Misa and Maiya Tanaka finished the season’s opening “Amazing Race” challenge, a balloon search in a Santa Barbara vineyard, in last. That wasn’t why they were eliminated.
They also finished the season’s first Roadblock, a combination of skydiving and map-based navigation, in last. That wasn’t why they were eliminated.
Instead, Misa & Maiya sped through an empanada-making challenge in Argentina and seemed to be on the verge of surviving an astounding number of opening leg missteps to remain in the Race ahead of Joey “Fitness” & Danny.
But after recovering their bags from a nearby cab and heading in the direction of the Pit Stop, the San Diego-based sisters were unable to spot host Phil Keoghan waiting for them patiently at the mat. As Phil stood and watched in sad confusion, Misa & Maiya ran off in a different direction and, finding nothing there, eventually returned, by which time it was too late.
A couple days after their elimination episode aired, I caught up with car buyer Misa and professional golfer Maiya for the season’s first “Amazing Race” exit interview.
Click through for the full transcript…
HitFix: What was it like having to relive the first Leg on Sunday, watching it on TV?
Misa Tanaka: Reliving it on TV was kinda just as heartbreaking as living it there, in that moment, just because we’re going through that emotion all over again and it just brings back all of the emotions and the memories of the experience that we went through, all of the frustration and just the disappointment of coming in last, as well. So it was definitely a tear-jerker watching it.
Maiya Tanaka: It was definitely really hard watching it, but we were surrounded by friends and family, so we knew it was going to be hard, but just having them there really helped. We did cry a little bit. We’re not going to lie.
HitFix: How did the friends and family respond?
Misa: Our friends and family were heartbroken. They were crying with us.
Maiya: Yeah, they were really supportive, though, and they made sure we knew that they were proud of us and that we still represented for San Diego and for everyone and that, in the end, we got this amazing opportunity. They just helped us realize that, too.
Misa: That was the best thing is just having all of their support and love. It just made us very appreciative of everybody who was there with us in support. We’re just lucky to have such a close family and friends.
Maiya: And even everybody who cheered us on watching! We knew we had a lot of supporters that weren’t able to be there, but were cheering us on across the nation, pretty much, and we’re just very thankful that we came across as we actually are and that we had the opportunity.
HitFix: You guys have had some time to reflect on this and then to rewatch it. What actually went wrong at that Pit Stop in Argentina?
Maiya: That whole day, everything seemed to be going wrong, basically from the start. We started off really strong. We sprinted up that first hill, no problem. But basically, not being able the find that first clue… We pulled down every single balloon at least twice, we thought. Having to go up and down that winery, which the hill is actually really steep. I don’t know if you could tell on TV, but it was a very steep hill, so it was just very frustrating. We tried to stay in it throughout that day.
Misa: We definitely stayed in it through that entire day and we maintained our focus and yeah, we had a few unlucky breaks with the balloons and then Maiya getting stuck in the sand and then us leaving our backpacks. So that was a huge contributor. It was a long, long day and us being frantic and not knowing exactly what to look for at the end of the day, it was just really tough.
Maiya: So basically what went wrong at the Pit Stop is that we expected to see Phil and maybe someone from Argentina and we totally had the tunnel-vision thing going on where we were dehydrated and we were very frantic because we knew we were just a few empanadas away from Danny & Joey pulling up to the map, so we knew we had to find Phil and we had to find him fast. We just weren’t thinking clearly.
HitFix: Is this one of those things where it looks easy to us when we’re just sitting on our couches, but in that moment there are a ton of complications we just can’t imagine?
Misa: Yeah, 100 percent. You’re going through so many emotions. You don’t eat. You don’t sleep. You’re racing in the race of your life and also with the added pressure of having our competitors Danny & Joey right behind us, just all of that in combination was just a total contributor to it being very difficult to know what to look for with the Pit Stop, too. So yeah, it’s one of those things where you watch it and you think, “Oh, it’s not that hard,” but it totally is. Those hills? On TV looking at it, it looks 10-times easier than what it really was. We had to sprint up and down those hills, across two acres, going from the right to the left and back to the right and down to the middle. We probably pulled 200 hundred of those balloons, so that looked a lot easier. It looked like we were just, “La-di-dah,” going around and pulling those balloons down, but we were really sprinting the entire time. And then Maiya getting stuck in the sand, that was an effort for her, experiencing that and having to track down somebody who could actually pull her out of the sand was an effort in itself. So it definitely looked a lot easier than what we actually experienced.
Maiya: Yeah, obviously there was a lot going on in that particular show, so there were a lot of things that got cut, so there’s a lot of things that you would have never imagined happened, just the length of time that I was stuck in the sand and how bad I just wished I had my sand-wedge to help me hack out my car from the sand. I waved down so many different people and it was a group effort, me and the Argentineans there. Basically, just the whole day was just such an unlucky struggle, but in the end we knew we had it and we never gave up and we made those empanadas as fast as we could. And in the end, we thought we had those boys, we thought we had those Guidos.
