Congratulations to Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang, the winners of the 19th installment of “The Amazing Race.”
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the engaged couple, who snagged a useful Express Pass by winning the Race’s first Leg and snagged a million bucks by winning the Race’s last Leg.
Well, it was kinda “wire-to-wire.”
In-between, Ernie & Cindy only won a single Leg and they needed to utilize a U-Turn to get that victory. But even without individual triumphs, they stayed in the chase by always remaining with the lead pack. Through the entire season, they never finished worse than fifth, a record of impressive consistency that paid dividends when Snowboarders Andy & Tommy, the season’s dominant team, were eliminated in the season’s penultimate episode.
Ernie & Cindy responded by running an error-free concluding Leg in Atlanta, reaching Phil Keoghan at the final Pit Stop with room to spare.
Clip through for our full interview, discussing their in-Race pre-marital counseling, the closeness of this season’s teams and the altruistic hopes for their winnings…
HitFix: First off, congratulations! When you got to Phil last night, you said you didn’t know how your families were going to respond. So how did your families respond?
Ernie Halvorsen: Exactly as predicted.
Cindy Chiang: Yeah, pretty much exactly. It’s funny, because we were watching with all of our families and other Racers and their families and when I made the comment that my parents would probably say, “Yeah, I expected it,” my dad was like, “Yup. That’s right.”
HitFix: I’ve heard a lot about Racers from this season hanging out and staying in touch after the Race. Why do you think this was such a weirdly chummy and mutually respectful group of contestants this season?
Cindy: We got really lucky! I guess they just picked a whole bunch of people of people who seemed to get a long and we kinda approached it as a group saying, “We’re the only 22 people who are ever going to experience *this* Race and know what each other went through.” So there were really no bad feelings towards anybody. Everybody just pretty much got along.
Ernie: You had some people like Justin, who are like the ringleaders of camaraderie, I would say, and trying to bring everyone together.
Cindy: We voted him the Class President.
Ernie: Everybody seemed to jump on board and the culture was set from the very beginning, that this is a race and we’re not pitted against each other so much as against the tasks that we have to complete. So with that kind of mindset, I think everybody was a little bit more laid back and we all hung out.
HitFix: It seems so strange this season how little fighting and conflict there ended up being. Did you expect that confrontations were eventually going to arise?
Cindy: I don’t think we expected anything. It’s funny, because at the very beginning, we’re all helping each other. We’re all like, “Oh, there’s the clue!” or “Here, go there!” or when we were doing the phone task at the Confucian Temple, I ran out and I was like, “Use the word ‘preparation’ twice,” because I knew that’s what we were all messing up. But yeah, it was just funny because I think the production was surprised that we were all so chummy with each other and helping each other out.
HitFix: In the Race, one of the problems that you guys had was that you kept getting out to leads and then letting them slip away somehow. What do you think was happening to you?
Ernie: It was always different things. I think, for example, in Brussels at the Atomium Pit Stop, we were in the lead and then we just got bad directions and we couldn’t figure out what the directions were telling us, so we had to ask several people, so when you keep doing things like that, you keep getting turned around and going the wrong the wrong way for 30 minutes and then it starts building up. In other other cases, it was just poor decision-making at the very last moment and making sure you read the clue right and all of these simple things, because things on the Race are actually more obvious that they appear, but you’re moving so fast and you’re trying to think on your toes so quickly that you kinda just miss some of the obvious things. We should have settled down a little bit sometimes.
Cindy: A lot of it was in the navigational aspect of it. Sometimes we trusted people we probably should have gotten a second opinion about and sometimes we didn’t trust people when we really should have, because they knew where we were going. So by the end, you could see that we put our entire faith in our taxi driver in Panama and when we went to the Balboa statue and we saw that that was not where we were going, so we were going back to the dancing square to get our clue right, but taxi driver kept saying “I know where it is. I know, I know, I know.” So Ernie and I looked at each other and we were like, “Well, he knows this place better than we do, so if he knows, he knows something we don’t know,” so we just put our faith in his hands and he took us right to the Pit Stop.
Ernie: Luckily he was right. He could have been wrong, too. We could have been like Andy & Tommy and he could have taken us to the Panama Canal. Thank God it was Panama Viejo.
