Interview: John & Jessica talk ‘Amazing Race: All-Stars’

Well, at least things worked out better for Jessica Hoel and John Erck in their second run on “The Amazing Race.” A little better, at least. 

In their first season, John & Jessica won the season's opening Leg and earned an Express Pass. Then, just a couple episodes later, they were eliminated with the Express Pass still in their back pocket after refusing to play the powerful Pass in a challenge where they remained convinced there were teams behind them long after they'd fallen into last place.

It was one of the more notorious pieces of self-immolation in “Amazing Race” history and that was probably what earned John & Jessica a second chance on “The Amazing Race: All-Stars.”

This second run lacked the highs of that season-opening Leg victory, but they also lasted deeper into the Race and, when they went out, they were theoretically able to point the blame away from themselves. After all, they were in first place after completing the Gladiator Detour in Rome, but they got a cabbie who wasn't able to decipher the Route Marker and took them on an unplanned Roman Holiday. 

When I talked to John & Jessica after the Express Pass fiasco, they were very invested in trying to explain the logic of their mistake and to deemphasize the blunder. This time around, while they put some of the responsibility on the cabbie, they're both quick to admit the things they should have done differently both on their Italian Voyage, but also subsequently at the Spanish Steps Roadblock, a tough task that led to a footrace to the Pit Stop.

In this exit interview, John & Jessica discuss their regrets at how they handled the cab situation and they explain the logistics behind a close sprint to the mat. They're both chatty and, as with my first exit interview, I got in fewer questions than I often do in these interviews. That's OK. Their perspectives are still plenty interesting.

Click through for the full Q&A…

HitFix: OK, on Sunday it looked like there were a bunch of little things that contributed to doing you guys in. When you look back yourselves, from your perspective, what was the biggest factor in your elimination?

Jessica Hoel: I think the biggest factor was us just not either switching cabs earlier or really stopping to do better research on what the Route Marker meant, because it was a riddle-type Route Marker, so we didn't really even have a specific address for our cab driver. 

John Erck: Right, we were kinda in a tough situation in that the taxi cab driver confirmed to us, “Oh yeah. yeah. I know where this is at.” But at the same time, Jess and I really should have known that even though he was super-confident that he had the right spot in mind, Jess and I kinda had a feeling about us that we knew he wasn't going to the right area. We're like, “Can you just confirm 100 percent that you know exactly where you're going? That this is right?” And he said, “Yeah,” but Jess and I both knew that we didn't feel right about it, so we really should have taken the initiative and really pull over earlier and go to a hotel a where we could get a computer. A lot of the other teams had taxi cab drivers that immediately knew how to do the riddle or other teams knew it and there were a few teams that went over to where we were and I think that the missing element for us is that we didn't get to a hotel fast enough, because that's what did it for us, was when we found a desktop computer, but we drove around and went to way too many places before really taking it into our own control.

HitFix: Watching the episode, it was really really hard to figure out what the confusion was that different cab drivers had regarding the clue. At the time, did you know what the guy was doing wrong? Did watching the episode help you figure out his confusion?

Jessica: Yeah, I mean, I understood at the time. It was confusing because the clue said something about “Go to John Keats' unhappy Roman Holiday,” but that isn't a place. That's just a phrase. That's exactly what it said, “Go to John Keats' unhappy Roman Holiday,” or “Piazza John Keats.” So when we told our cab driver, I'm thinking in my head, “Of course we don't know what that means,” but I'm saying, “OK, do you where Piazza John Keats is?” I'd been to Italy and I knew “piazza” was “plaza” and he goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what it is! I know what it is! Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!” He was all into it and being kinda stubborn and we're like, “Are you sure?” And he's like, “Yes! Yes! Via John Keats!” We even made him call somebody a couple times to confirm and he's like “Yes, this is it.” He was really confident, over-confident. But the problem was that there's a Via John Keats, which is a John Keats Street. If that hadn't existed, I think we would have been better off, because he would have had no place to take us and that happened with a couple other people. So that happened! Then the other confusing part is that just even typing that phrase in Google, even trying to figure out what to search for, we were grabbing people's iPhones and asking them, “What do you think this means?” and nobody really understood either. When we typed that into Google, we'd say, “Piazza John Keats Unhappy Roman Holiday,” really random things would come up. Like the first things that would come up is there are a couple hotels called Roman Holiday and just things like that, where you really had to find the Wikipedia article and scroll down and find out that the Spanish Steps is where John Keats lived and died. I don't know. That was a little funky, so I think you had to be lucky and find a local who knew that specifically or for some reason have a cab driver who understood that that connected.

