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INTERVIEW: 'The Amazing Race's Ari Bonas, Staella Gianakakos talk


By Christopher Rocchio, 11/05/2007 

Best friends Ari Bonas and Staella Gianakakos were aware of the numerous intangibles facing teams competing on The Amazing Race, and their unknown presented itself in the form of an especially stubborn donkey.

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As a result Ari, a 21-year-old waiter from Long Beach, CA, and Staella, a 23-year-old restaurant manager from Fountain Valley, CA, were the last team to reach The Amazing Race's first twelfth-season Pit Stop, bringing an end to their journey on the CBS reality series after only one leg of the course.

On Tuesday, Ari and Staella talked to Reality TV World about how they approached participating in The Amazing Race; why they wouldn't have formed any alliances even if they were in the competition longer; what happened when they seemingly stole a cab from another team; and what exactly was that donkey's problem.


Reality TV World:   How were you cast for The Amazing Race 12?  Was it your first time applying for the show?

Staella:  Well we were cast kind of as the... not the Will and Grace but the [Will & Grace characters] Karen and Jack (Ari laughs).  It was our first time [applying for The Amazing Race].  I guess we were... you know, they tried doing the Will & Grace thing before, but it never really seemed to work out.   I mean, I can't think... I've tried to remember in past seasons if they ever had the girlfriend with the gay best friend.  I don't recall any season that's had it.

[EDITORS NOTE: Although Staella couldn't remember it, The Amazing Race's Fall 2002 third-season cast included Arianne Udell and her gay best friend Aaron Goldschmidt.]

Reality TV World:  So did you two attend an open casting call?

Staella:  Yeah, there was an open casting call.  Of course there was callbacks and then there was more interviews...
Ari:  We did a video.
Staella:  Yeah, the whole video.  There's a lot that goes into it.

Reality TV World:   Have you watched The Amazing Race before?

Ari:  I used to watch it when it first started -- like the beginning seasons -- here and there, a few episodes.  I watched a couple of entire seasons of it.  Sometimes you're not always home to catch the show in time, but we're pretty big fans of the show.  I love... it's an original reality show.  No 'America trying to vote you off' [and] making the wrong decisions, as we've seen in other reality shows.

Reality TV World:   How did you prepare yourselves both physically and mentally for the competition?

Staella:  We were actually working with a trainer.  We were trying to build our endurance and our strength in case we had any really physical challenges.  But we were doing that -- working out -- and then mentally, we just tried to study-up as much as we could on previous seasons.  It's hard to prepare for something like this because everything is unexpected.  You don't know what's going to come your way, so the best you can do is just watch the previous seasons and just take as many notes, look at little gadgets people might have taken along with them, which is what we did.  We brought like binoculars, a magnifying glass... all these little things that might come in handy.

Reality TV World:   Had either of you previously done a lot of international traveling?

Ari:  We're both Greek.  I had never been out of the country prior to this, so it was a really big experience for me.  Staella's gone to Greece, a few years ago...
Staella:  A few times...
Ari:  A few times, so she knew what to expect about the other side of the world.  But I didn't, and it was pretty fun and a good experience for me.

Reality TV World:   What were some of your first impressions on your fellow racers?

Staella:  Initially before we're even allowed to talk to each other, all you have to base everyone on was their appearance.  More than a number of times, looks can be deceiving.  You can't really size-up a person just based on how they look, so once the race started -- and you started seeing people's competitive side, how aggressive they are, whether they're in great shape or kind of lacking -- I think everybody surprised everyone in one way or another.  Also, everyone going into this is not knowing what's going to happen.  So many things can go wrong.  So many things can happen in the matter of such a short amount of time.  You just kind of have to take everything as it comes your way.

Reality TV World:   Were there any teams you initially butted heads with?  Any teams that you got along with really well?

Ari:  Because Staella and I were the first ones to go, we didn't have really a lot of time to bond with anybody and get into any arguments with... I mean had we been there through the race there probably would have been a lot of drama (laughing).  I'm a drama queen...
Staella:  Well not just that, but when it's a competition...
Ari:  Yeah...
Staella: ...and everybody's going for the same thing and only one team can win, it's likely heads are going to butt.  People are going to get into confrontations.

Reality TV World:   So do you think you weren't there long enough to form any alliances with any of the other teams?

Ari:  No, we weren't there long enough to do any of that.  Staella and I both went into this knowing we weren't going to do any alliances unless it was needed -- like we were going towards the end.  That's when we'd try to build some trust and try to get someone to have your back.  But we knew that -- again -- that could end up being a downfall because some could just... I mean the prize is $1 million.  Someone could do anything they have to to get it.

Reality TV World:   You just mentioned not forming any alliances was part of your strategy.  Did you have a strategy going into the competition?

