If love for “The Amazing Race” were all it took to win “The Amazing Race,” Gary Wojnar and Will Chiola would have had a longer and more successful run this season.
Instead, the two self-described Super-Fans capitalized on errors by other teams or errors by the cabbies driving other teams to narrowly escape three Legs, but on the fourth Leg, slowness finally got the best of Will & Gary.
In this week’s exit interview the two Michigan substitute teachers and lifelong friends discuss how they prepared to fulfill their “Amazing Race” dream, what they learned about the realities of the “Amazing Race” experience and what they wish they’d seen and done.
They also discuss one of this season’s running “Amazing Race” tropes, that of contestants blaming locals for their various failures.
Click through for the full conversation…
HitFix: I’m sure you’ve gone back to subbing since this started airing. How have students been responding to you?
Will Chiola: All the students are very excited to talk to me. They want to take my picture. The parents want to take my picture. Basically, we emphasize the fact that teamwork gets things done and never quit, work as a team and work together to accomplish your goals.
Gary Wojnar: Also, we’re so able to tell the students about first-hand knowledge of different cultures and different lifestyles. It’s one thing to read about it in a book. It’s one thing to see it on the Internet. It’s one thing to watch a video. But when you have somebody there who’s actually experienced it and we’re able to tell the kids that, it sounds like a cliche, but in the United States we really do have it so much better than most of the world and the most important thing that we have in the United States that so many countries don’t have is the opportunity to better ourselves. In Bangladesh, for instance, they almost have somewhat of a chance to assimilate, but you’re born in poverty, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be in poverty your whole life. But in the United States, even though we do have our challenges to go through — Some people have it better than others — but if you work hard enough, there are people who will help you and there are things you can do to help you succeed.
Will: The students have been fantastic. Every Monday morning you come in and everyone high-fives you and they congratulate you and they wanna live the experience with you and that’s something that we’re really gonna enjoy for the rest of our life and remember for the rest of our life.
HitFix: At the end of last night’s episode, Gary, you called this one of the best experiences you’ve ever had, but was “The Amazing Race” as FUN as you hoped it would be?
Gary: It was. It was actually funner. The Race is so much more involved when you do it in real life. When Phil Keoghan says, “Now go from Point A to Point B,” just getting there is an adventure. There were times, like going through the market in Indonesia, I felt like Indiana Jones, to be quite frank with you, when it was in, whatever it was, the Temple of Doom? What was great is even though there was so much poverty in Indonesia and Bangladesh, the people had a smile on their face. There’s a universal language of smiling and laughing and thumbs-up and hand-shaking and backslapping. You might not be able to speak to people in their language, but you can talk to them in that other language. And the people always were willing to help us, always were willing to point things out to us, always had a smile. It was fantastic interacting with the local culture and the local people.
Will: What I got from the Race is that communication with the locals is very important and we have to understand that we are in their country and we have respect their ways. The taxi cab drivers? They’re not competing for a million dollars. They’re just trying to work and help us out and make a little bit of money, so you have to respect the fact that you’re trying the best they can and how can we get mad at them for doing their job and trying to get you to a different place.
Gary: The one thing we’re both really proud of on the Race is how we treated everyone, the local people. We treated them with respect and dignity and we gave people more money than we probably should have, but when you go in a country where the average salary is $600 dollars a year, the money we gave them might have kept them going for a week or a month, maybe gave them something they didn’t have. They did everything they possibly could to help us on the Race.
Will: We had a chance to help them out, so we decided to as much as we could. We wanted them to feel that we were friendly to them.
Gary: If a cab driver took us the wrong way or took us the wrong place, we’re not gonna yell at ’em about it. We didn’t communicate where we needed to go well enough for them to understand. The language barrier was quite a hard barrier to overcome.
Will: We were responsible, ultimately, for how we got from Point A to Point B.
Gary: When I did the Bondo Roadblock, I just did not do it quick enough to catch up to the time we bled on the taxi cab. And ultimately, if I would have done it faster — I’ve worked with Bondo, my cars were all Bondo when I was younger — if I would have done it fast, we could have made up the time we lost. So ultimately, it was my fault that we lost that Leg.
Will: Gary, I’ve known him for 30-some years and he can make anything or fix anything and I had full confidence. He did the best he could.
HitFix: Going off of what you were saying about yelling at cab drivers and whatnot, what have you guys thought during this season when you’ve watched a number of your competitors in the Race yelling at drivers and blaming them for losing the million, etc. etc.
Will: I just think that in the heat of the moment, people forget that they’re in different countries and they forget these people are doing the best they can. I think that it’s the heat of the moment and they just forget that we’ve actually still gotta respect their cultures. It’s kinda depressing.
Gary: That’s one thing from previous Races, cuz we’ve seen ’em all and we’ve watched people berate the local people and we said before we started, “We are not going to do that. We’ll yell at each other. We’ll bicker with each other, because that’s the way we communicate with each other sometimes. But we’re gonna treat the people on the Race, the locals, respectfully.” And I think we did that. We were conscious that we were going to treat people well.