HitFix: Last time when you guys went out, it was one of those obvious self-immolation kinda things, the blame was all internalized. In this case, does it give you any solace or satisfaction knowing that it was out of your control? Or does that make it hurt more?

Jessica: You're right, I think it hurts less knowing a little bit that luck was in place more this time, but it kinda had been. Just every time things kinda didn't go our way last time like they didn't go our way this time. For instance, last time, we truly thought the whole time, even though it was in our hands, we thought somebody was behind us, so that's the reason we played the way we did. And this time, when we were together with Leo & Jamal and the Globetrotters, they were certain because they had seen the Country Singers at the Detour behind them, for some reason they were pretty certain that we weren't the last ones there, so that's why we all gathered and we got the answer together and we weren't rushed about thinking we were in last place, because that would have been silly to share an answer and then all run in for last. So it was kinda the same situation in that regard. 

John: I think what Jess is saying is that the Race is kinda crazy and there's a lot of factors to it. Yeah, to answer your question regarding the taxi cab, you'd think that you could just say, “Oh, I'm gonna just blame it all on the taxi cab,” but I think Jess' kinda longer answer there say, “Well, it's a little bit more than that.” That was definitely a factor at play. The taxi cab driver did throw us for a loop. But, at the same time, Jess and I are saying that we kinda knew that he wasn't going to the right place, but we didn't know what to do to right that situation, because we didn't know where the right place was. We definitely played a role in that too, in the taxi cab thing. And then at the end of the Race, it was kinda wild because we had the inclination that we're at the back of the pack. Our first time running the Race? We didn't think that. We thought we were ahead of another team. This time? We were being more realistic with ourselves, I think, and going, “You know what? We were going around Rome so long today, we haven't seen teams for a really, really long time. We're probably in last place.” Then, when we got to the Spanish Steps, that's when we ran into Flight Time & Big Easy and Leo & Jamal and they had come from the other side of the Detour and they confirmed that the Country Singers were the last ones to leave it, due to the Speed-Bump and them getting there last and everything. Watching the episode back, that seems to be true, of course, because the Country Singers were thinking that they were out of it and they ended up doing really well when they got to Spanish Steps. Anyway, that's how the sequence played out in everybody's mind, so when we showed up at the Spanish Steps, all three teams thought the Country Singers were still running around Rome and it turns out, of course, that's not the case. I think that was a big mistake kinda on everybody's part, but we're the ones who got eliminated as a result, probably caught thinking there's another team behind us again. So maybe a little too much optimistic thinking going on is a reoccurring theme. Who knows?

Jessica: But to just answer your question, I think it was easier to be eliminated in the way we did this time. For sure. Both times it sucks to get eliminated, but this time it's easier to take just because of what people say and think and all that stuff, too, just watching it back it's like, “OK. We could have done something differently, but it makes sense why we did everything.”

HitFix: Talk me through that last foot-race to the mat. You knew that there were the three teams together, but you didn't know that this was a race for elimination. How close was the run and what maybe could you have done differently?

Jessica: OK, so a couple things on that that are interesting: Yeah, we thought we knew someone was behind us. And also, the audience sees this, but you never know, like after that Roadblock you don't know that it's a footrace to the mat. You think, like, OK, then you're gonna get another clue that says “Drive to here and then go to the Pit Stop somewhere else.” So you don't realize, first, how close it was going to be, like where the Pit Stop was. Then second of all, the discussion around sharing answers was really between just the three of us — Myself, Big Easy and Leo. So John really wasn't prepared for this whole thing to go down. So what would have been best — this is luck again — is in order to give the answer to the people at the top, you had to have an empty postcard. Luckily enough, Flight Time had one ready and John didn't. So when we got the answer, Flight Time was ready to write it down right then, but John had to go all the way back down, get a new postcard and then run all the way back up. So that added to our time. Then the next thing that happened is as we were running down the steps, actually somebody from the crowd, just a person who had been watching all day, was saying, “Hurry.” And I yelled, “Are we last?” and she said, “If you're seventh, you're last.” So that's when I'm like, “Whoa.” It just hit me like, “Holy crap, we are running for last place. What the heck?” So I had tunnel vision at that moment and I was already a little bit ahead of John and I didn't have enough energy to say, “That lady just told me we're last.” I just was like, “Run!” So I saw the Globetrotters and they were running pretty fast, a steady speed, but they're a good six or seven blocks up — Roman blocks, not a huge distance — but they were pretty far up and I could see them from a distance and I was running my heart out, full-speed. I've never run so fast in my life. I remember just running between them like at the speed of light, it felt like I was so fast, and they looked at me like, “Oh my gosh!” and dropped their bags and put on their Globetrotter power and just bolted. I couldn't have outrun them at that point. They were all fresh and I was dying. Yeah. It was pretty intense.

John: Yeah, Jess did a great job describing it there. I remember very similar. I never heard the person on the street that indicated we were in last place. I never heard that exchange and I think Jess was a little ways ahead of me. I was definitely running and I knew that running matter, but the main thing, again, that I was thinking, unfortunately, was that getting to the mat sooner would help us leave the next day sooner. So I wasn't thinking, “I've gotta beat the Globetrotters. We've gotta beat the Globetrotters to the mat.” It kinda had that feeling at the end of the run, though. That's what's interesting about it. As it was happening, as I was trying to catch up with Jess — She was running fast, which was valid to do, since we like to finish the Race hard — then I'm coming to realize, “OK, there's probably a reason… Maybe we'd better just run as fast as we possibly can so we just don't risk it. Just in case we are running for last place against the Globetrotters.” So that whole thought process came to me kinda organically as we ran down this thing, to the point where, yeah, I needed to drop my backpack. I saw them ahead of me — Jess and the Globetrotters — and I just simply couldn't catch up at that point. It was too big of a distance to close. We showed up at the mat just hoping that it's a Non-Elimination or that there is, in fact, another team behind us. But we kinda knew right away, just from the look on everybody's faces. Or I knew right away, when I finally did get to the mat. I'm like, “Oh, this isn't looking good.”

Jessica: I remember Leo & Jamal were like, “Please, please, please say 'Four, Five, Six,'” because I think they were gonna feel really bad if they kinda eliminated one of us. So I remember that we were all hopeful. I was the only one who had heard that girl. 

John: Yeah, we were definitely hopeful, that's the nature of it, but I guess I was speaking more to maybe the look on Phil's face. I knew we were done for.

HitFix: This time around, you guys got to have a slightly longer “Amazing Race” experience than the first time. Give me a favorite moment from this season that maybe we didn't see on TV.

John: What stands out for me is the train-ride that we had in Sri Lanka. That was a really cool experience. Jess and I both really like the water and that train went along the Indian Ocean there and we just got to see some beautiful scenery and meet some really cool people and I've never had an experience like that, so that's definitely a highlight for me.

Jessica: Yeah, I'd say that was definitely a top moment. When you first stick your heads out of the train… It was a really long adventure, that train-ride. I think it was like an hour-and-a-half, so that was pretty fun, just sit back and relax, because there's nothing you can do to prepare. There's no Internet. There's no research you can do. You're just sitting there chatting with people, so that was really cool. This was on TV too, but of course there was more of it that happened, but spending time with Meghan & Joey in China when we were looking for the dress shop was super-fun. It was really stressful, the first Leg of the Race, but we spent an hour looking for that dress shop with them, but I remember it being memorably pretty fun.

This season”s “Amazing Race: All-Stars” exit interviews:
Margie & Luke
Joey & Meghan
Mark & Mallory
Natalie & Nadiya