Ari:  We initially told each other that we need to take our time.  As much as it was a race, we also needed to slow our roll and basically read the clues thoroughly.  Make sure we weren't doing anything that we'd get penalized for.  You have to make sure you know exactly what the clue says in case it's a destination of some kind.  There could be two places with one similar name, and you'll get messed up and lost,  so we had to really like slow down, even though it's a competition and you're racing.  You have to take your time as well, because you could end up... You could start-off first and end last or visa versa.

Reality TV World:   Staella, before the race began you said, "I have a feeling we aren't going to be making very many friends because of Ari.  He'll tell it to you like it is." Did you end up being right?

Staella: (laughing)  I don't think we were there long enough for that to happen. 
Ari:  I'm pretty much a...
Staella:  Here's the thing.  People I think are misinterpreting what I'm saying about Ari, in the sense that Ari is not afraid to say something that's on his mind.  And if it's something that he has reason to say something, than he will.  He's not going to start talking shit just to talk shit necessarily.
Ari:  Yeah...
Staella:  People were misinterpreting that.  He's a nice person.  People, when they meet him... and mind you this is under completely different circumstances.  It's not like [the 11 teams] just happened to meet each other one night at a nightclub.  This is like...
Ari:  This is a competition.
Staella: ...totally different.  People from all different parts of the United States and completely different personalities coming together.  It's just what I was saying when I said that about Ari was a a lot of time people don't like being told how it is.  Because Ari's that kind of a person, people may like him in the beginning, but then they come to not like him.  But that's because he's being honest with you.  Sometimes that's just too much for people...

Reality TV World:   Ari did you ever consider that -- although it might be your natural personality -- it might make sense to restrain your "tell it like it is" attitude?

Ari:  No, I mean had we both been in the race longer, I guarantee you probably would have seen more of me telling someone off because they probably would annoy me of say something wrong or foul and I wouldn't have liked it.  But then again, that's also another strategy that we were probably going to use.  Once you start pissing someone off, it makes them lose focus.  It kind of gives you an advantage because they're all going crazy about whatnot and could end up messing up.  Then it's an advantage for us.

Reality TV World:   Explain what happened with the cab situation when you arrived in Ireland.  Did you know you were taking a cab that was ordered by "Father/Daughter" team Ronald and Christina Hsu?

Ari:  No because prior to us leaving... I guess when we left LAX, nine of the 11 teams reserved taxis in Ireland.  When we got there, I ran out and everything looked like a taxi in Ireland... I mean what looked like a taxi, wasn't a taxi.  I got irritated, so I stood in the middle and screamed out, "Where the F is the taxi!?"  Some guy just jumps up and says, "Here! Here!"  So Staella and I quickly got our stuff [into the cab] and half-an-hour into the drive I asked the guy how much the taxi was and he told us, "Wait.  I thought we told you?"  That's when Staella and I came to realize we stole someone's taxi, and later on finding out it was Ron and Chris' taxi.

Reality TV World:  Were you one of the nine teams who initially called for a taxi?

Ari:  We weren't actually, that's why we did end up stealing a taxi.  We didn't know.  We didn't intentionally steal a taxi.  I mean the way it looks, I was gloating about it.  I was... I kind of was happy luck fell into our favor.

Reality TV World:  Was Ronald and Christina's reaction pretty much what we saw during your mild confrontation with them in last night's episode?  Was there anything else beyond that CBS didn't show?

Ari:  No, that was pretty much it.  They were just like, "It's okay.  It's okay.  But you stole our taxi."  I was like, "Oh well."  What are you going to do, you know?  

Reality TV World:   The Roadblock didn't seem very challenging.  Did you have any problems with it?

Staella:  Neither one of us have fear of heights, and we were so excited when we saw what it was.  It just looked so cool from far away.  When we got up and we got harnessed and I actually sat down and looked ahead of me, I was like, "Oh shit!  This is really far across, and we're up really high."  All we have is like a little life vest and we're on a really small wire.  But at the same time you're so excited you just want to get across and keep going so you can continue on the race, that you just kind of go with it.  It wasn't really hard the first three-fourths of the way, but at the very end...
Ari:  The very top...
Staella:  ...at the very top, the wire kind of curved up, you really have to use your strength to... Because you're carrying your weight and the person that's underneath you.  You really have to use your strength to peddle those last few peddles to get you to the absolute end on the other side.  So that was the hardest part of it...
Ari:  (laughing)  I was also hanging off a pole with very little butt room!

Reality TV World:   What was the major problem you were having with your donkey?

Staella:  It wouldn't move.

Reality TV World:  Was it as simple as that?  It just wouldn't budge?

