Interview: Travis & Nicole talk ‘The Amazing Race’

My interview with ER docs Travis & Nicole Jasper went down a wormhole.
In the first half of the season, Travis & Nicole were one of my favorites, earning the nickname The Power Parents with a string of strong performances  that proved they were both smart and physically able.
Then, though, as the season progressed the Power Parents seemed to struggle, particularly Nicole, who had a series of Roadblock stumbles and had to be bailed out by the willing assistance of eventual winner Amy. In the process, Travis became more and more critical of his wife’s challenge contributions and much of the early audience support vanished. 
After the last of Nicole’s struggles, attempting to drop a bag of flour from a bush plane onto a target in Alaska, Travis & Nicole slipped to third, where they ended the season. Still, despite those difficulties, Travis & Nicole never finished lower than fourth in any Leg, a feat achieved by surprisingly few “Amazing Race” teams across the show’s recent history.
In their exit interview, though, Travis & Nicole insisted that they didn’t struggle and that what looked like struggles were actually a reflection of the enhanced competition of reaching the end of the Race. I’ll admit that I wasted several minutes rephrasing a single question. It happens. Some of the answers to my rephrased question are good. So there’s that.
The interview also contains discussion of the lessons Travis learned from watching himself on TV.
Click through for the full Q&A…
HitFix: You guys were one of only three teams in the past 10 seasons to finish a season without finishing worse than 4th. What pride can you take from that achievement?
Nicole Jasper: We take a lot of pride in that achievement. That in-and-of-itself speaks for itself. Travis and I came out from Leg 1 and showed that we were a strong team just playing the game that we wanted to play and playing a good game and we were consistent. Were there struggles? There were definitely struggles, but we worked hard and we were definitely proud of that.
Travis Jasper: Listening and thinking about this, I think what people may miss is that there’s one thing about being a big fish in a small pond, or you can be in a big pond and be what people think is a small fish. The reason I’m [phone cuts out] is what looks like struggling for us towards the end, I think takes away from the fact that maybe we were just with some talented teams and people kind forget that. They go, “Oh, you struggled. You struggled.” But really, it was a testimony to how tough the final teams were. We were with some tough folks and I think that is consistent with what you just said in the stats, that’s why we never finished below fourth and that’s why we were competitive and a strong team and consistent. Then, I think, toward the end, it got tougher and when it gets tougher, it gets tougher really for everyone.
HitFix: OK. But certainly from watching the show, it seemed like you guys kinda cruised through the first half of the Race without breaking a sweat and then things got tough for you. But it sounds like you’re interpreting it a different way, Travis?
Travis: Fine, well I’m saying it started to narrow down to better teams as well. You narrow down to fewer teams and it’s like being in the playoffs. In the playoffs, you’re playing against teams that made the playoffs. You’re not playing against all the other teams too, so you expect that it’s gonna get tougher and rightfully so. That’s what I believe is sorta some of what happened. Also… 
Nicole: And there were definitely challenges that were harder in different ways. They were different. There were different types of challenges. All of the challenges were challenging, but did they find something that maybe didn’t come as easily? Like me with the angklung? That didn’t come as natural to me as it may have come to somebody else. So yes, that’s the whole thing about the Race. That’s the thing that makes it “The Amazing Race.” They pull these challenges out and you’re like, “Where did this come from? What is this about?” So it’s just like everything else in life. There are times when you’re gonna be great at something and there are gonna be times when you may not always be so great, but you still work at it.
HitFix: How about a different way of putting it? If you guys didn’t struggle, do you still feel like maybe the Race weighed on you a bit more at the end? Or the Race was wearing on you differently at the end?
Travis: Ahhh. I couldn’t say. It just kinda changed. Do you wanna answer that Nicole? It’s tough for me…
Nicole: I think it was just challenging in different ways because, one, yes, the longer you’re out there, the more that the Race is gonna wear on you a little bit and all those different factors kinda play on you a little bit more, just from the Race itself, but I think a lot of it really was just challenges that were more challenging.
Travis: That just didn’t line up. Ones that just didn’t line up with where your talents are at. Like if they had done something that required knowing some anatomy and that was the last Leg, then we would have been smiling. It’s like for some of the people rowing was a great thing. They were like, “Hey, I was on the rowing team at school!”
Nicole: Or Amy doing makeup and she’s been doing pageants for for 14 years. She’s like, “I do this in the dark.”
Travis: That was just how it lined up.
HitFix: Sorry to harp on this, but I’m trying to find the right way to approach it. Would you say that you were maybe having less “fun” in the second half and that it became more of a chore or a grind as it progressed?
Travis: No, I think that when you are not having as much success, clearly it’s probably not as fun during that part of the challenges. It was equally rewarding moving on each time, no matter whether it was Leg 1 or Leg 11, advancing was was still equally rewarding. As you get closer to the end, the stakes just felt like they were getting higher and as the stakes get higher, yes, it can seem like it’s more pressure, because once you get a taste of the success — at this point we had won a few Legs and you’re right, it seemed like we were coasting along and it was easy and you got a taste of it — your expectations start to get higher and you’re like, “Hmmm… Now it doesn’t seem OK to come in second,” or it does seem OK to come in third, because you expect to win. My thought about it is that as far as I was concerned — and this is how I feel about us as a team, irrespective of the challenges — my point is we should have been able to potentially win every Leg. Now is that what happened? No. But do I think it’s fair to think, “Man, we could have”? Yeah. That’s why it gets tough. The stakes are higher and things change a little bit because of that.
HitFix: And how about you, Nicole? Were you having less fun in the second half? Was it wearing on you?
Nicole: It wasn’t that I was having less fun. I think that there were just different factors, just for me personally, that were probably a little bit more challenging. Struggling with the angklung was definitely hard for me to shake and I kept on saying to myself, “You’ve gotta shake it. You’ve gotta shake it.” And I definitely worked on that, but that was definitely an eye-opener, because up to that point, we had just done so seamlessly well. Even if we didn’t necessarily win the Leg, we had done so well that it was definitely a reality check. But other than that, I was still enjoying it and it was still the experience of a lifetime and we just kept on saying, “We’ve got to enjoy every moment, because this is an experience that we’ll probably never have again.”
Travis: And I think the last part of that is that we went into the final Leg believing we were going to and could win the million dollars and I think that if we had been totally deflated and thought that it had just gotten overwhelmingly challenged or wearing on us, we wouldn’t have felt that way. I think we still felt that way and we were still feeling that way on the speeding boats when we were in the front and then it just got tough, because it was like Nicole has kinda to it as, “A Million Dollar Flour Drop.”
Nicole: Yeah, once the flour drop was done, especially after speaking to the other two teams, we kinda knew once we got through with the flour drop and made it over to the glacier that unless something just so catastrophic happened with one of the other teams, it was just a deficit that was not realistically gonna be able to be made up to be able to overtake another team, but that didn’t stop us from wanting to finish the Race and finish it strong.
HitFix: Travis, were you surprised out there by your reactions to Nicole’s struggles? And then were you surprised to see how those reactions played out on TV?
Travis: Well, I was surprised by how they played out on TV. I wasn’t really surprised that I would be kinda disappointed if something happened, because I do other things where I’ve had that experience. Like I’m a coach and stuff like that, so that part didn’t surprise me. Was I surprised that it would happen with Nicole and I? Yeah, because I didn’t expect that. Like I said to Nicole, I’m used to her being a superstar, it was kinda strange to see her struggle and it was kinda hard for me to understand. So was that surprising and disappointing? Yes. Was it alarming for me to see it on TV? Yes. Do I think that I was that way the majority of the time? No. Was it portrayed that way on TV? Maybe not. But I felt like, for example on the flour drop, Nicole was there for maybe an hour and I think that 59 minutes of the time, I was extremely positive. I was saying such nice things about her and maybe a minute of it, I wasn’t. And it seemed like the pieces of the minute were what I saw on TV and not the 59 minutes. So either way, it was still a minute of the time that it was me and yes, it was a sobering experience to see and it was a good lesson to learn. But does it exemplify how I feel about Nicole and her capabilities and all of that stuff? Do I think she’s a star? Yeah. 
HitFix: So what is the takeaway? What’s the lesson that you got from that?
Travis: Well, my lesson is that sometimes, even though I’m frustrated, I’ve gotta remember that sometimes you need to just stop and maybe it’s just time for a hug or maybe it’s just time to remember that it’s not just about me, it’s also about her. When she’s struggling, then I’ve gotta remember how she’s feeling about it and not just how I’m feeling about it and then I have to come up with a better way of making it so that she can move past it, come up with better strategies of how to move past it when we do hit these struggles, because once I was down on her, I could bounce back quickly and I would move on like it hadn’t happened, but she couldn’t. So I understand that that was tough and that was part my fault and she couldn’t bounce back because I made it a big deal in the moment. 
HitFix: And has that been part of the “teachable moments” conversations that you’ve been having with your kids as they’ve been watching it?
Travis: Those were things we’ve always done even before and during the Race, we kinda give them the time to just enjoy it and they get to kinda see some of the things we’re saying on tape and then we get to comment some. And yes, we do, like Nicole has said, we talk about conflict resolution and how never give up. I think the biggest part that the Race has been able to help us show our kids is that you never give up, you keep trying, you never know, but no matter what, you fight all the way to the end. And then in the end? The Race is over and friendships will continue, marriages will continue, our relationship will continue and the Race will be over. And if you lose perspective, you lose a lot more than a million dollars.
HitFix: And as my last question: Give me a favorite moment from this Race experience that we did not get to see on TV?
Nicole: I have two favorite moments. Can I tell you both?
HitFix: Of course!
Nicole: My first favorite moment was when we were in Portugal and we were actually going to the Pit Stop and we were walking along the castle and we just stopped and we looked out over the city and it was just so beautiful. Travis and I actually physically stopped and just said, “Look how absolutely gorgeous this is. How incredible is it that we’re here right now and that we can be here and take part in something like this.” And that was really special. The second thing that was probably the most fun as far as an activity is when we were in Indonesia and we were doing the bird challenge and we just had so much fun with the people that were out there with the challenge. We were laughing and yelling and jumping up and down. They showed that, but we just had such a good time with those people. That was the other part of this experience. We got to meet such amazing people all over the world who had nothing to gain from being nice to us. They were just nice just because that’s who they are. That was just so touching.
Travis: I would agree that the birds were clearly one of my special moments, because I felt overwhelmed and overjoyed and I was able to let it out and it just felt so good. I was just so proud to be in that moment with Nicole. My second one  — and it’s weird, it was a brief moment it was commented on on TV — was on Nicole’s birthday. To me, and I said this to Nicole, the salt-mining thing was one of the most difficult challenges for me. The bags were cutting my legs and nobody knew that and I was having to get into salt water with cuts on my legs. But I actually thought the moment that I liked was when I said, “What a way to spend your birthday, with your husband in a salt bath,” because when I said that, to me it was a romantic thought to get out of that moment. I was going, “Wow, I wish we were in a hot tub, the two of us, enjoying her birthday.” It was like a brief moment of escape from something that was very difficult for me.