Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vanessa Chong

IT’S back. Well, at least now filming is season 4 of The Amazing Race Asia. Dubbed as Asia’s most highly anticipated and long-awaited multi-continental race, AXN Asia says the new season expects to “up the intellect ante with the most sophisticated demands on top of the already tough challenges the race will impose on contestants.”

Hoping to repeat the sheer excitement and intense moments of adrenaline rush of previous seasons, TARA 4 features 10 teams of two dashing across countries and oceans to areas AXN Asia describes as “off-the-beaten-tracks” and “exotic spots” all for the chance to win impressive pit-stop prizes from sponsors like Sony and Caltex and of course, the grand prize of US$100,000.

Which also gives me a good reason to revisit a 2008 feature profile for the Manila Bulletin that I wrote on Vanessa Chong (left), one-half of the TARA 2’s surprise runner-up finishers. I’m not exactly sure whatever happened to the pretty Malaysian who made quite a big splash here after her impressive TARA feat with her sister Pamela (right). Perhaps reposting this slightly revised version will lead to some updated information? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Read on.


IF there’s anything we learned from the second season of The Amazing Race Asia, it’s that looks can be very deceiving. In the case of Malaysian sisters Vanessa and Pamela Chong who eventually finished as the surprise runner-ups to the equally surprising and partly-handicapped Singaporean champs, underneath the knockout prom queen exteriors are two highly competitive individuals who never underestimated any of their competition.

“It didn’t feel like we lost at all,” declares Vanessa Chong in recalling their overall experience in AXN-Asia’s top-rated reality show. “Our goal was to make the top three and the fact that we were able to do that made us feel like winners already because being in the top three means you finished the race and we did.”

In a competition that was just as much as about brains as it is about brawn, the sisters showed they did possess the kind of physical and mental toughness needed to go the distance. Vanessa, who was recently in town to promote the popular Malaysian cosmetics brand Elianto says she and her sister never cracked under pressure. Not even when they were shown to be arguing heatedly in the car when trying to find their way to a pit stop. “No, we never actually fought,” she insists. “It’s really just the way we talk. We never lost sight of our goals and we’re really too close to be worried about how this race would affect our relationship.”

And certainly not even when Vanessa momentarily lost her memory for a good 15 minutes during a diving board task that saw her plunge into the water a little too deep for comfort resulting in a lump in the head. Even at that scary moment, younger sis Pamela did not totally lost her composure as she still managed to keep their team in the race until Vanessa fully recovered.

As the eldest of six siblings, Vanessa has always been there for the rest of the Chong brood. A real tough cookie even when she was still at school, Vanessa was a constant gold medal awardee for sporting and non-sporting contests and was even honored as sportswoman of the year in high school for winning in decathlon events including shotput throwing and the 100-meter dash.

A renaissance girl of sorts who also excelled in other school activities such as children’s plays that she herself wrote and not just acted in, Vanessa was also a mainstay of choir along with Pamela and brother, Vince Chong, a popular singing sensation in Malaysia who recently scored hits performing songs from High School Musical, the hit TV movie franchise of Disney Channel.

And even though the drop dead gorgeous Vanessa has always been worthy of the spotlight herself, she didn’t mind taking a backseat in favor of any sibling who needed her support. Prior to joining the race, Vanessa was actually managing Vince’s career and putting the Marketing Administration degree she earned from the UK to very good use.

“I loved working behind the scenes for my brother,” she says. “I handled his schedule, was always there for each of his shows and negotiated his deals. And let me tell you I can very tough when it comes to business.”

Vanessa admits that she’s had her share of hosting affairs but started turning them all down because “I really wanted to concentrate on managing my brother’s career.”

So when she and Pamela decided to give The Amazing Race Asia a shot, Vanessa made sure that everything would be all right for her brother. “I made sure his schedule is all fixed up and left everything with my assistant. Vince is a good boy who concentrates on his art. I think not being on his side made him more independent.”

Not that Vanessa needed to worry about her brother but she says the very fast pace of the race could not really afford her to think about anything else. “Back then, the race was our reality,” she recalls. “Our whole life revolved around it and there was no time to miss anyone and focus on other things. The race is all we thought about.”

It all paid off with that impressive runner-up finish and the corresponding doors that opened for Vanessa and her sister immediately after. In the race’s aftermath, Vanessa was featured in one of the new commercials for Sony Cybershot cameras. And then there’s the image modelling gig for Elianto, a brand that she already uses long before she was asked to endorse its products.

Given how well she has done for herself at this stage of her life, what Vanessa Chong has so far achieved is simply nothing short of amazing. When asked if she and Pamela would take part in The Amazing Race Asia again, the equally feisty Pamela was very firm in saying, “In a heartbeat!”

“The memories, the adrenaline, the whole experience is something that money can never buy. There’s no way we won’t do it again given another chance,” Vanessa concludes.

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