Ari:  We had to push and pull...
Staella:  I mean we had about a two-mile stretch of how far we had to walk the donkey [back to the entrance of the farm, where they would receive their next clue].  We couldn't get the donkey to move, even 15-feet.  When it would walk a few feet, it would turn around and go right back towards the other donkeys.  We tried everything.  We tried singing to it; petting it; tapping it on its butt... It ended up with us literally pushing and pulling the donkey the entire way until almost like... It was like three-fourths of the way we had done the pushing and pulling, and then all of a sudden it took off.

Reality TV World:   Why didn't guys just try grabbing another donkey and starting over?  Was there a rule that said you couldn't switch donkeys once you picked one?

Staella:  Yeah once you picked a donkey you had to stick with that one, so we were kind of screwed.

Reality TV World:   As other teams passed you, did you ever start to panic and think you could be the last team on the course?

Staella:  Oh yeah...
Ari:  We knew.  After being out there four, five, six, finally going to the seventh hour, we knew we were passed up.  Staella felt it.  She knew she was last.  I told her, "Anything can happen.  So let's just hurry up, get into the car, and drive to the Pit Stop."  Because you never know.  Anybody could have gotten lost.  

Reality TV World:  Just to clarify, you were out there seven hours trying to complete the task?

Ari:  Up to seven hours, we were out there pushing and pulling [the donkey] every three little steps... It took a long time.  Staella was getting an allergic reaction; we were both very hot, sunburned, dehydrated; we got kicked by the donkey; almost bitten by the donkey...

Reality TV World:  It sounds like a harrowing experience.

Ari:  It was one crazy adventure.

Reality TV World:   How far behind "Dating Couple" Jennifer Parker and Nathan Hagstrom were you in arriving at the first Pit Stop?

Ari:  Apparently we were about a mile behind them, but we don't know...
Staella:  Apparently we weren't very far behind them [on the course] but they were at least able to get their donkey to go, and THEN the donkey stopped after half-way or so.  But from the beginning it wouldn't go [for us].  The friggin' donkey would not move!

Reality TV World:  So Nathan and Jennifer had the same donkey troubles as you, the only difference was they were able to get theirs to move initially, which gave them a lead.  Is that correct?

Ari:  They moved theirs... I mean their donkey took-off; more than halfway.  So when they were stuck, they were stuck actually pretty close to the next clue.  We were all the way in the back -- still pushing and pulling -- and we saw no one ahead of us.  That's how far [Nathan and Jennifer] were ahead of us, but they were still stuck in the same position that we were.  We were pushing and pulling the entire time, while they were just taking a break, and then finally their donkey ended up going.

Reality TV World:   Was there a Detour task that got edited out or was there just not any Detour in the first leg?

Staella:  No, there was no Detour... That's what we were hoping!  That the next clue [after the donkey task] was not the Pit Stop.  But there was no Detour... What the?!

Reality TV World:   Were you surprised to be the first team eliminated?

Staella:  Well we basically knew we were the last team.  We weren't surprised.  But at the same time yeah, because nobody wants to be the first one to go.  It's the worst feeling because you get a little taste of the competition and then you know it's taken away fro you just like that.  It goes to show how unpredictable the game is... You know, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, into last.

Reality TV World:   So how was Elimination Station?  The villa looked nice.  Based on the video on CBS' website, it looked like you guys were still having a hard time coming to grips with your donkey problem even once you got to the villa.

Staella:  Yeah, it probably took a good couple days to get over it.  You constantly replay everything in your head... "If only, if only."  Had we gotten a different donkey; had we been on the first [ferry to the mainland for the Roadblock], we would have gotten there... There's just so many things that you have going through your head, and it was really hard to get past that in the first day or two.  Then finally, we were just like, "You know what?  Regardless of what happened, it was an experience.  Not very many people can even say they were on [The Amazing Race].  They got to go zip-lining in Ireland."  You just have to really try to make the best out of it, which we tried to do in the end.

Reality TV World:   Any team you would like to see win?  Any team you don't want to see win?

[A CBS publicist would not allow Ari and Staella to answer this question]

Staella:  We weren't going to anyways!

Reality TV World:   Do you think competing on The Amazing Race strengthened your relationship?

Ari:  It has strengthened our relationship and even though we lost -- we were eliminated first -- I still would do this over and over again with Staella.  On the race we were arguing -- we were getting on each other's nerves -- but it wasn't because it was US getting on each other's nerves.  It was just the intense moment of the situations we were dealing with.  We're together 24/7 as it is, so something like this we could do over and over again.  I could spend months and months at a time with Staella.

Reality TV World:   So what's next for you two?  Back to the restaurant?

Staella:  At the moment we're back to work, but hopefully there will be bigger and better things to come our way!
Ari:  Yeah!
Staella:  We'll have to just wait and see.  Only time will tell.

(Photo credit CBS)


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