HitFix: How long were you in the sand, Maiya?
Maiya: I was there… Honestly, time did not exist. All I knew is that I had to get to my sister or she would be really, really mad at me.
Misa: I was standing there for a while. I was waiting there with Joey, because Danny didn’t know how to drive a stick, so I’m sitting there and I totally expected Maiya to beat him and I was in shock when Danny came running up and that’s when I started getting so worried, because I knew Maiya was gonna be able to find the place relatively easy. She knew how to drive stick and she knew how to read a map and utilize a compass, so it was like an eternity waiting there. It probably wasn’t, but your perception of time is a little bit skewed when you’re frantic like “Oh my gosh!” trying to get through the challenge.
Maiya: And she thinks she was frantic! Literally, I had to figure out how I was going to get myself out of the predicament I got in by pulling off too early. I was the first one from that second group out of the airport and I knew exactly where I was going, but where the “X” was on the map, I pulled off 50 yards short, which is a chip-shot away from where my sister was. So I saw her land. So I was stuck in the sand for longer than she was actually waiting. Basically, I knew that I had to get there some way or another. I eventually got out of it and we weren’t that far behind. I didn’t see any team pass me for a good half-an-hour.
Misa: For what Maiya experienced and for her being stuck in the sand, I feel like she got to me relatively quickly, because even when we were running back to the cars, getting back and running through that sand, we were able to see three cars going and driving off. They were probably 50 yards ahead of us. We actually weren’t too behind at that point. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes or so.
HitFix: One of the problems with you guys going out so early is that we got to see you as a team, but we barely got to know you as individuals. If you guys had stuck around on the Race, how were viewers going to see you guys as being different from each other?
Maiya: We’re so dramatically different, but that’s what makes us a good team, because we are different. We have different strengths and we have different personalities. Growing up together, we were able to understand why that is. She’s the older sister, so she usually knows what she wants and it’s her way or the highway. We worked pretty well. I think if we did stick around a little longer, you would have seen how our personalities are different.
Misa: I think that’s the biggest thing, is viewers would get to know a little bit more about us. Our similarities are that we’re competitive, but we’re different. For me, I’m usually the decision-maker. I’m a little bit more picky when it comes to food. I kinda get over things a little bit more quickly. Maiya, she rolls with the punches. I dunno. I think that’d be the biggest thing, our personalities.
Maiya: I think you could kinda see our competitiveness and just how we did react differently. As soon as we got stuck in the sand, I kinda got a little worried. I don’t really get angry, I more get concerned like, “OK, what am I gonna do next? How am I gonna fix this?” In the end, you could tell that I’m a little bit more emotional. I broke down crying right when we landed on the mat. I cried my eyes out that day
Misa: And I was so angry and frustrated I couldn’t shed a tear at that point when we were on the mat. So Maiya’s definitely a lot more sensitive than I am. I kinda just roll with stuff. I don’t react emotionally too much, but I think I become a little bit more frustrated than she does, so I was just really more angry than anything and just disappointed.
Maiya: I think just from golf, that’s kinda helped me to keep an even keel personality, where basically I try to process the information and deal with the situation in the calmest matter that I could. So I think you just would have seen how great of a team we could be. Basically, we did pick the right person for the challenge. My sister is crazy. She loves heights and she’ll jump off of whatever you want and whatever challenge is in front of us, she’ll tackle it. She’d do any of that stuff. So we already knew that she’d be the one bungee jumping or whatever would be kinda crazy and I’m more of the navigator and all of that stuff. It worked out so far to our advantage, but we just got a little unlucky.
HitFix: As a last question: It was a short run, but did you feel like there were any lessons you took away from this brief “Amazing Race” experience?
Misa: I think the biggest lesson is really to be thankful and just to realize that we are winners at the end of the day. We got to compete in these challenges and experience “The Amazing Race” and thousands of other people would kill to be in our position. So at the end of the day, we’re really just thankful for our experience and we’re very thankful for all of the support of our family and friends as well.
Maiya: Yeah, I think in the end, you just have to focus on the bigger picture and just how blessed we are in order to get selected for this show. Everyone along in the processes, they saw something in us and saw something in our teamwork together and just us as people. So we’re really thankful that we got the opportunity and we will continue to just be working for the bigger picture. We’re gonna try and use this for the good and get involved in charities that we believe in. We’re actually going to be doing a reality rally for Michelle’s place and just get involved in as many things as we possibly can and work for that, for the positive.
Stay tuned for more “Amazing Race” exit interviews this season…