Interview: Chester & Ephraim talk ‘The Amazing Race’

It’s really, really unlikely, but I’m still holding out hope that this Sunday night’s “Amazing Race” will begin with Phil Keoghan faking out former NFL teammates Ephraim Salaam and Chester Pitts II and telling them that last week’s elimination was actually a joke and it was really a Non-Elimination Leg. 
Chester and Ephraim were my favorite team when I met the squads before the season started and they continued to be my favorites during their three “Amazing Race” Legs. They were funny. They were enthusiastic. And when a Chilean travel agent accidentally booked them on a key flight one day after they were supposed to leave, they were just about the only team I can imagine handling that awful situation with grace and determination, rather than with anger and hurled verbal abuse. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you’re going to miss Ephraim and Chester, check out their exit interview answers about that booking fiasco, which set off a day of travel disasters that left them unable to even begin tasks in Lisbon. Instead, Phil met them at the Lisbon airport and sent them away on-the-spot.
In their exit interview, Chester and Ephraim discuss that horrible day of travel and also the even worse day-plus bus ride up the coast of Chile. They talk about their general approach to the Race and whether they have plans to return to Lisbon any time soon.
Click through for the spirited Q&A…
HitFix: I think it was Chester who invoked the name of the Beekmans during your travels. Were you surprised by how fast you guys went from top of the heap to Beekman-eque?
Ephraim Salaam: Actually, that was me. I remember how when I was watching the Beekman season, I was like, “There’s no way they’re still in the Race. It’s impossible.” But there were circumstances where the other team wanted to stick with them even when they couldn’t finish the Roadblock and then the other team losing their passport, I was just like, “OK, hopefully something like that is happening for us,” so I was amazed that they were able to stay in the Race and I knew how far behind we were, so I was hoping for something like that. Not to wish anything bad on anybody, but I was hoping for something like that so that we could get our Beekman Boys on. It didn’t happen, though.
Chester Pitts II: No.
Ephraim: Not at all.
HitFix: With the travel agent’s blunder in the episode, I honestly can’t imagine there are many teams in “Amazing Race” history that would have reacted to that without four-letter words, without great amounts of anger. How were you guys able to be as Zen as you were in that moment?
Chester: First of all, Ephraim and I, we’re not like that and I’ll back it up a little bit. Before we started this and before we got going, we had talked to each other about, “What if this happens? We’ll handle it this way” and “What if that happens? We’ll do it that way.” But at the end of the conversations, we sat down and we looked at each other and we just said, “Look, no matter what happens, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is getting the job done” and that was literally the exact same thing that would happen when we were playing football together. No matter what was going on. no matter what happened, no matter if we were angry, if we were up by 30, if we were down by 20, it didn’t matter, because the only thing that mattered was trying to win the game. So when you keep that in perspective and that’s always your focus… It’s less if we wanted to be mad. We’re angry inside. But Ephraim didn’t make the flight delayed. Look, the lady across the hall at the airport, she didn’t make the flight be delayed. It was just one of those things where life throws you curveballs all the time and it’s all about how you handle those situations. Come on! If we act crazy, just act the fool on TV, what are we telling our children? How do I want my children to see me and see the way I handle things? My mother is going to watch this show. All the years my mom spent raising me and making sure I do things the right way? If I went on national TV and embarrassed her? She would disown me. I couldn’t let that happen. That was really what the focus was and we just knew that there was nothing we could do. We tried the best that we could.
Ephraim: Imagine being down, in San Diego playing against the Chargers, by 28 points in the second quarter and trying to fight back that whole game. Remember that game, Chester? That was hard. Being stuck in the airport was disappointing, but it wasn’t hard. Know what I mean? You have to keep things in perspective and that’s one thing we wanted to do is keep things in perspective. It’s out of our control, so it makes no sense to go crazy on someone or to cuss and mope and moan, because that’s not the type of people we are. We became successful in our lives because we were able to deal with adversity and come out ahead.
HitFix: And I love that as a way of approaching life, but it seems to me like even if I went in totally Zen and absolutely had everything in perspective, in a moment like that, things would come out of my mouth that I never intended to say. Like what would have happened if Marie had been in your place?
Ephraim: That’s just different people! Different people deal with things differently. In our minds, this was a competition, this was a game, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but when it’s all said and done, you have to go back to your real life. Like Chester alluded to, we have a mother and we have children and family members. I try to set an example in everything I do and that’s just an example of how to keep your composure when things don’t go right. Just think about life: If that is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you in your life and you flip out? Then you’re in trouble. Bud, you’re in trouble. You’re in not going to be able to deal with adversity and that’s what playing a professional sport has taught Chester and I to do is deal with adversity. We know how to deal with adversity and you have to take a Zen-like approach no matter how bad it is.
HitFix: The question I’m sure you guys are being asked over and over is why, at that early stage of the Race, did you guys feel like it was a good idea to separate yourselves from the pack?
