Relative Race is a compelling, heartwarming, and unscripted TV series that follows four teams racing across the country to find their relatives. All contestants walk away with complimentary DNA research and a discovery of relatives they didn’t know before, but only the winning team walks away with the grand prize of $50,000. 

At the 2019 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy, Dan J. Debenham, the cocreator and host of Relative Race, gave an inside look at the series that has inspired thousands to connect with their family.

How the Race Began

Before Relative Race, Dan J. Debenham was the host of a series on BYUtv called Dining with the Dean. In this show, two teams of college students were given $30 to prepare and present a 3-course meal in 3 hours or less to a dean of the university. After only one season, the show abruptly ended.

Three years later, out of the blue, Debenham got a call from an executive producer at BYUtv asking him and his company, Lenzworks Productions, to create a series about AncestryDNA results. Initially it sounded like a difficult show to storyboard, but Debenham readily accepted the challenge. Lenzworks came back with the concept of a race to find family by using AncestryDNA results. The network loved the idea, and Relative Race was born. 

Contestants from the BYUtv show, Relative Race.

Although Debenham believes the first season of Relative Race was powerful, it was not
as successful as he had hoped. The budget was small, and Lenzworks ended up
losing money. However, Ancestry and BYUtv were determined to keep the show
running, so they decided to provide a larger, more realistic budget. Relative Race has now run successfully
for five seasons, with a sixth season coming in fall 2019.

Real Emotion and the Power of

Often, people ask Debenham how many takes it requires for
people to show good emotion on the show. He tells them that Relative Race is entirely raw and
unscripted, with no double takes necessary. “That is the power of family,” he

In fact, Debenham admitted to the BYU conference attendees that
he often finds himself getting emotional as he watches the competitors find
their families. He revealed, “Sometimes I have to step away from the cameras
because of my emotions. Never have I had to fight emotion in other shows, but
this show is very different.”

Serving as cocreator, executive producer, and host hasn’t always
been the easiest thing for Debenham. Relative
often puts him under a lot of stress. However, when he doubts himself,
his wife’s faith keeps him going. She encourages him daily and believes that
the show is not merely run by Debenham but that it is divinely inspired and
will continue as long as it is needed.

The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held annually and offers classes for genealogists and others wanting to learn about their ancestors. Keep an eye on the BYU conference page for announcements about next year’s schedule and when registration opens.

Source: New on FamilySearch