HitFix: Given that run of little gaffes, how satisfying was it to get to the finale and run that Leg as cleanly as you did?
Cindy: Yeah, we used every learning experience. Every time we did something wrong, we were like, “OK, what can we take away from this experience and what would we do differently in the next Leg of the Race?” And so by the 12th Leg of the Race, Ernie and I were like, “Well, I hope we’ve made every mistake possible, because I think we may have, and then let’s just run a clean Race.” So we gathered all of the information we could from the Tourism Board. We knew that it would be something culturally relevant. We knew that it would probably be some clue that we had to decode. So we put all of our tools and in our box and said, “We’ve gotta run this one clean.” If there’s anything you want to win, it’s the last Leg.
HitFix: There you were at the end and it looked like there might be potential for a GPS disaster. Or was that just trumped up editing?
Ernie: A little bit. We definitely knew where we needed to go. The roads were a little bit windy in the area where The Swan house was and our driver had taken a different route than the GPS suggested, I think just because he had missed the turn and then we got a little bit turned around. But at the end of the day, I felt comfortable enough in the lead to know that even if we did have to recalculate the route a few times, we were in the general vicinity, so it was just a matter of “Well how do we get into this place?”
HitFix: And similarly, how much of your difficulties with the typewriter, Ernie, were also trumped up editing?
Ernie: [Laughing.] I would say I kinda looked like a moron in that case. It actually wasn’t as difficult as they made it out to seem. I just wanted to make it perfect, because I wanted to make sure that when I went to the judge for the first time and asked him “Is this correct?” that he told me “That’s correct.” So there were a few typos and I think I asked for Wite-Out as a joke because I’d made a simple typo or whatever. The real challenge, of course, was just knowing that that lower case “l” was actually the “1,” but it was kinda simple to figure out once you look at the typeface and you say like, “What could it be?” Obviously something has to press the paper and that has to look like what the clue is suggesting.
HitFix: Going back to the Panama Leg. All three of the teams seemed very happy and relieved to not have the Snowboarders around anymore. What was it like having a team like that that kept beating you and often just by so very little…
Cindy: Andy & Tommy are great competitors. They’ve been competing their entire lives and they know what it means to win and they know what it takes to win and we had our little Pit Stop party when we realized that the Final Three was gonna be the three couples. But they really, truly are great people and obviously they were winning most of the Legs this season because they were great competitors. They didn’t slip up and when other teams slipped up, they were right there behind them, so it was good fortune for them.
Ernie: It pushed us. Cindy’s normally a very driven character anyways and having somebody like Andy & Tommy just constantly on our coattails or just in front of us or even dominating a leg just made you want to be that much better. So when they were out of the picture, it was like a godsend, that these guys who were dominating the whole Race just had some bad luck. It was nothing that they did wrong. They just trusted their cabbie like we trusted ours and theirs actually took them to the wrong place. But if it came down to it, if they were running the last Leg with us, I would hope that we would have done it equally as well as we did and what actually happened.
HitFix: Cindy, you hinted at this strongly on Sunday, but when you looked at the other two teams in the Finals with you, why were you guys convinced that you could beat them?
Cindy: I felt relatively confident because for most of the game, we were either in the top of the pack or the middle of the pack. Sandy & Jeremy and Marcus & Amani are great competitors, but they also got a couple lucky situations. I think there were a couple times that Sandy & Jeremy came in just before last and you could tell that Sandy thought for sure that they were done, but they just kept going. And Marcus & Amani, they were tagged as the Comeback Kids and…
Ernie: They had a Non-Elimination Leg. You just felt like you were ahead of these teams for most of the Race, so as long as you stayed ahead of them, then you shouldn’t have a problem, but Marcus & Amani were surging and Jeremy & Sandy had the Eye of the Tiger in ’em. It was a little bit nerve-wracking towards the end there, because all of a sudden these teams you thought were weaker started getting stronger, but you definitely didn’t want them to overtake you, much like Andy & Tommy did to us in Malawi, but you just had a little bit of confidence in knowing the fact that you were running Legs ahead of them consistently, so all you had to do was do it one more time.
Cindy: And Sandy and Marcus are two of the most competitive people on that Race. They literally wanted to win just as badly as anybody else and they would get down on themselves too when they weren’t in that position. So I think we were all just pushing for the best.
