getting it so nicely ‘returned.'” The scare quotes obviously suggest that she doesn’t believe in the show’s version of events. When someone said that it was “lucky” (with scare quotes) that the passport was returned, Jenna replied with a wink and “agreed.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.