Exclusive: Gary and Matt Tomljenovich discuss 'The Amazing Race'
By Christopher Rocchio, 11/16/2009
Gary and Matt Tomljenovich felt they needed to run a flawless leg or have one of the other remaining teams falter to overcome their Speed Bump penalty.
They got neither and instead Gary, a 47-year-old construction manager and mortgage banker from Laurel, MT, and his son Matt, a 22-year-old student from Bozeman, MT, became the eighth team eliminated from The Amazing Race's fifteenth season during last night's broadcast of the CBS reality series.
On Monday, Gary and Matt talked to Reality TV World about what they think ultimately led to their ouster; how they felt an opportunity to help them overcome the Speed Bump penalty presented itself to them; why they were surprised at one aspect of the race they couldn't account for; and how The Amazing Race was a victory for them despite finishing fifth.
Reality TV World: You guys made several smaller mistakes in the leg during last night's episode -- including Matt's candelabra confusion, coloring on the scroll, and an inability to find the clue box at the tower. Which one do you think lost you the most time and was most costly?
Matt: In honesty, it was the Speed Bump that did it for us. The Speed Bump took us roughly 20 minutes. At the end, they said we were seven minutes [behind "Married Couple" Ericka Dunlap and Brian Kleinschmidt in reaching the Pit Stop]. So we made up some time, we just couldn't make up enough time.
Gary: Maybe between the candelabra and the clue box, maybe there was seven minutes in there. But when you get to the point in the race where there's four teams in a short leg, someone's got to mess up for you guys to overcome that. It's really difficult at that point, and you have four tough teams that you're up against.
Reality TV World: Just to go back to the Speed Bump, as a viewer it seemed like a pretty simple task -- sitting in a sauna for five minutes. But you're saying it was finding the sauna bus, getting in and getting out that really hurt you?
Gary: Yeah, it wasn't a difficult task at all. To be honest with you, I grew up around saunas. Sitting in the heat wasn't a big deal. But running and finding the bus, we had to get help to where it was, run to it two blocks away, get in it. We had to strip down (laughing), spend however many minutes inside of it, get back, get dressed, grab your pack. So it was probably a 20-minute turnaround.
Gary: No. In years past when you see Speed Bumps, most of the time the task itself isn't that difficult. It's more of a time issue to set the team back, and they've got to run ultra-smooth at that point to overcome it.
Matt: Throughout the race you get in the mind set where you don't try to think of what's coming next because if you try to plan and you try to figure it out, it's never right.
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Reality TV World: Despite the missteps, you guys seemed to have ample opportunity to overcome your last-place finish in the previous leg -- especially with all the teams being forced to take the same ferry to Estonia. What kind of mind set did that put you in? Did you think it was a good chance to catch up?
Gary: No doubt. If you look at the times, not only did we have the Speed Bump but at that point we were four-and-a-half hours behind ["Teammates" Herbert "Flight Time" Lang and Nathaniel "The Big Easy" Lofton]. So when we pulled up, at that point we knew we had the entire day before we left. It gives you a lot of hope. At that point you know you have the Speed Bump and you think if you can overcome it and run a perfect race and have just one other team get lost, miss something, fumble somewhere -- you know you're going to be in it.
Reality TV World: During the search for clue box at the Tower, Gary, you noted that you two were "getting way behind." Was that when you guys first realized things weren't looking too good or did you still think you had a good shot to not finish last at that point?
Gary: Well you always think you have a chance -- even in the cab ride going out [to the Detour], I said, "We can't give up hope." And I guess when you're running like that and that stress level, it's hard to stay positive at every point. It's like, "Oh my god we're getting behind." So if you miss something or you can't find something, you're sitting there saying, "I hope the other teams did this too."
Unfortunately when you're running behind... It's just like Matt going in and having to do the Roadblock when all the other candelabras were gone, so he wasn't able to see anybody else pick one up or carry one around.
When we got to the garden up there, we didn't see the clue box. At one point there were a bunch of Japanese tourists standing around it taking pictures of it. (laughing) So when you're running behind, that's also sometimes a disadvantage because you don't get the benefit of other teams -- maybe seeing them do something or find something.
Matt: I talked to Brian, and they were running in last in the Netherlands. He said that's the reason they didn't see the bikes is because there were just two bikes sitting there tucked in the corner. When we got there, there was a whole line of bikes so it was obvious we were taking bikes.
Reality TV World: What happened during that phone conversation between your taxi driver and the one that was driving "Dating Couple" Meghan Rickey and Cheyne Whitney? The way it was edited made initially look like your driver was trying to convince the other driver to go slow, but after the call ended, Meghan and Cheyne's driver seemed to suggest that your driver had actually called because was looking for directions.
Gary: Our driver did call looking for directions, and then he told us they had another team -- his friend had another team with him -- and that's when we said, "Hey, drive slow." Obviously he didn't. (laughing) It would have been nice if he slowed down and got lost. But neither one actually slowed down or did anything to actually hurt the other team.
