When she was a preacher’s daughter growing up in Oxford, Emiley Cox could never have imagined her life as it played out last Sunday night on live national television.
On Jan. 22, right after the Atlanta Falcons secured a trip to the Super Bowl, TV audiences held their collective breath as Cox, 27, and her boyfriend, David Windecher, crammed themselves into the trunk of a friend’s car in the Atlanta suburbs in order to evade the law enforcement team that was closing in on their location.
Lit only by the green glow of a handheld camera, Emiley and David spoke in hushed yet excited voices about having gotten away just in the nick of time.
"That was too close," Cox said. "I can’t believe this is happening."
What’s happening is that Cox and Windecher are among the nine teams competing in the CBS reality show "Hunted." The show follows nine teams of two who are treated as fugitives on the run from a cadre of special investigators using state-of-the-art methods to track down each team. Each team that survives the 28-day manhunt across 100,000 square miles of the Southeast will receive $250,000.
"Hunted" premiered last weekend before moving to its regular timeslot of 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
Cox and Windecher’s daring escape was the cliffhanger to the premiere episode, in which one of the other teams was caught. The couple escaped yet again Wednesday night, narrowly evading the show’s "hunters" by sneaking through the Oxford woods after hiding out in a friend’s home.
"It was just so intense," Cox said. "When they come, you’re totally blindsided. So at first it’s all an adrenaline rush, and when that takes over, everything else just disappears."
Cox saw a Facebook ad for the show’s casting call and, after talking it over with Windecher, decided to apply simply because "it sounded really cool," she said. "Then they actually called me back, then we’re going on interviews, then you’re actually doing the show. The whole thing’s been really nerve-wracking."
The show was filmed over the summer. After being selected, teams were given a window of time when they could expect to be told they were "on the run." When word came, they were given a one-hour head start on their hunters, told to leave all smartphones, tablets and laptops behind, and the manhunt was on.
For Cox, who moved to Atlanta four years ago and owns the online clothing boutique shopemilia.com, the idea of simply dropping everything for a life on the run was as exhilarating as it was frightening.
"That shop is my baby," she said. "It’s everything to me, so the thought of being away from it for so long was very scary."
But Cox isn’t running alone, and her boyfriend knows a thing or two about evading the law. Before he became a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Windecher, 38, was a gang member and arrested multiple times.
The two met in 2014 when Windecher was working a case in an Atlanta courtroom and Cox was contesting a traffic ticket. Windecher managed to get the charges dropped, and they’ve been dating ever since.
In terms of teammates, Cox said they have a good system of checks and balances. "David is pretty high-strung, intense and emotional," she said, laughing. "I’m an A-to-Z thinker, more strategic. And that’s the thing … you can’t do anything impulsively. That’s what’ll come back on you. So when David gets too excited and wants to run, I’m the one going, ‘OK, let’s take a step back and think.’"
However, in the first two episodes, it was Cox’s planning that put the hunters on their trail. On her large desk calendar, she had written dates and addresses of friends who could help them hide. Although she tore the page out, investigators were able to piece together some of the locations and were lying in wait.
Which is why she and David wound up hiding in the trunk of a friend’s car.
After managing to escape, the couple drove a rental car to a friend’s house outside of Oxford. But again, the hunters weren’t far behind.
Cox, looking for a safe house, was forced to call her mother, Sharon Cox, for directions using a burner cell phone. While the hunters couldn’t pinpoint Cox and Windecher’s location, they did sit down with Sharon and her husband, Michael Cox — pastor of Cornerstone Worship Center — for a rather stressful interview.
"I haven’t spoken to her," was all Michael Cox would say.
Investigators hoped to read something in Sharon’s face during questioning, but she gave away nothing.
Frustrated, the hunters left, knowing they were close, but not close enough. The couple was actually at a nearby friend’s house when someone alerted them to the telltale black SUV favored by law enforcement.
Cox and Windecher ran through the woods and into the waiting backseat of another friend’s truck, safe … for at least another episode.
Aside from the hide-and-seek thrill of it all, "Hunted" also plays on our attachment to social media and the difficulty of actually disappearing in the digital age. For Cox, another allure of the show was the chance to unshackle herself from Facebook and the like.
"Doing the show changed the way I look at things," she said. "Anywhere you go, if someone wants to find you, they can. It’s kind of scary to realize that someone’s always watching."
Brett Buckner is a freelance writer for The Anniston Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.