Amazing Charla: Small in stature but big in spirit…

The Straits Times (Singapore)
August 25, 2004 Wednesday

Amazing Charla;
Small in stature but big in spirit, the tiny half of the racing
cousins shows that size really doesn’t matter

Hong Xinyi

YOU may have seen her running desperately to keep up with the other
contestants on The Amazing Race 5, but Charla Faddoul will have you
know that her dwarfism has seldom kept her from accomplishing her

The 28-year-old, who is 1.2m tall, said she endured tremendous pain
during surgery to straighten her legs when she was 13.

Why? ‘So I would be able to walk and run like everyone else. That was
the toughest time I’ve had to face as a little person,’ she said in a
phone interview yesterday from Baltimore in the United States.

‘It was excruciatingly painful, and no kid wants to spend the entire
summer in casts. After that I had to use a wheelchair for a while,
but it made me a stronger person,’ she said.

‘When I was in high school, kids were not very nice about my dwarfism
as well. But when I got older, I started showing my personality.’

Faddoul sounded slightly more tired than her usual upbeat self on
television – which was understandable as she had been fielding
interviews from the press all day.

Along with her cousin Mirna Hindoyian, 28, Faddoul was eliminated in
last week’s episode of the reality show.

Her sunny but determined disposition was abundantly apparent during
her TV stint, and viewers certainly took notice.

Websites and blogs run by fans of the show have been discussing
Faddoul and her cousin more than any other team.

In a CBS online poll held last month, the feisty twosome were voted
most likely to win the show’s US$1 million (S$1.71 million) prize.

One Faddoul fan said: ‘She can carry a side of beef on her back, eat
2 pounds of caviar and keep a legion of loyal Charla fans entertained
through the dog days of summer. This woman deserves a medal.’

Dan Okenfuss, spokesman for the interest group Little People Of
America, considers her a role model.

‘What Charla is doing on the show is great, introducing little people
to the mainstream world, doing an activity average-sized people are
doing,’ he was quoted in an article posted on the website last month.

Even host Phil Keoghan got noticeably misty-eyed when he told the
cousins of their elimination last week.

‘Charla may be a little person, but she has a heart the size of a
whale,’ he was quoted as saying in an article on last

Before their elimination, entertainment magazines like People and TV
shows like Entertainment Tonight had already been clamouring for
interviews with Faddoul.

Since their elimination, the pair have been making the talk show
rounds in New York and Los Angeles.

But the glitz and the glamour of their post-Race life is not as
important to Faddoul as the acceptance she now feels.

‘Before, people would judge me before they got to know me. But when
I’m walking on the streets now, people don’t look at me like I’m
different,’ she said. ‘They welcome me with open arms, and say that
I’m an inspiration. It’s such an honour.’

And she is not self-conscious about being labelled a role model

‘I’m not perfect, but I hope I can encourage not just little people,
but people who are different in other ways. It’s tough out there, but
don’t give up.’

Hindoyian, an attorney, is delighted by her fan mail.

‘I’ve received over 50 letters and e-mail. Of course some are men
asking me out on dates, but there are also young girls who say they
want to be as strong and independent as us. It’s so heartwarming.
Thank you, everybody.’

There are some brickbats among the bouquets, though. Some reality
show pundits call Faddoul’s tactic of using her dwarfism to inspire
sympathy ‘hypocritical’.

Hindoyian’s contentious relationship with other Racers (see other
story) have also garnered choice adjectives like ‘whiny’,
‘self-dramatising’ and ‘bitch’.

Besides endless run-ins with arch-nemesis Colin Guinn, she had once
tried to prevent a ticket agent from selling other teams air tickets
by saying they were violent.

She could also barely contain her glee each time her team’s
bus/taxi/train/plane sped ahead of other teams.

Nonetheless, the pair stand firm on their Race-running strategies.
‘If people can’t see that I’m trying to break stereotypes, then
there’s nothing more I can do,’ said Faddoul, sounding a tad

‘Certain things are harder for me. We had to buy tickets ahead of the
other teams so that things wouldn’t boil down to a running
competition at the end. Their legs were double my size. I played the
game the best way I could using what I had.’

Hindoyian, likewise, mounted a spirited defence. ‘We never intended
to have rivalries with anyone. When we first arrived on the show, we
hugged and greeted everyone, and we wanted to build alliances.’

However, she said, ‘the other teams didn’t take us seriously at

‘They didn’t realise that I was an attorney and a good strategist,
and that Charla is a very successful manager of 10 sportswear

But the Syrian-born Armenian cousins are no strangers to exceeding

Born a month apart in the same Syrian hospital, their families
emigrated to the US when they were children. Both women currently
reside in Baltimore, Maryland.

‘I had to teach myself English when I was five years old,’ said
Hindoyian proudly.

‘And I was the youngest graduate in my class in law school.’ She
graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law at the age of

‘Some of the other teams commented on how we spoke in Armenian among
ourselves. But that’s the language we speak at home,’ she explained.

‘I guess some people have no appreciation for other cultures.’

Despite not winning, the pair are happy to have had the experience.
Faddoul cited ‘the sun setting over the pyramids in Egypt’ as her
favourite memory of the Race, while Hindoyian is grateful that ‘I got
to travel the world with my cousin’.

Indeed, the two remain as close as ever. Said Hindoyian: ‘Charla and
I have known each other for 28 years, spent every holiday together,
and we can read each other’s minds.

‘We know each other’s strengths, and any bickering during the Race
was minimal.’

Faddoul also credits her husband, David Faddoul, with giving her

‘He was worried at first because it seemed like a very physical show,
but he knows I usually succeed in what I do.’

She has been married for 3 1/2 years to the 34-year-old (and 1.75m
tall) manager who runs one of her stores. They were introduced by
mutual friends at a party.

‘He’s a wonderful man who believes in me and makes me want to do

With the new-found belief from her fans, there’s no telling what the
Amazing Faddoul will be able to accomplish next. RACE RELATIONS

The name-calling, the intense glares, the hostile factions and the
snide comments. Why didn’t fan favourites Mirna Hindoyian and Charla
Faddoul make any friends among their fellow Amazing Race contestants?
Hindoyian (left) gives us her take:

On being dubbed ‘Mirna and Schmirna’ by brothers Lance and Marshall

‘I don’t have any feelings about them. They said that the Russians
were miserable people, the Arabs were miserable people, and that
Charla and I weren’t their type of people. I’m happy that we are not.
I just want to keep a positive attitude and not put everyone down.’

On her soap-opera-worthy rivalry with arch-nemesis Colin Guinn

‘Colin actually called us Russian bitches, completely disrespecting
our heritage. He said repeatedly that his goal was to beat Charla. I
don’t think his ego could stand being beaten by two girls.’

On the bowling Mums Linda Ruiz and Karen Heins:

‘The Mums were not out to win a popularity contest, they were out to
win. They made it very clear during the most recent episode that they
thought we were a strong team, and we really respect people who give
us a chance.’

On how she kept gushing over host Phil Keoghan and hugging him every
chance she could:

‘We come from a small town, and we’re big fans of show, so Phil is
like a big celebrity to me. I think he is so handsome and witty.’