Exclusive: Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang talk 'The Amazing Race'
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/12/2011
Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang were crowned The Amazing Race's nineteenth-season champions during Sunday night's finale broadcast of the CBS reality competition.
The "Engaged Couple" team started off the leg in decent shape, as they departed the eleventh Pit Stop in second place. However, they surpassed their competitors Jeremy Cline and Sandy Draghi when they had discovered a correct route location but Jeremy and Sandy -- who finished as the runner-ups -- failed to do so and traveled to the wrong destination, a mistake which forced the "Dating Couple" out of first place and never allowed them to recover.
Meanwhile, Amani Pollard and Marcus Pollard lost their chance at winning the Race because they had gotten stuck attempting to complete their initial flight simulator task -- eventually crossing the Finish Line in third place. Because of their opponents' fatal mistakes and their own alertness and ability to hustle, Ernie and Cindy ran a nearly flawless leg and claimed the victory and the $1 million grand prize.
On Monday, Ernie and Cindy talked to Reality TV World about their The Amazing Race experience.
Reality TV World: How does it feel to be the winners of The Amazing Race's nineteenth season?
Cindy Chiang: (Laughs)
Ernie Halvorsen: We're relieved. The cat's out of the bag. We can finally tell everybody that we know that we are officially the champions, because there's so many people that you know that think that you are because everyone's your friend and they think, "Oh, we know you're competitive and we know Cindy is kind of a (laughs) a Type A kind of competitive woman herself." And so, it was just relieving.
Cindy Chiang: It was just exciting because I've loved the show for so many years and to actually be able to get on the Race and then join the ranks of some of our favorite teams like [Victor Jih and Tammy Jih] and [Meghan Rickey and Cheyne Whitney] and [Dan Pious and Jordan Pious], it's just fun.
Reality TV World: When you two approached the finish line and saw everyone cheering you on, Cindy, you looked convinced that you had won before The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan even had a chance to tell you. But Ernie, you appeared to be unsure and needed confirmation that you had won before getting really excited. Would you say that's accurate? What was going through both of your minds when running to the Pit Stop mat?
Ernie Halvorsen: I would say it's very accurate simply because we had that time in Yogyakarta where we had to go back to the orphanage because we didn't pay all our money. And I feel like ever since that leg, we've always been very cautious about whether we'd have to go back and do something.
And so, we came -- I knew we were in first. I just didn't know if Phil was going to give us the old, "However..." statement at the final Pit Stop. I was a little cautious because I didn't know if we had missed anything, and you never really know until he says it.
Reality TV World: How far ahead of Jeremy and Sandy do you think you finished? How about Amani and Marcus?
Cindy Chiang: I think we were approximately an hour-and-a-half ahead of Jeremy and Sandy and Marcus and Amani came another hour later. It was probably an estimate.
Reality TV World: During the cab ride to the Margaret Mitchell house, Ernie was shown saying that losing to "the boys" would be one thing but it would be different to lose to Jeremy and Sandy or Marcus and Amani. Based on that, clearly you considered Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin to be the biggest threat. Do you think you still would have won if they hadn't been eliminated right before the final leg?
Ernie Halvorsen: I think Andy and Tommy are great competitors, great guys. They get kind of an edit where sometimes people don't like the religious aspect of them, but I really love Andy and Tommy to death. And to compete with them was awesome.
It feels like if we lost, it would have been terrible with Andy and Tommy because they're such good guys, and even Marcus and Amani and Sandy and Jeremy -- everyone who races us, they're all good people -- and I would have been excited for any of them to win. It would have been a little bit easier if Andy and Tommy -- I should say, if Andy and Tommy -- would it be easier? No, it wouldn't be easier.
Reality TV World: Cindy, you were shown saying last night that losing The Amazing Race would be like losing to "C" students when you guys were the "A+" students. Could you talk a little bit about what you meant by that? It seemed like you didn't really have a very high opinion of Jeremy and Sandy or Marcus and Amani.
