Donald, a retired 68-year-old from Elkhorn, WI, and his grandson Nicolas, a 23-year-old pilot who is originally from Chicago, IL, finished third during The Amazing Race's twelfth-season finale broadcast of the CBS reality series.
On Monday, Don and Nick talked to Reality TV World about Don becoming the oldest person to ever reach the race's Finish Line; why they intended on using the U-Turn but were physically unable to; how they both overcame difficult challenges along the way; and why they'll carry their experience on the race with them forever.
Reality TV World: Don, you were the oldest twelfth-season participant at 68-years-old. How concerned were you that your age would affect the competition? What were some of the steps you and Nick took to counteract the impact your age might have?
Don: Well I personally didn't feel that my age was going to be a problem. I've been a fan of the show. I've watched the show, and I felt on the [seasons] that I've seen that I could do everything that was asked to be done. So I have tried to stay in good physical shape, so I was not concerned. I did train a little bit harder, I did some running and stuff before we left that I don't normally do. But I think overall I didn't have to do anything too special. Nick: I didn't think anything of it. I was surprised when we got there and we started to get all types of questions from everybody. "What do you think about Don's age? How is he going to do with his physical limitations of being older." It hadn't even occurred to me. I expected him to do well and he did. He did a great job, almost what I expected. He went above and beyond in different aspects -- but physically -- he did just what I expected him to do. He did a great job.
Reality TV World: Were there any specific points during the race Don when you remember beginning to "feel" your age?
Don: When we were in Croatia and I was [doing the "Who has a builder's eye?" Roadblock task], we had run around quite a bit and it was really hot. Those [bricks] were heavy and I had to carry them quite a ways and place them in. I felt that I had gotten several of them in there that were fine but the mason wouldn't give me the okay (laughing). I did get a little bit tired there. That was the toughest that I had to do on the whole race.
Reality TV World: How did it feel when host Phil Keoghan told you that you were officially the oldest person to ever make it to the Finish Line in The Amazing Race history? Did you feel a sense of accomplishment?
Don: Well yes, I did feel a sense of accomplishment there. My goal when I started on this had nothing to do with when Nick said, "Let's go on the race," and I thought about going on. It had nothing to do with the money. I was actually racing against myself. I wanted to prove that I could race with these younger people and I could go far in the race. I think I accomplished that.
Nick: I was very shocked by that. I really didn't know anything about Ron up to that point. He seemed to talk a lot, he was a little bit strange. The day before I helped him put up his tent in Ireland and he said that I was a "scholarly gentleman" and the next day he went off on me. He actually went off on me because he misunderstood a statement that I said. He asked me where the bathroom was, and I said, "Well, I just went to the bathroom and it's very far away and I don't want to send you there." And he heard me say, "I'm going to send you to the farthest bathroom." He snapped. He actually went on to say much worse, vulgar things to me. It was just very shocking. He was completely out of line. He was angry about the fact that I had been rude to a gate agent, which is neither here nor there. It's none of his business. He overreacted and he apologized later -- it wasn't a sincere apology, but he's just a goofball. I took it for what it was because that's who he is.
Reality TV World: What happened when you two left your bag of gear at the outfitters during that final Anchorage leg?
Nick: Well, we both had a chance to read the clue on the 12-hour flight. You just kind of get in this flow during the race where you go to this place, you get your clue and you go. We dropped the ball there. But I think in the end, it could have hurt us but it didn't hurt us that much. We had an extended amount of time, 45 minutes at the [final Roadblock task] where me and [Rachel Rosales and Christina Hsu] were all stumped by that final Roadblock and Rachel came out the winner. That's where the race was won. Don: I think what Nick's saying is normally you'd hit the spot where you get the clue, you'd find the person who would hand you the clue and you'd quickly jump off to the next place. I think after all those weeks out there, we were just in that mode and we forgot about picking up that bag.
Reality TV World: During the episode, Don you seemed to place for the blame for that on Nick. But that wasn't the case? You both had the chance to read the clue?