HitFix: But in the first Leg, you guys intentionally misled the Chippendales on directions at the Bund, so you obviously had a different approach when it came to your fellow competitors.
Will: We saw the Chippendales, we thought they were a very strong team and we just figured why should we help them out? We’re in a race. So we did lie to them, but that’s part the Race. That’s part of knowing that you need to get rid of the strong teams and why wait? Why not do it on the first day if we had a chance?
Gary: Right. An alliance? When you’re the first four teams on a train and you have a three-hour headstart with people? Sure! They can make alliances. But when it comes down to brass tacks, if it’s between you and another team and you’re not sure where you and that other team are? Damn right you’re gonna lie to ’em. It’s not personal, but in the Race… And honestly, it was not just the Race, it was part of the competition. The money is great. Don’t get me wrong. We’re wanted the million bucks, but we wanted to win more than anything. We wanted to show everyone that we could beat 10 other teams… If we had to lie to ’em, so be it.
HitFix: A lot of the time in your four Legs, I got the impression that the Race was maybe harder than you expected. Why is the Race harder than it looks on TV?
Gary: Because there’s no much more involved in it. For instance, going from Point A to Point B, we had cab rides that were an hour-and-a-half long and I’m pretty good with directions, but when you’re in a city that is just as a Dhaka… The thing was in Shanghai, is we picked up a map in LA and we were able to just find the area on the clue, point to the map for the driver who didn’t speak English and we took us there. But in Bangladesh, we picked up a map that was not helpful at all and I had no idea where we were half the time.
Will: Doing a Detour or a Roadblock, since locals don’t really speak our language, sometimes it’s hard to really understand what exactly they’re looking for. You’re just trying to do the best you can and they don’t really tell you exactly what they want you to do, so you just have to keep plugging away. So it’s just communication.
HitFix: As fans of the show, were there any preparations you did to avoid specific pitfalls that you’ve seen teams fall into in the past? Skills that you learned or made sure you were prepared for?
Gary: One thing we did was in the first Leg, when we had to go to the sports stadium in Shanghai, it showed a lot of teams running around and trying to find a clue box. We just sat in the cab and we knew we weren’t gonna bleed time running around looking for the clue box. We just had the cab driver keep driving around the stadium until we found the clue box. We were, I think, two hours behind at that point? We caught up a lot of time just doing little things like that that aren’t shown that we knew from previous episodes and seasons.
Will: Also, we knew not to give up our cab, because sometimes you might be at a Detour or a Roadblock where you can’t find another cab, so you have to keep the cab you have.
Gary: Gary’s saying that we always cab. We always kept our cab and we kept our backpacks, for the most part, with us, because we didn’t want to have to run back and find them. One time we did. But we tried to shave time in every possible way we could.
HitFix: As fans, were there specific locations or specific types of “Amazing Race” tasks that you’d been hoping to experience?
Will: Well, I was studying Spanish for the last six months and I was hoping that I could use that in a Spanish-speaking country, but unfortunate we never got to use it, so yes. Also, sometimes I love my focus, so I was doing brain exercises on the Internet and trying to keep focus and to help me a little bit.
Gary: Will’s a really great competitor. He does a lot of marathons and for six months before the show, we were working out six days a way like crazy. However, the one advice that I would give to anybody who’s gonna be on the show, and we did this a little bit but not enough, is take a backpack, put 50 pounds in it and run. Run and run. And when you think you’ve had enough, run some more. That is the best way to prepare physically for the Race. As far as dialects, there so many different languages in the world and Spanish is one of the most spoken, so we hoped we would luck out there. I was just happy to go to the exotic places we went. I mean, there are, of course places on a wish-list that you’d like to go to, but seeing things like Surabaya and Dhaka and Shanghai? Those are things that I never would have done in real life. It was an amazing experience. It was an adventure.
Will: Also, you don’t realize the heat and the hunger that you have and the lack of sleep while you’re doing these tasks. So yes, that was kinda an eye-opener.
Gary: In Dhaka, when we got home I checked it online, and it was 101 degrees on the day we were there and we were just drenched in our sweat. That Leg was very exhausting as far as the weather in that city. It was pretty intense.
HitFix: As a last question, give me a favorite moment for each of you that we didn’t see on TV…
Will: My favorite moment was we were driving in Indonesia and I saw a moped and it had a dad, three kids and a mom taking their kids to school and I thought, “Wow. We don’t know how lucky we are in the United States to have the lifestyle we have.” I felt so bad for them and it was just touching for me.
Gary: I have two favorite moments. One moment, we were on the truck delivering the ice and Will and I started waving to everybody and cheering to everybody and everybody was just cheering back and it was just this great energy and joy and positivity going through through this alley in the middle of Surabaya and people were just cheering. It was fantastic. And the second one was at the train station they had a Japanese Beatles cover band there singing Beatles songs, so for a second I got on stage with them and I was singing “Ticket to Ride” in the middle of Surabaya with a Japanese Beatles band to people who probably had no idea what were saying. That was great.