Cindy Chiang: We actually really enjoyed the other teams. We were watching with everybody last night and we were all just kind of joking around and laughing, so we actually missed that comment. I don't remember...
Ernie Halvorsen: It had more to do with the fact that we were running in the front of the pack so often and they were kind of coming in towards the end of the leg, squeaking by.
It was just kind of the feeling where if you're ahead of everybody, and then the people in the back kind of overtake you, then it's that much more upsetting -- that much more devastating. So, we just wanted to make sure that we stayed in the lead.
Reality TV World: Last night's episode showed Jeremy and Sandy saying you two and Amani and Marcus had an advantage in the final leg because all of you were familiar with Atlanta, GA, especially Amani and Marcus since they currently live there. So what is your experience in Atlanta? How much time have you spent there?
Cindy Chiang: Only as visitors. I've been there a couple times for work. I used to do research down in Atlanta because it's a good mixed city, but other than that, I only knew the Buckhead area. So, we didn't know the broader area at all.
Reality TV World: So would you argue the fact then that you didn't really have an advantage, because the only time it seemed like you might have had a grip on where you were was when Jeremy and Sandy got so confused over the dump location.
Cindy Chiang: We actually called the tourism board, so in the airport in Panama, we found a gentleman with a computer and we looked up a bunch of phone numbers. So, we called the Atlanta Tourism Board and that's how we knew where the Margaret Mitchell home was.
We had no idea -- we read the clue and we were like, "The dump? That's odd." So luckily we had written down a couple key phone numbers in order to get the information that we needed.
Reality TV World: Cindy, you were shown saying that the Race was the "ultimate premarital counseling" and that you both learned so much about each other. Could you give me some specifics on what you guys did learn?
Cindy Chiang: Sure! (Laughs) This was probably a lot of preparation up to the actual running of the Race, but we learned that Ernie and I work together pretty well. He balances me out. I'm clearly a little bit more high strung and Type A, and his laid back characteristics just really helped balance each other.
We also learned that we have a tough time communicating sometimes where I might say something and Ernie will either just completely block it because he didn't hear it or he'll completely block it because he didn't want to hear it. So, we worked a little bit on our communication.
Ernie Halvorsen: It's clear that the dysfunction is on my end. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: Some viewers have been critical that Cindy, you seemed to do a lot of whining during the season. What's your response to that? Do you feel you just responded naturally to the Race's circumstances because it was kind of an emotional and stressful?
Cindy Chiang: Yeah, I have read some of those comments. You know, it's challenging. I guess the only thing is -- I mean, yeah.
I ran the Race as hard as I could, the best that I could and I learned a lot about what I appear to be and how people view me, and the only thing I can do is be better for the future and try to really be a better person. I didn't try to whine. I wasn't intending to come off that way, but I can definitely see how a viewer would view me that way.
Ernie Halvorsen: Was there a specific one that you were thinking about?
Reality TV World: No, there were just some general comments made about it and I wanted to give Cindy the opportunity to comment on them.
Cindy Chiang: Yeah, you know, it's really tough to read those criticisms, because I wasn't intending at all to be whiney or complaining. I just -- I understand where they're coming from and I'm trying to be better about it. So, I guess that's the best I can do.
Reality TV World: During last night's flight simulator task, it showed you guys failing your first attempt at landing the aircraft. Did it really only take two tries until you got it right or did it take more times than that?
Ernie Halvorsen: Oh, no. Actually, it only took us two times. The first time, we stalled out the plane because we weren't going fast enough and the second time, we landed right on end.
Reality TV World: It really looked like the whole season boiled down to Jeremy and Sandy wasting time by traveling to the wrong dump. Did you have any idea you were in first place when you got to the Margaret Mitchell house or did you think Jeremy and Sandy had already come and gone since they had finished the aircraft task before you?
Ernie Halvorsen: When we were at the Margaret Mitchell house, we didn't see another taxi cab outside, so we knew that they weren't there of course. And then when I went inside and started typing, no one was around. It didn't look like anybody had used any of the equipment, so I kind of had a feeling that maybe we were in the lead at that point.