Don: Absolutely. The clue was with us at all times. I guess I was in a bad mood (laughing), and figured I could blame him instead of blame myself.
Reality TV World: You just touched upon this Nick, but just to be clear, you don't think the deficit you incurred there was the reason you finished third?
Nick: No. We lost to [TK Erwin] and Rachel, and we lost [out on second place to] Ron and Chris by about [an additional] half-an-hour. I think that short five-minute drive [to retrieve the gear] -- five minutes there, five minutes back, maybe 15 minutes all in all -- I don't think that... Maybe that would have set-off a chain of events that would have led to our victory. Who knows? Anything could have changed the outcome, so no. I think we all had a chance to win and Rachel did the best job [with that final Roadblock task] and that's where the race was won.
Reality TV World: Nick, did you ever finish the final Roadblock or did the producers just send you to the Finish Line after the other two teams had finished?
Nick: I was really disappointed with how that was shown [on TV], because I finished the Roadblock and we completed all the challenges. It happened one, two, three. There was a big space between TK and Rachel and Ron and Chris as far as time separation, and then an equal amount between us and Ron and Chris. They didn't even give us the credit of finishing the race... Don: Right, it looked like it was just Ron and Chris in the race and they were not that close to [TK and Rachel in reaching the Finish Line], quite honestly.
Reality TV World: Do you roughly know how far apart they were?
Nick: About half-an-hour.
Reality TV World: And how far behind Ron and Chris were you?
Nick: About an additional half-an-hour.
Reality TV World: Okay...
Nick: Regardless of how it was shown on TV, it would have been nice to just see us finish the entire race and to get that Roadblock correct in the end, to get that credit for completing it.
Reality TV World: Don, what ever made you to decide to do the pole-vaulting "Ditch Vault" Roadblock instead of Nick?
Don: There's a question I haven't heard before (laughing)! We knew in the beginning that no person could do more than five Roadblocks. So we have to split them up. Nick had done the first [Roadblock task in Ireland], and so I kind of felt it was my turn. We were quite a distance from the clue box, but we were standing [next] to where the creek was and I saw people jumping across. I thought that I could do it, and I figured then we'd each have one down, so that would be perfect. (laughing) I mistakenly signed-up for that! Nick: It was a really tough position for me because I felt like that was a physical challenge that would be better suited for me and Don could make up the Roadblock count later on. But he said he could do it. The thing was we were in the back of the pack, but we were well ahead of some other teams, so I felt like it wasn't a big time crunch and if he could just do it eventually then we'd be fine.
Reality TV World: Did you volunteer to remove your clothes there Don or were you prodded to do that by the production folks?
Don: No, production does not prod you in any way. The race is what you see is what you get. No one's ever telling you and has never told you to do anything. What happened was, that mud just stuck to you like glue. I had long pants on, I had mud in my pockets and in my ears and in my hair... Nick: He made a f**king mess in the hotel room! Don: Yeah (laughing)... I actually threw most of the clothes always. I felt like I had to get across [the ditch], and Nick was getting a little frustrated back there. We didn't want to get eliminated and I felt my clothes were just sticking to me and I had to do something. I actually never gave it any thought. At the end, Nick said to me, "Boy, when you were doing that did you see all the cameramen were around you?" And I said, "What cameramen?" (Nick laughing) My vision had nothing to do with anyone else.
Don: Go ahead Nick. Nick: You want me to answer that one Don? Well this is a very unfortunate question that no one has asked us yet. We weren't going to talk about it during the race, but no it has no bearing... Don: We don't have to [talk about it] if we don't want to. Nick: You don't want to? (brief pause) Nick: Ah, what the hell! It was my fault. At the end of each leg, you turn-in all clues and all boarding passes and you just have a huge hunk of stuff -- envelopes, and additional information -- your fanny pack is just filled with information. The U-Turn, we were given a picture at the beginning of the race, "You have been U-Turned by Nicholas and Donald" -- with my name spelled incorrectly -- we had to paste that picture up on the board [when we wanted to use the U-Turn]. During the first or second leg, I just handed the [production] lady a big clump of stuff we had, and the U-Turn was in a like-colored envelope. I gave it to her, and we didn't have the U-Turn.