Ephraim: We weren’t actually separated. We thought the Beard Bros got on the same exact flight that we did. If you notice, in that Leg, every single team was paired up with just one other team. There were so many different flight. There were so many options that teams were just taking options that they felt gave them the best opportunity. The only reason that Tim & Marie were on that late flight is because no other options were available. That was the whole thing. There were so many different options and they were there to take. You just had to pick which one you wanted.
Chester: That’s another thing, too, the flight that Tim & Marie took, that was the original, scheduled flight. All seven or eight other teams took different flights than the originally scheduled flights and all got there before the original flight. So only our flight were the ones that got hosed, basically. Only us.
HitFix: Given the choices you had and the number of choices you had, why did you take the choice with all of those connections?
Ephraim: All of them had multiple connections. The only reason it took us longer is because our connection from Buenos Aires to Madrid was delayed by six hours, so we tried to scramble and we tried to make up that six hours. That’s the only reason why. We had four connections, actually, because we had to fly here and then fly there and then fly there. After that one flight was delayed by so long, then we had to try to get into scramble mode and try to make up that time, because couldn’t because every flight we got on after that was delayed as well.
HitFix: You guys are accustomed to travel, obviously, but had the 24-hour bus ride and then a day of airport connections and all of that, did it begin to take its toll on you guys?
Chester: That 24-hour bus ride. [He laughs and Chester joins him.] It was actually 26, for the record. It was… Oh my goodness gracious. [They both laugh again.] That might have been the only time during the entire Race or in my life I was thinking to myself, “What in the world the did I sign up for?” Ephraim would look up and look into my eyes and he’d be like, “We good, Chester! It’s good.” Because he knew I was like, OK, we’re racing, we’re fighting, we’re doing stuff, I’m running as fast as I’ve ever run before, I jumped off a mountain? No problem! But sitting on a bus for 26 hours? [They both laugh again.] It was absolutely crazy.
Ephraim: No water. No food. No adequate bathrooms. No sleep, it was pretty tough. It was pretty tough to do. That was really tough, man. We’ve had physical issues and medical issues that we’ve had to deal with from playing football. Our knees were swollen, our backs were sore. It was a situation.
Chester: Do you remember how fat my feet were? Oh my goodness gracious!
Ephraim: They swole up like… Oh my! I was like, “That is disgusting.” 
HitFix: Given how awful that bus ride was, was there something particularly gratifying in winning that particular Leg?
Ephraim: Of course, any time you come in first, it’s gratifying. No matter what you went through during the Leg, coming in first fixed everything. Like they say in the world of sports, “Winning cures all.” Period. 
Chester. Period. That Leg, we got the clue and we took off running and everybody trying to figure it out. I actually took longer than everybody that was in that pack to actually find that stand, find the location and figure it out. So I’m like, “Oh my God! It’s the first one. Ephraim’s counting on me.” [Ephraim laughs.] In my mind, I’m like, “Look. I can’t let E down.” Literally, I had run two blocks in the wrong direction trying to figure this thing out, so when I finally found the stand and saw a lot of them already starting to pack, like they were that much ahead of me, and I had to go figure figure it out, do the order, figure out the right brushes and do it all in the right way? So for me to do that? And then I caught them moving that big old stand and then to get there? I ran like THE FURY from that spot back to Ephraim. It was so… Awww man. It was crazy. My heart-rate was just through the roof and I was running and thinking, “I can’t let E down! I can’t let him down.” I think I said that like 50 times during that one challenge.
HitFix: Going back to the Ephraim’s “Winning cures all” maxim. In the Legs you guys were in, was it hard to adapt your mindset from a “Winning fixes everything” goal to the “Just don’t finish last” goal that really works on the Race?
Ephraim: You have to take the thing in context. The main goal was to win “The Amazing Race,” so with that, there are different Legs and different challenges, so you have to keep things in perspective. A lot of teams really focus just on that Leg and they’re so hell-bent on coming in first and winning that Leg that they can kinda lose sight of the big picture and that’s what we never did. We never lost sight of the big picture. It was always, “Let’s finish these tasks as quickly as we can and try to find a taxi cab we can actually communicate with and get to the Pit Stop and let the chips fall where they may,” where most teams are racing to be first, we wanted to do our best and, within doing our best, we figured we could come in first. But we never focused on that. Our main goal was to come in first on the last Leg, so we looked at it as an entire Race, not just individual Legs.
HitFix: You guys had Phil greet you at the airport. Did you guys really have to just literally turn around and leave? Or did you at least get to leave the airport at all?
Ephraim: They let us get some water and leave the airport for a couple hours.
Chester: And then right back to the airport.
Ephraim: Right. Very shortly after that, we went right back to the airport.
HitFix: Does this give you any particular inspiration to some day go back to Lisbon and maybe really see that city?
Ephraim: Not really.
Chester: I’m gonna be real with you. Portugal didn’t do anything wrong, but Lisbon and Portugal are dead to me. [They both laugh.] It’s only because I couldn’t get there and I wanted to get there so bad. It was as anti-climactic as crazy. We tried and worked so hard to get there and then when we finally get there, it was like, “For what?!?” All we saw was frigging baggage claim. 
Other “Amazing Race” Season 23 Interviews: