'Big Brother' and 'Amazing Race' vet Rachel Reilly on parenting and reality TV: 'I had to give up breastfeeding to go on that show'

·9-min read
Big Brother and Amazing Race alum Rachel Reilly on baby names, weaning and hitting the road with two kids. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Big Brother and Amazing Race alum Rachel Reilly on baby names, weaning and hitting the road with two kids. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.

Rachel Reilly is a household name for reality TV buffs. She competed in back-to-back seasons of Big Brother in 2010 and 2011, winning the CBS competition on her second run. She also won the heart of castmate Brendon VIllegas, with whom she'd go on to compete on Celebrity Fear Factor and two seasons of The Amazing Race, placing third each time. (Reilly competed on the travel show a third time in 2019, swapping Villegas for sister Elissa Slater for Season 31's all-star edition, in which she broke a record for most legs run on the race; she remains the reigning female contestant to have raced the most legs.) 

Now a mom to daughter Adora Borealis — who turned 5 in April, after Reilly's interview with Yahoo Life — and 6-month-old son Adler Mateo, Reilly will soon be taking her family on the road for yet another reality TV project, this time for the digital streaming channel bspoketv. Ahead of Villegas moving on to a residency program after finishing his PhD. and postdoctoral research, the family are renting out their Los Angeles home this summer and being filmed for the upcoming series as they crisscross the United States with their kids in tow. Along the way, they'll catch up with other reality TV favorites and complete a variety of community service projects, the latter of which appealed to Reilly as a mom who wants to teach her kids to give back. 

Here, she opens up about her kids' unique names, dealing with "Rachel haters" and posing in a bikini after giving birth. 

How would you describe your parenting philosophy?

I don't know if I have a parenting philosophy. I think I kind of let my daughter just go, I guess. I let her explore the world and we try to teach her things and take her places and do things with her. I enjoy calling myself a mom on the go, because I feel that I'm consistently going and doing activities or taking her somewhere. Before COVID, we were going to museums, we were going anywhere to explore and do art projects, do gymnastics. I kind of want her just to explore the world. So far as a parent philosophy... maybe it's just child-based?

With all these reality shows that you've done, there's a level of competitiveness and fearlessness. Does that ever play a role in your mom life?

I'm really competitive on television, obviously, but when it comes to mom life, I don't find myself to be as competitive. I'm not competitive with other moms at all. And my husband and I just kind of work together as a team. My daughter, however, competitive with us, which is hilarious [laughs]... Obviously as a 4- year-old, they push the boundaries as much as they can, but she's consistently trying new things, trying to tell us that she can ride a horse better than we can, trying to tell us that she can run faster than we can. We did this hike that's 500 steps and she ran up it — which, OK, she's 4 — but Mommy and Daddy, we were all the way back. We were huffing and puffing. It was hard. 

You and your husband are a pretty public couple, and your relationship has unfolded on TV. Do you find it hard in terms of now being a mom and having that visibility open you up to mom shaming?

Oh yeah. All the time... I quit Twitter when I was pregnant with my son because it was just too much. It was just like, you're pregnant, you're already dealing with all these emotions and hormones and you're reading. Twitter. It was toxic because the people on Twitter can be so mean. I feel like on Instagram, people are a little bit nicer... there's more people that are positive than there are negative for myself. But yeah, I get the people that are like, "Why are you posing in your bikini? You're a mom." ... "You've lost too much weight." "You've gained too much weight."

You can't please everyone — I learned that a long time ago, when I was on Season 12 of Big Brother. I had a ton of people that were just, like, Rachel haters. And then on Season 13, I had those same people become my biggest fans. So I learned a long time ago that you can't rely on anything the internet says and anything that these people say. You have to just take it with a grain of salt and [remember] that none of it really matters. What matters is who you are, and as a mom, what you think about yourself. And at the end of the day, it's all about your family anyway, right? These people don't know me personally. They're not walking a day in the Rachel shoes. At the end of the day, it's all about who you are as a person, and if you think you're being a good mom, you're being a good mom. 

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What was it like competing on the Amazing Race All-Stars (Season 31) as a mom? Was it hard being so far away?

I was breastfeeding my daughter, who was 2 — and she'd probably still be breastfed, like honestly, my newborn and my 4-year-old [laughs[ — but I had to get this yellow fever vaccine for the race. And I went in and they were like, "Oh, you have to stop nursing." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, I can't do it." [I was] calling up production and telling them I didn't know I had to stop breastfeeding [for the vaccine]. They're like, "Well, you're going to have to stop when you go on the race." And I was like, "OK, fine." It was super hard. I had to give up breastfeeding to go on that show. I had already done it for two years, so it was about time. 

But I think the hardest part, when you're away from them, you can't talk to them on The Amazing Race. I would sneak and write letters to them and I tried to mail them, but of course, in other countries you can't. I would sneak paper and I started a little diary that I was writing to my daughter at night, "Diaries of Mommy While Mommy's Away." And it was just silly stuff... All four of us moms [on the show] had crying sessions where we would just cry about missing our kids.

What inspired your children's names?

With Adora's name, we were in the hospital and the nurse was like, "You have basically an hour to get us a name" and we were just freaking out. We had wanted to meet both of our children before we named them. And so we're in the hospital, waiting to pick out a name for Adora. Brendon is Latin, so we wanted kind of a Spanish name and then we wanted something that would be unique and fun. And so I was just like, "What about Adora? I don't think that that's a really popular name." And of course, she's so adorable and we adore her, so it just made sense. 

And then I wanted to name her something celestial, like Brendon and I are both science nerds. I wanted to name her, like, Andromeda. And Brendon was like, "Absolutely not. Nobody knows that name." We went to Starbucks and I said my name was Andromeda and they [called out], "Anna drama?" And I'm like, "OK, you're right." If your Starbucks barista can't say your name, it's probably not a good baby name. So we came up with Adora Borealis because it's like the Aurora Borealis. 

And then with Adler, we wanted his name to be similar to Adora's name. We wanted the names to both start with "A" and then I found the name Adler and it means "eagle." And I thought it sounded like a cool name. So we came up with Adler and Adora. 

You mentioned posing in a bikini earlier. You've been very candid on Instagram about your postpartum body. Why is it so important to dispel those myths about "bouncing back" after birth?

As a woman, we are gorgeous at every size — every part of our body, at every time. It's all about confidence. And then I think that, especially being a mom and a new mom, you know what, who cares if you have stretch marks, if you have a belly? I mean, some moms have C-sections so they still have their C-section scars. Like, we just gave birth. We should be out there, proud of our bodies, proud of who we are. 

Of course I'm working out. Of course I want to get back to the shape that I was in when I was younger, but if I'm not that's OK. I want to teach my daughter that every size is beautiful, that this thought that we have to be a certain size or that we have to look a certain way, that's not realistic and it's not healthy. It's not a healthy way to think. It's about being confident in your own skin — just being who you are and embracing that. 

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Would you let your kids do a reality show?

100 percent! I'm banking on going on The Amazing Race with Adora... we've got a few years.

And if she wants to do Big Brother, I'll totally be supportive. She wants to do Survivor. I'll totally be supportive. Any of those shows that she would want to go on, I would totally be supportive.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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