Our strategy was at the second U-Turn -- this was my strategy and it actually wasn't correct -- but at the second U-Turn, the first or second place team would use it. But who knows if we're going to be in the race at that point, who knows if we're going to be in first or second? We thought the first U-Turn, that would probably be used by a team trying to stay alive. So this is going to be our only opportunity to use the U-Turn -- the first one -- let's use it at the first one, and U-Turn the strongest team we know is behind us.
So our plan was to use it the first opportunity we got, and we would have U-Turned TK and Rachel because we knew they were behind us, we knew they were a strong team, and I'm so happy that it didn't work out that way because it would have had absolutely no bearing on the race. They would have beaten [Jason Widener and Lorena Segura], they would have gotten clumped up the next leg. Maybe they would say now that they still would have been great friends with us, but I have to imagine that they would have had to have some sort of hatred towards us. Both of us just really love TK and Rachel now, and I'm happy for that friendship and I'm happy that we didn't U-Turn them.
Reality TV World: I guess it all ended up working out. Nick you struggled with that Lithuanian Roadblock task where you had to deliver packages, and subsequently finished that leg second to last. What was your morale like at that point?
Nick: I can't imagine how nerve-racking it must have been for Don to just sit there -- completely powerless, with no one to talk to -- and watch us in first place by half-an-hour, and just seeing every team come in and out, in and out, in and out.
There were a lot of things that teams had advantages on in the race, like Ron and Chris spoke Japanese... Things worked out differently for different people. TK found a guy right away [to lead him to his destination], and people had advantages in different areas, and this was one that felt like I had the hair salon -- and it was a closed down hair salon in an alley! Compared to someone else, who had a restaurant. I went -- and this isn't shown -- I searched the phone book; I went to the concierge at many hotels; I went to different hair salons looking for this one; I went on Google. Nothing had this [hair salon] because it was closed down, and none of the locals had seen it because it was in an alley hidden away.
I really thought that was not fair -- but in the end -- it meant nothing. I got it done, and we grouped up. But kudos to Don for something like this happening to him in the Roadblock where he had to pole-vault, and he kept going, and going, and going. I was ready to give-up. I had been there for four hours. I had asked over 100 people, I had done everything I thought I could do. And at one point, which is shown on TV, I was just so frustrated I was shouting out to people in a restaurant, "DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE THIS IS!" I had no idea what to do. I was saying, "If I don't find this in 10 minutes, I'm going to give up." Because I had thought everyone had to find the hair salon and I was sure someone wouldn't be able to find.
So I gave myself 10 minutes, and I found this girl, she was just so willing to help me. She didn't know where it was, but she went to her hair salon and asked everyone in the native tongue. She walked me there -- I didn't ask her to run -- I just slowly walked with her, and it was great. I opened up the next clue in-front of her, and she called up her dad and got directions to the small town we were going to. That's what allowed us to pass [Shana Wall and Jennifer McCall]. We didn't have to stop. This woman gave me perfect directions and was so willing to help. It was just a gift.
Reality TV World: Before you knew what it entailed, what led to your decision to do the Fast Forward in Empoli?
Nick: That was more my decision, but go ahead Don. Don: You know, there was only two Fast Forwards on the race. Nobody had done the first one [at Lithuania's Traikai Island Castle during the fifth leg], we got to this one, we were kind of in the middle toward the back of the pack and the Fast Forward was there. It didn't seem like anyone had used. Nick said, "Hey, why don't we just go for it?" I said, "Fine." Nick: When I got there, I looked, and [Nathan Hagstrom and Jennifer Parker] were doing the [Roadblock task], and TK and Rachel were doing the [Roadblock task]. Ron and Chris had just shown up, so we knew they didn't have a chance to attempt [the Fast Forward]. So our only risk was with the pinkies [Kynt Cothron and Vyxsin Fiala], we didn't know where the pinkies were. So I thought, "This is a calculated risk. During the last two legs, we barely missed elimination, we need a kick in as to get going, get first place. Let's win this thing. Let's win the entire race." I felt like [the Fast Forward] would be the "umpth" to push us forward on the race, and I think it was.
An interesting thing -- the pinkies turned out to be way behind us -- but an interesting thing was Ron and Chris started fighting because one of them, and I think it was Chris, wanted to do the Roadblock, and they started running back to their car right as we're running back to our car, because they had decided to do the Roadblock. And I'm just thinking fast in my head, "What can I do to make them stop. Because if they go for the Fast Forward -- God knows how far it is -- we get there and they beat us, we're going to be eliminated." I look over at Chris -- and I say as confidently as I can, "Well... One of us is going to get eliminated." She told us afterwards that it really frustrated her, and she turned around and she stopped and she realized that I was doing the [Fast Forward], and I was definitely in. If she decided to do it, there was a 50/50 chance she'd get eliminated. I think that pushed her back and she fought with Ron a little bit. They decided to do the [Roadblock]. It worked out well.
Reality TV World: If you had known from the start that the Fast Forward required being tattooed, would you have still of gone through with it?
Don: Well from my point sure. Absolutely. If you're going to do the Fast Forward, you're going to do it whatever it is. Nick: (laughing) I don't know about that. I was really -- I was shocked it was a tattoo -- because I didn't think that the race would do something so permanent like that. But at the same time, I was happy that, "Hey, we don't have to eat a f**king bucket of grasshoppers. We just have to sit there for 10 minutes [and get tattooed]. We can't fail. Just let this guy put this thing on my arm and let's go." Don didn't really think that long about it. He wanted to read the entire clue and comprehend it like every other clue (Don laughing) and sit there and read it word-by-word, and that got us kind of thinking about it a little bit. That was 15-20 seconds. He sat down, decided he was going to get it done in the same spot as me and off we went.
Reality TV World: Have you guys kept the tattoos or are you planning to have them removed?
Don: Well I'll be keeping mine. Nick: Yeah... We had to give everything back from the race. Every type of souvenir, and we couldn't take any pictures. Of course we have these great 11 episodes to look back and watch, but this is a great memory for an awesome experience. I look at it every morning when I'm taking a shower and I just chuckle (Don laughing) that I went to Italy, got this matching tattoo with my grandfather... It was pretty amazing.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for The Amazing Race 12? Was it your first time applying for the show?
Don: We actually applied for the previous [season]... Nick: I think it was [actually] two [seasons] ago that we applied for. Don: ... Yeah, it may have been. [Season] 10 or whatever. We actually got a call, we interviewed for CBS in Chicago but they didn't take us. Then in May we got a call and one of the casting agents remembered our video, and they wanted to go with a grandfather and grandson, and she remembered our video. They didn't like the people they had there, so they wanted us to come down and interview again.
Reality TV World: You touched upon this a little before Don, but had you watched The Amazing Race before and would you consider yourselves fans?
Don: Well I was a fan of the race, yes.
Reality TV World: What about you Nick?
Nick: I hadn't watched the show, but I had gotten a glimpse of the show before we got picked. The idea really entertained me. I thought that it was a really, really neat idea to have this type of show. I hadn't watched the show before; I hadn't watched full episodes; I didn't know any of the characters; I didn't really know the rules of the game. After we were picked, I sat down and watched Season 7... Most of it. I really wasn't a fan of the show, I just liked the idea of it. Don: I knew everything about the show and all the Roadblocks, the U-Turn... Well, they didn't have the U-Turn then. That was an added thing. They did have penalties and so on, so I was pretty confident we could do it.
Reality TV World: Having now been through it, do you think you'd be up for another run if they ever happen to do another All-Stars edition down the road in a few years?
