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For a small clique of endurance athletes, the reason to enter the world’s toughest adventure race, Eco-Challenge, is to win its $100,000 purse. For other competitors, like prominent class action litigator Brian Strange of L.A.’s Strange & Carpenter, the reward is psychic: bragging rights earned simply by finishing a notoriously grueling contest. But bragging rights don’t come easy in this game. When Strange and his wife, Dianette, competed together in 2000 in Borneo, the obstacles weren’t just Eco-Challenge itself or its $13,500 entry fee. The couple nearly ruined their 13-year marriage amid the stresses of the race — and it was all on camera. In that race, the team was plagued by infighting. A notable low point: One member left for an acting audition on “Baywatch.” The Stranges held very different expectations about the race. Brian wanted to race for the experience; his wife wanted to compete. The resulting clashes were, Dianette Strange concedes, “awful.” So, for this past year’s race in New Zealand, the Stranges played it safer: They were on separate teams. But for Brian Strange, the 2001 Eco-Challenge didn’t last long. Thrown from his horse shortly after the race began, he couldn’t catch the animal. It ran into an army base, and along with it went Strange’s dreams of victory. “Brian is a good friend of mine, and he’s really bummed,” says Mark Burnett, the producer of the television show “Survivor” who founded and executive-produced Eco-Challenge. Strange concurred: “It is disappointing. Everyone else was able to catch their horse that ran off.” Strange’s team was allowed to finish the race unofficially. Says Burnett: “I’m not going to let a year’s worth of training go to waste and pull him off the racecourse.” Sixty-seven other teams started the race, which was won by Team Salomon/Eco-Internet and sponsored by adidas-Salomon AG, the athletic wear company. This marks the second consecutive year that Americans have won. And the Stranges’ teams? Dianette’s team took eight days to finish in 33rd place. Brian’s unofficial place was 47th. Eco-Challenge is the mother of all adventure races largely because of Burnett’s marketing skills. It was the first adventure race ever televised. The Discovery Channel first aired Eco-Challenge in 1996; USA Network now owns the rights and plans to air it in April. Adventure racing is meant to combine the daring of Lewis and Clark with a marathon. There are no aid stations, so competitors carry their own food, water and other survival gear. Teams must master multiple disciplines, including kayaking, rafting, hiking, climbing mountains, rappelling cliffs and mountain biking — not to mention riding horseback. The race is a sports story, but Burnett produces it as a drama. The stress of racing on little food and less sleep reveals a competitor’s true character. For Brian and Dianette Strange, their true characters were less dramatic in the most recent race. But there’s always the 2002 Eco-Challenge.

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