Coree and Jeff talk life after Race to Survive: New Zealand and the game changing injury that ended their journey

RACE TO SURVIVE: NEW ZEALAND -- "Water and Ice" Episode 201 -- Pictured: (l-r) Coree Woltering, Daniel "Jeff" Watterson -- (Photo by: Daniel Allen/USA Network)
RACE TO SURVIVE: NEW ZEALAND -- "Water and Ice" Episode 201 -- Pictured: (l-r) Coree Woltering, Daniel "Jeff" Watterson -- (Photo by: Daniel Allen/USA Network) /

Race to Survive: New Zealand ultramarathoners Coree Woltering and Jeff Watterson are as chill and laid back as they appeared in the competition. Unfortunately, he two friends had to self-eliminate in episode 5, “Deep, Dark, Holes,” but I was able to catch up with them to talk about their time in the race, the game changing injury Coree sustained, and more.

Our talk began with Jeff’s ever so kind compliment of the painting I have in my office of a dark forest. He called it “awesome” and it was a rather fitting start to our discussion as the episode where they leave the competition is all about the deep dark as it features an expedition through a cave. This was a departure from what the audience and the competitors had seen in the first two legs of the race.

Jeff expressed that it was “a vast difference” and that they loved the “variety” of the competition. The switch up with the terrain, however, wasn’t something that they weren’t prepared for as the two had mentioned during the episode that they’d trained to get ready for what they might encounter during the show. Coree elaborated on that point.

"So I was living in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the time. I was very lucky in the fact that, you know, we have some rugged and steep mountains, like, right there in town. Actually, we do have the river that's through town. So, I mean, it wasn't hard to be able to get out and do various outdoor adventure sports leading up to this, but at the same time you didn't know you're going to New Zealand until maybe a week or so before. And so with that you, you don't know what to get ready for. You just know that you need to be ready for just about anything and everything. "

Aside from the physical aspect of his training, Coree also watched YouTube videos and read books to prepare for the survivalist element of the competition. As he mentioned, with the reveal that they'd be competing in New Zealand being withheld until a week before the race began, there was only so much he could do from the balcony of his apartment.

Race to Survive: New Zealand - Season 2
RACE TO SURVIVE: NEW ZEALAND -- "Grit Trumps Calories" Episode 203 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jeff Watterson, Coree Woltering -- (Photo by: Daniel Allen/USA Network) /

The pair’s level of commitment to giving their all before and during Race to Survive was well matched by their even-keeled temperament. Out of all the contestants, they appeared to be the most steady and sure about their ability to communicate, their skillset, and desire to win without an overt sense of competitiveness or tension.

Yes, part of this was due to their easy camaraderie but it also stemmed from their discussion of what they would each handle. While Coree trained and researched, Jeff focused on sharpening his abilities as a navigator.

"So I feel like, you know, going into it, we are both pretty chill individuals just by nature. As far as who was going to take care of navigation, the survival aspect of it, that was one of the big reasons Coree brought me on board. That was kind of my expertise so I knew I would be taking care of that part of it when we discussed it. He was doing his research and doing his practicing and all that stuff. But, you know, it was kind of my job to take care of the navigation. So I was really, really sharpening my skills there just reading as much as I could."

Jeff's navigation served their team well throughout the race so much so that Rhandi and Ashley attempted to trail them during the second race. The pair ultimately shook them off and maintained their pole position, coming in 5th as they'd done previously but that leg of the journey was also when Coree sustained an injury that would significantly impact them come race three.

The moment happened when they were in the Red Canyon, coming down to the food cache. Coree fell and hit his head but episode 3, “Grits Trumps Calories,” didn’t linger too long on the incident. It wasn’t until “Deep, Dark, Holes” that the level to which Coree had been injured became clearer and things got worse when he fell again, this time at the food cache in Zone 1, Forest Run, at the start of the third leg.

"The first time I actually hit my head was in race two, coming down to the food cache, coming off the Red [Canyon], I guess it was the food cache there. At that point I knew that I had a concussion but, you know, it's like, oh, it's race two like we can just–we're halfway through it at this point so let's just get through it, get to survival camp and then see if things are gonna improve over the next few days.

It never improved because I mean, to be honest, like the only way to actually heal a concussion is to rest. And so at that point, it's like we still had another, you know, 24 hours of pushing and then it was, I guess, three days of survival camp or something, but it just never got better and it wasn't necessarily the pain. It's just like the constant headache, the fogginess, the just not feeling super confident in decision making.

So then when it came to race three and you see me fall right after the [food] cache like that one just that actually really hurt. But then like my brain is just not anywhere where it should have been to be doing anything like that in the outdoors. "

Coree's injury cut the race shorter than the pair would have liked but the competition did spark an unexpected interest for him. He admitted that he "wasn't a big camper" and hated it before Race to Survive stating he would "100% pick a hotel over camping." But he's spent almost three weeks camping so far this year and has enjoyed sleeping under the stars.

Race to Survive: New Zealand - Season 2
RACE TO SURVIVE: NEW ZEALAND -- "Grit Trumps Calories" Episode 203 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jeff Watterson, Coree Woltering -- (Photo by: Daniel Allen/USA Network) /

As for Jeff, he's always loved the outdoors hence his comment during one of his last video packages for the show where he said he knew he'd be lying in his bed wanting to be under a tarp. In fact, at the time we spoke, he'd recently come back from a trip with his oldest daughter where they camped out at a music festival for three days.

He mitigated the transition from the competition to being back home among the creature comforts of his daily life and routine by embracing his desire to be outdoors.

"I had pitched my tarp in the backyard within two weeks of being home and spent the weekend outside. I just enjoy that and it was nice to kind of get that feeling again because the show was a great experience for me. You know, spending all that time in nature. The almost three weeks straight of sleeping under a tarp or outside was just genuinely a good time for me. "

As much as we've all been inspired by the teams' journeys on Race to Survive so have the teens that Jeff guides as a cross-country coach. He and his wife have been hosting viewing parties that have included anyone from the team that wants to come watch along with him and his family. They had 13 guests, all teenagers, for the show's premiere and there's been an open invitation since.

When I asked if he and Coree's time in the competition inspired any of his athletes to do a race like this one once they come of age, he explained that for the most part it's made them push to meet their own goals.

"I think a few of them would be interested in doing something like that, but right now it's really inspiring them to, you know, push a little harder on their workouts for the season. I had one girl last week say, you know, if Jeff can do this, then I can run another five minutes. So it made me feel good that, you know, they're out there pushing themselves. "

Clearly, Race to Survive was a rewarding experience for both men, so it’s no wonder that they’re both open to doing a redemption season of the show together or another survivalist series like it. 

Jeff’s favorite moment was seeing the mountains and the river for the first time, stating “to be able to be out there and spend the night under the stars and see the mountains surrounding. Drinking water straight from the source. Those aspects of the show were absolutely amazing.”

For Coree, it was the parts of the competition we didn’t get to see much of like the campfires they shared with their competitors at survival camp where they got to know each other. He also appreciated the moment mere seconds before he took the fall that would change the trajectory of their game.

Race three, I mean, literally 30 seconds before the fall. Jeff and I are the second team to that first cache. And I think that's when people started to realize like, hey, you know, like this team is also a threat. Like we're not just, we don't just say we're ultramarathoners, but like we can navigate, we're fast. We are strong here, we are. So that was a big win followed by a huge low like 30 seconds later, which is an emotional roller coaster. But I mean, that's one of my favorite moments still. "

Hopefully, we will get to see Coree and Jeff again on another installment of Race to Survive. Their friendship was a highlight of the season. Stay tuned to Hidden Remote for more news and coverage of the competition including my interview with Steffen and Mikhail (coming this weekend!).