But then when we got to the map challenge, it was evident that we were in first place there because it takes awhile to actually get rigged up and actually do the map and then demount, and they weren't even there. So, I knew that there was no way they could have possibly completed that before we ever showed up to the map challenge.
Reality TV World: In past The Amazing Race seasons, most teams normally prepared for a task in the finale that would test their knowledge and memory of the prior legs. How much studying had you two done before that final leg or throughout the Race in general? The map challenge seemed to come extremely easily for you, Cindy.
Cindy Chiang: Yeah, actually every flight that we took, you know those in-flight magazines? They have a map of the world and just a flight route. We would take the magazine every time and we would draw out our path, and so over the course of the 23 days that we were racing, we had drawn that out probably 10 or 15 times. So, as soon as we got to that map, I was like, "Yes! We can do this!"
Ernie Halvorsen: I literally had the map in my back pocket with the red coming from every city just like she drew it up there. It was pretty ironic.
Reality TV World: How long do you think it took you to complete the map task overall?
Cindy Chiang: Good question. What do you think?
Ernie Halvorsen: Well, you had to get a setup time. I think the setup time was like 15 minutes or something like that, and the demounting time was another 15 minutes, and there was a safety briefing and all that, so as far as the basic map challenge part, I think it took like 10 minutes.
Reality TV World: The clues during this final leg seemed to be very obscure. The dump clue and the Hank Aaron clue were both very vague and it seemed like they could have been easily misinterpreted or researched incorrectly. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think it could have been simple to research the wrong locations based on the information given in your clues?
Cindy Chiang: Yeah, absolutely. I think you could definitely be misled. There was a furniture store called "The Dump" that Sandy and Jeremy ended up going to and you could easily think, "Oh, well it's a furniture store. That makes sense" because you're talking about a home. It is obscure, so yeah. They could easily misinterpret it.
Ernie Halvorsen: The only thing that we knew was that it said, "a residence formerly known..." so we knew we were probably looking for a house, and then the Race likes to go to culturally-specific areas in whatever cities we're in, so I didn't think it would actually be like a Home Depot-type store. We were probably going into downtown Atlanta some way.
Cindy Chiang: We also met a lady on the plane that lived in Atlanta her entire life and so, we basically talked to her about all the historical locations, all the famous locations, anything we should see if we were tourists there, and she literally listed off both Turner Field and the Margaret Mitchell home. She said, "If you could see anything in Atlanta, you should see these places."
Ernie Halvorsen: And so when we heard the dump might be Margaret Mitchell's home, we were like, "That's gotta be it!" Because we were told we totally have to go there by this woman on the airline.
Reality TV World: Wow that's lucky! So Cindy, when you lost your ticket on the train, what was going through your mind when you were on that train? What do you think would have happened if everyone's tickets were actually checked?
Ernie Halvorsen: So we felt actually pretty confident getting on that train ride, because we actually did have our registration number from our tickets. We just didn't have the physical tickets.
So, if they came around and asked us for our ticket, we were hoping that we could just tell the conductor that, "Hey, here's our registration number. Could you do something for us? Could you find our tickets somehow?"
Because I was speaking in German to the woman a little bit on the first train and I asked her for her opinion, and she said, "Well, you could get on the train and you could actually try it. It's all in the conductor's opinion if he wants to keep you on or not."
So, that gave us a little bit of confidence to actually sit on that train without them thinking that we were stowaways or something.
Reality TV World: Earlier this season, you guys chose to U-Turn Bill Alden and Cathi Alden, and then they ended up U-Turning Laurence Sunderland and Zac Sunderland as a result. For the most part, Racers on the show rarely U-Turn other teams just to win a leg when they were already in first place. Why did you guys ultimately decide to do that and looking back, would you still back that decision?