Don: I'm ready right now! Nick: Yeah, God yeah! There were a lot of points during the race where I... I never thought I want to be eliminated, but just thought, "God! If I could just be in my bed for eight hours and get a good meal, that would just be great. I want to get out of Africa and I don't want to be sick." But I would definitely do it again without a thought. Don: And of course, I would want to do it with Nick... Naturally (both laugh).
Reality TV World: What was the toughest part about competing on The Amazing Race? What was your favorite part about the race?
Nick: The toughest part -- and I think Don would say the same thing -- was just the long-term exhaustion and fatigue. I really did not expect the intensity of it going into the race. You're on a 10-hour flight, and you're trying to learn a language, and you're trying to get an idea of where you're going, and I'm six-foot, five [inches], and I'm cramped into a little seat. That's your time to rest, because you hit the ground, you're running -- you're racing, you're racing -- and now, you have to sleep on the street in India in an ATM machine (Don laughing). That was the answer to your, "What was your favorite part of the race?" That was it. All five [teams] in a little ATM machine because that was where we all huddled into. That just highlighted the fact that you have no time to rest. It's just day after day of not eating, not sleeping. It really, really wears on you. I think it wears on a 23-year-old guy, I think it wears on a 68-year-old guy. It got to everyone. It was very intense.
Reality TV World: Had either of you previously done a lot of international traveling? Do you know any foreign languages?
Don: From my end, I had done quite a bit of traveling when I was in Europe. I was in the service, I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany for a year, and I did travel all over Europe -- I bought a car when I was there -- and I traveled all over. My wife and I have been back to Europe several times since... We've been married 43 years. We've been back a few times. We traveled to Mexico and stuff. So I've done quite a bit of traveling.
Reality TV World: You're a pilot Nick, so what about you?
Nick: I'm based in Puerto Rico and all the travel in international. I've been to Europe. I've been to South America. I've been to Florence and Amsterdam and Ireland and Japan before. But really, four of the legs we went I had been to those places before. It didn't help. Being a pilot didn't help. You get to the airport, the fastest team, gets the best flight -- with exceptions sometimes... We never really made nay huge mistakes on the flying. But I don't really feel me being a pilot helped. We got lost as hell in Florence trying to find a parking lot to put our car in for the Pit Stop. the fact that I'd been to Florence, it didn't help at all. My previous traveling experiences weren't that much of an aid during the race. Don: Nick speaks Spanish and I speak some Spanish and I speak some German. But none of that really came into play I think for either of us.
Reality TV World: Don, you kind of seemed to be a jack of all trades of sorts during the race. At various points we heard you talking about having done some masonry work, having been in the printing business, having done some mining, and having worked with animals before....
Don: Yeah, I've done all those things.
Reality TV World: CBS listed you as "retired," but exactly what is your background?
Don: I ran some six-color print shops in the Chicago area. I was basically in printing all my life. But I've done a lot of remodeling. I've been out west and actually did some panning for gold (Nick laughing), for entertainment honestly. I am pretty much a jack of all trades. I'm an antique car buff... Nick: He's retired now, he runs a business! Don: Yeah, I've done a lot of things. Living up in Wisconsin, I milked some cows when I was a kid. So that wasn't fake when I said I did all those things.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you two?
Don: For me, I'm hoping I get a call and they want to put me on some show for something to do (laughing)... Nick: I came back down to Puerto Rico after returning from Alaska, and I tell people it's a lot easier to adjust to insanity than it is to adjust to normalcy. You get on the race, and you go, and that's the insanity aspect. But to get back, and tone down and get back to living your normal life again, that took a good three or four weeks to just take a deep breathe and go back to everything, the way it was. But it's six months later, and everything is pretty much how I left it. I'm flying down here in Puerto Rico, and I'm planning on coming back to the States within the year at some point, and just continue flying.
Click here to read Reality TV World's interview with The Amazing Race winners TK and Rachel. Click here to read Reality TV World's interview with second-place finishers Ronald and Christina.