Reality TV World: Gary, how many hay bales did you have to unroll before you finally found the clue during that Roadblock task?
Gary: I asked production and they didn't do a count. But I was out there for about four-and-a-half hours. Because Flight Time and Big Easy were actually leaving the field when we got there -- they were running down the road to the mat. But the field had about 186 hay bales in it. When I left the field, there were 19 left standing. [Samuel McMillen] probably unrolled as many as I did. He was there before I got there, but I was there after him -- so we both had our fair share of hay bales. (laughing)
Reality TV World: A lot of viewers expected that Matt would be the one to do the bale task given he's the younger one -- how did you guys decide who would do it?
Matt: In the heat of the moment, my dad just said he'd do it. We had been taking turns on Roadblocks, back and forth. I have pretty bad hay fever. So it would have been pretty difficult for me to do it and he just said, "I got this." I was like, "Okay."
Reality TV World: Did you anticipate that it would be a non-elimination leg and you'd be able to continue?
Matt: I was praying it was. (laughing)
Gary: At that point we hadn't had one since the first episode -- the first leg of the race -- and all indications were that it was one. The last time [when " Sisters" Lena and Kristy Jensen took nearly 10 hours to complete the same task during The Amazing Race's sixth season] the girls got eliminated out there and we were just hoping. I said once when I was out there by myself unrolling them, "God, I hope [host Phil Keoghan] doesn't walk out here to eliminate me. I hope this is a non-elimination." That's all you can hope for at that point.
That to me was the hardest part to accept on the race -- was the shear luck of things. We were digging through the snow in Dubai for half an hour before anybody else showed up trying to look for a snowman, and Brian and Ericka well in and two minutes later they're running down the hill screaming that they found one.
The same thing with the hay bales. We started rolling at the same time [as Brian and Ericka], and it could have took seconds. But Brian and Ericka roll up and boom they found one and off they went. That was the hardest part to accept in the race for me was just the shear luck portion of it.
Reality TV World: Gary, you were one of the older participants this season. Did you guys think that was something you'd have to worry about before the race began? Do you think it had any impact and if so, how did you overcome it?
Gary: I don't think my age impacted anything to the negative really. Physically, I do a lot of hard work. I'm pretty physically fit for my age. Some of the guys might be a little faster, a little quicker and stuff. But with age comes experience and the ability to sit back and maybe analyze things a little bit better or not get excited or emotional about things. That really wasn't that intimidating to me and I don't think it really was a huge factor.
Matt: I think maybe the other teams -- they called him "Dad" and "Pops" on the race -- I think they didn't see us as much as a threat, and I think that helped us a lot in the beginning.
Reality TV World: After you were eliminated, was there anybody you really began rooting to win the $1 million? Was there anybody you didn't want to see win?
Matt: The rest of the teams on the race we got along with really well. It was a toss-up who we thought would win just because they're all so competitive and they're all great people.
Reality TV World: Gary, you got really emotional after the elimination. Did you ever think that your experience on The Amazing Race could bring you so close to your son?
Gary: I'm not an emotional person normally. (laughing) Did I think it would? No. But I was hoping it would. That was kind of our goal and what brought us to the race -- to be able to do something together, to have a bond, to grow closer. It really accomplished that.
If you could say we lost the race, yeah we did. But we gained -- I know it sounds kind of cliche -- but we gained so much more from it and really came out with such an experience that we really can't put in words. You put a lot of effort, you lay it all out on the line. Did I expect to? No I didn't expect to get that emotional because I usually don't get that emotional about anything.
Matt: No, he doesn't.
Reality TV World: Besides growing closer, what was your favorite overall experience on the show?
Gary: Specific experience?
Reality TV World: Yeah, something that was really memorable.
Matt: I loved every new country we went to. I had never done any international travel and seriously, to be able to see all of the countries I did, it was just phenomenal. It really opened my eyes to what the world is. I'm not intimidated by going overseas anymore. It's pretty neat.
Gary: The other thing too was so many people have walked up to me afterwards -- friends, family, people we don't know -- and they say, "Oh, I'd love to do the race." And I've asked everybody who said that to me, "Well have you applied?" Not a single person has said yes.
To have a dream of doing this -- because we've been fans for years -- and to send in an application and to get chosen and to go through that, it just shows you that you have to participate in life. You can't just let it happen.
Reality TV World: Was there anything that you wanted to make it onto the show that was edited out?
Matt: Not really. I think they showed us in a pretty good light. They showed who we are and how we're like. I think they did a pretty good job.
Reality TV World: You just touched upon this a bit, but how were you cast for The Amazing Race? Was it your first time applying for the show?
Gary: It was our first time applying and we went through normal channels -- whatever normal is. We went online, downloaded an application, threw a video together and sent it in. We were picked. We went through the process of casting and everything -- which was actually, by the time you get to the race, the experience of going through [casting] was crazy enough as it is. It's like, "Well what's the race going to be like?"