HitFix: One of the finale’s recurring themes was that this was like pre-marriage counseling for the two of you. What did each of you learn from the other through doing this Race that you might not have learned otherwise?
Ernie: I always say that when I watch it, I never knew that Cindy was so funny.
Cindy: I’m not funny. It’s thanks to the editors.
Ernie: Cindy is a lot more caring than I guess it would be made out to believe on TV. She gave up a lot of information to a lot of teams that you you didn’t really see. She was helping out a lot and she’s pigeon-holed in this aggressive, A-personality, ruthless kinda way, but she’s really a caregiver at the end of the day, when we dealt with some of the other teams. She’s very open to giving information out. She sometimes can’t shut her mouth, which annoyed the heck out of me, because she was constantly telling everybody what we were doing, what flight we were doing, how to get past this, how to read that clue, “Oh, you’re using two buckets, you need to just carry one bucket.” I was getting so frustrated with her, because it’s not that I didn’t want to help the other teams, but if you had an advantage and you didn’t wanna open your mouth about it, you didn’t have to and Cindy always did, which I think showed a little bit of her character, that she’s always helping.
Cindy: I learned a lot Ernie through the whole process of applying and actually getting on the show and running. We learned a lot about how we work together, but the thing I took away most is that Ernie’s the thing that calms me down. I can be really high-stress, high-strung, but I know that whenever I’m with Ernie, everything’s OK, because things just seem to work out for him and he’s so even-keel about life and everything’s so positive for him. He’s a really good part of my life and a good partner to share everything with.
HitFix: You guys mentioned charitable intentions for the winnings. Could you talk about your plans?
Ernie: It’s not so much a charity as it is an organization. One of the reasons we can on the Race was because we wanted to see if we could start a business together and if we could work in a professional environment together. We work well together as a relationship, but how does that translate to the business world. So one of the takeaways from the Race is that we work well together — we have a fun, loving relationship — and we want to take some of these winnings that we have and put them into an organization that can then benefit those areas that we saw in need while doing the Race and then after the Race. So one of the areas was education, because we noticed that in so many of these emerging countries, a lot of the parents are substituting field work and hard labor for their children when they could be putting them in in school and hopefully getting them a better education to progress the local economy. But a lot of them don’t have that opportunity just because they don’t have the funding for it. Right now we’re trying to develop a way to subsidize or actually give tuition and scholarships to children that actually want to go to school in countries such as Cambodia, which we went to on our own vacation, and noted that it was only $25 to send the kids for a whole year of public education, because there, public education isn’t free. At home, we all assume that everybody can go to school, but that’s just not the case sometimes.
The other part of the picture is that we’re very athletic and we love doing triathlons and kinds of races of this nature, so we’re just trying to synergize these two ideas into an effective business model which we could actually then development one day to push out to the market so that we could start funding these great ideas that we have. One of the other big things we want to do is help childhood obesity, which is another problem that’s plaguing a lot of Americans.
HitFix: My standard last question, then: Give me a favorite “Amazing Race” moment for each of you that we didn’t see on TV.
Cindy: Most of my favorite moments were the downtime that we had with other castmembers, whether it was in an airport or a train station. We would play games or we would sit around and talk about our lives outside of the show and there’s just a lot of bonding that we were able to get to do with the other teams.
Ernie: I think one of my favorite moments was when we went to the bodybuilding challenge and we all had our little Speedos and our Speedos were laid out in the changing room. You had Tommy’s. You had Andy’s. You had mine. You had Bill’s. And then you had Marcus’, which a lot larger of ours and we all joked about it in the changing room that maybe you could put Marcus’ and put it on top of Tommy’s and maybe have Marcus wear Tommy’s little Speedo.
Cindy: I thought you would have said the elephant falling on you.
Ernie: And then the elephant! That wasn’t enjoyable, but it was one thing I wish they would have put on TV, which is in Thailand when we did the elephant trekking, the elephant actually fell on me. We had a little baby elephant and I was trapped underneath it and the elephant in front of us, Marcus & Amani’s, had actually just dropped a No. 2 in the water and it was traveling right at my face as I was trapped under the elephant.
Cindy: It was pretty funny.
Previous “Amazing Race” exit interviews…