Try to keep up with Boston twins Martin and Matthew Mullen and their bud John Collins and you'll feel as though you're in a version of ``The Da Vinci Code" -- one with a Southie soundtrack.
The trio, who grew up together playing street hockey in South Boston, are now playing another game: They're solving puzzles and cracking codes in historical places on NBC's new reality series ``Treasure Hunters."
The idea is similar to that of CBS's ``The Amazing Race." Contestants must gather clues to solve problems -- fast -- to avoid being eliminated. That might involve deciphering Morse code to reveal their next destination, canoeing 20 miles on the Missouri River, knowing the order of the presidents on Mount Rushmore, or scouring the catacombs beneath Paris to find one of seven secret artifacts that will lead to concealed booty.
These guys stand out on the show not only for their team name, ``Southie Boys," but for their swaggering guy's-guy appeal. They also have thick Southie accent s and a Boston sensibility that they've taken to the Eiffel Tower, an English castle, and an Alaskan glacier.
``This looks like the blizzard of '78," one of them declares as they ride in a chopper over Matanuska Glacier in Alaska. ``All the cars are covered."
With their on-air spats and hugs, the guys seem like brothers in every sense of the word. Their boisterous spirit gives the team a blue-collar feel against ``Miss USA," ``Geniuses," ``Air Force," ``Ex-CIA," and five other teams.
``It seemed like a challenge, looking for a global treasure," says Matthew Mullen , 37, who taped the show last fall with his brother and Collins, who is 33.
``The physical stuff wasn't too hard for us," Martin adds. ``But the mental clues were pretty difficult."
So was the cabin fever.
``When you spend seven weeks with someone, you want to kill each other," says Collins.
``Being with my brother and John 24 hours a day was torture in itself," Matthew adds. ``We fight one minute. The next minute we're best friends."
The Southie Boys grew up within blocks of one another off East Third Street, spending most of their youth at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club, boxing or playing hockey, or, as Collins puts it, ``dodging the No. 7 and No. 9 buses" while playing tag football.
The Mullens befriended Collins when he was 8 years old and learning to ice skate.
``I couldn't skate," Collins recalls. ``I looked like a German shepherd on skates. They watched me for half an hour and helped me out. Ever since that day, we've been best friends."
After high school, the twins went to North Adams State College (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), where Matthew studied sociology and Martin studied sociology and business. Collins, who had a brief career as a member of early '90s boy band 4Fun , pursued a communications degree from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Looking for life beyond South Boston, where Matthew worked as a substitute teacher and his brother was a probation officer, the Mullens headed to Los Angeles to play professional roller hockey and dabble as actors.
``We were doing that for fun," says Matthew, who landed deodorant commercials for Speedstick while Martin appeared in Chevy and Honda ads.
One of their big TV moments: When Matthew heard the words ``Come . . . on . . . down" and became a contestant on ``The Price Is Right" (he won the showcase). They also had small parts on ``Baywatch" as roller hockey players, and they played twins in an episode of ``Unsolved Mysteries."
``We played twins that were taken up to a spaceship," Matthew says . ``We are the two most famous unfamous people in Hollywood."
But their biggest role is working for the city of Los Angeles fire department.
``Our lives took a turn for the better when we became firemen," says Martin, who lives five minutes from his four-minute s -older brother in Los Angeles. ``Six years in the fire department and we couldn't be happier."
The twin firefighters caught the attention of casting agents when they visited their stations for the reality show last year. But they needed a third member to make a team. The brothers suggested Collins, who was still living in South Boston and working as a mortgage broker.
``We felt that their childhood friendship and the relationship between identical twin brothers would give them an interesting dynamic as a team," executive producers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz wrote in an e-mail, ``and they were incredibly funny and entertaining together. Their upbringing in a tough South Boston neighborhood gave them real street smarts to take them through the mental challenges and they were clearly well suited to anything physical."
In the first few episodes, the guys rappelled a glacier in Alaska, hiked Mount Rushmore to retrieve a treasure map, and drove 620 miles to the 10,000-foot depths of Montana's Lexington Mine , where their next clue was inside a bucket laced with snakes.
Along the way, they canoed down the Missouri River and helped a competing team carry its canoes for three miles to follow the footsteps of legendary explorers Lewis and Clark. They even cracked the explorers' secret code to find a compass. Another episode brought them to Boston, where they solved a riddle scrawled on a blackboard at the Mary C. Burke School in Chelsea.
At the end of each challenge, the guys high-five one another and hug.
Off camera, the producers isolated the teams. They had no access to phones or e-mail. They were housed in separate hotels. No newspapers were allowed.
``They pretty much have the leashes on you," Collins says.
They were up 20 hours at a time, traveling in cars, planes, and European ferries, with few hours sleep.
``We slept standing up," Matthew says. ``We were sleep-deprived."
Since the show's taping, the twins have returned to Los Angeles, where they are studying to become fire department captains. They also found time to play small roles in the Oliver Stone movie ``World Trade Center."
``We play two firemen," says Matthew. ``We pull Nicolas Cage out of the rubble."
Meanwhile, Collins has been back in South Boston helping oversee their website, www.southieboys.com , to recap the episodes, which air Monday nights at 9.
So do the Southie Boys find the treasure? Do they get whipped by Ex-CIA or Air Force ? Do they cut their hair like Tom Hanks?
True to their word to NBC (and out of fear of a lawsuit), the guys are mum, except to say the quest ends Aug. 21 with a live finale.
``We're from Southie. You never rat, you never snitch," Matthew says. ``You're always loyal."
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.