Ernie Halvorsen: Yes, definitely. We had just come from the Malawi leg where we were devastated by not coming in first after using our Express Pass and Andy and Tommy overtook us on the beach. I mean, we were just heartbroken and our morale was down. I think after that leg, I don't even know how much spirit we had in the Race anymore. We were just like torn.
I noticed when we got to Copenhagen and we started getting into the lead a little bit more, we kept telling ourselves, "We gotta keep this lead. We gotta keep this lead." And so then it came to the point where whoever was behind us was going to get U-Turned just so we could keep that lead and then hopefully take that lead into the next leg.
It ended up that we actually did it quite well because we actually got an hour or so lead the next day. So, I mean, that's a huge lead that would only help us to continue on in the Race. When you just think about winning a leg compared to the whole Race, you always want a huge gap.
Any time you can develop a huge gap and look for maps a little bit easier and calm and you can look for directions a little bit without the stress of the other teams coming right down on your back, it just makes the Race that much easier.
Cindy Chiang: We tried to use every leg of the Race as a learning experience and tried to take those lessons that we learned into the next Race. It never had anything to do with Bill and Cathi. They're really nice people. It literally was, "We're in the exact same situation as we were yesterday, and we made the wrong decision, so today we're going to make a different decision."
Reality TV World: Why did you specifically choose to U-Turn Bill and Cathi when it seemed like most of the teams didn't even consider them a threat? Was it the type of situation where they were the only team you knew of that was behind you or what was the reasoning for why you didn't pick another team instead?
Cindy Chiang: Bill and Cathi were literally two minutes behind us and so we thought at that point that it was the exact same situation as the day before.
Ernie Halvorsen: It came down to positioning. We knew we were in the lead and we knew Bill and Cathi were in second at that point, and they were turning out butter just as fast as we were. My racecar driving skills were terrible. I could barely reverse out of the parking lot.
Bill was like a pro at that thing, so I knew it came down to us getting to our cars at the same time because we were just running to it. I think they would have gotten first definitely, because we were that close.
But it had nothing to really do with Bill and Cathi. It had more to do with just wanting to maintain a secured lead, and then of course we just didn't do anything to Andy and Tommy, because U-Turning someone like Andy and Tommy -- who were a bigger threat -- would have just been pointless.
Marcus and Amani were basically a half-day behind -- at that point, we thought that they were like almost a half-day behind us. So if we U-Turned Andy and Tommy, what's that going to do? It's just going to make these guys more upset. It's not actually going to kick these guys out of the Race in any way.
Cindy Chiang: I feel like Bill and Cathi had the chance to use the second U-Turn, so we knew for sure that we weren't marking them for elimination -- that they could literally get back in the game.
Reality TV World: After Phil told you guys you had won the Race, Ernie, you said your family would be in disbelief, while Cindy, you said your parents would probably have expected you to win. Cindy, it seemed like it was an ongoing storyline this season that you wanted your parents to accept you and Ernie as a team, as if you really hoped to receive their approval. What was their reaction when they had discovered you guys won and has the Race changed their outlook on your relationship at all?
Ernie Halvorsen: It was exactly how we described it on TV. (Laughs)
Cindy Chiang: (Laughs) It was exactly how we described it! My parents literally go, "Oh, well we expected that." And Ernie's mom...
Ernie Halvorsen: She literally fainted. She's like a June Cleaver type of woman and she just was in hysteria when we told her about the victory.
Reality TV World: What do you guys plan on doing with your prize money and you guys are obviously engaged, so when do you see a wedding happening? Have you set a date yet?
Cindy Chiang: Yeah, we're getting married in March in Chicago. So that's kind of next on our list. But then, we're actually working on starting a business and we're hoping to raise awareness and help fight childhood obesity in the U.S. and then use the proceeds from the company to support education and developing markets.
Ernie Halvorsen: We'll do this through events that we'll talk more about once we get things more organized, but right now, it's kind of in its infancy. So, we actually have a website -- ernie-cindy.com -- that we're hoping to have people come to so they can follow us, because the process is just starting up.