Exclusive: Victor and Tammy Jih talk about 'The Amazing Race' win
By Reality TV World staff, 05/12/2009
After racing more than 40,000 miles, Victor and Tammy Jih's The Amazing Race hopes seemed to get dashed when they fell into third place midway through the Race's final leg in Maui, Hawaii.
However a sharp memory eventually allowed Victor, a 35-year-old lawyer from Los Angeles, CA, to come back from behind and complete the Race's final Roadblock task ahead of both of his competitors, resulting in he and his sister Tammy, a 26-year-old lawyer from San Francisco, CA, winning the show's $1,000,000 prize.
On Monday, the newly-revealed The Amazing Race winners spoke to Reality TV World about how Victor managed to solve the final Roadblock so fast, when they began to realize they still had a shot at winning the competition, when happened during their memorable meltdown in Romania, and what they plan to do with their prize winnings.
Reality TV World: First off, congratulations.
Victor and Tammy: (in unison) Thank you!
Victor: We're ah, still a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. It's nice that the secret can finally come out.
Reality TV World: Have you guys gotten a chance to get any sleep since the finale party last night yet?
Tammy: We did sleep some, but yeah, we're definitely exhausted.
Victor: Yeah, we didn't party all night...
Tammy: We're old... (laughs)
Victor: Yeah, by 2AM I was like 'Wow, this is really late for me,' so I went to bed
Tammy: ...which is extra sad when you think about the fact that we just came from the West Coast [where the time is three hours earlier] (laughs)
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Reality TV World: So how hard a time did you guys actually have keeping [the secret] from your friends and family? It had been since [about] Thanksgiving, right?
Victor: Yeah, the show wrapped literally the day before Thanksgiving. At the beginning it was very difficult because we had just done this super-exciting thing. It wasn't even a question of telling them what happened, for a lot of our friends they were just curious where we were and we couldn't say anything.
But once [the cast] was released and people knew that we were on The Amazing Race it became more of a sport. It was sort of fun to play with their minds, to throw false clues and have them thing that you, know, we were about to be eliminated in Leg #2.
Especially my mom and dad. My dad loved reading the Internet spoilers and sites like Reality TV World and he would constantly call us and say 'So I've figured it out, you must have been eliminated this week.'
Reality TV World: So you guys were born nine years apart and are living in different cities now. When was the last time you had actually spent that much time together?
Tammy: I don't think we've ever spent that much time together. Victor left for college when I think I was in the second or third grade, so I really don't even remember living with him growing up. And we've certainly never traveled together for four weeks, much less traveled in a situation where we were each other's only allies and only partners and he was the only person that I could trust and talk to.
Reality TV World: [The Amazing Race] host Phil Keoghan has made a couple of comments about how you guys are really intelligent but seem to lack some basic life skills...
Victor: I'm challenging Phil...
Reality TV World: I think he even used the 'I wouldn't want them to change my flat tire' line on The Early Show again this morning
Victor and Tammy: (laugh in unison)
Victor: You know it's funny because, you know being a lawyer one of my clients actually stumbled upon Phil during his bike ride across the country and met him at one of the GNC stores in Pittsburgh. And the first thing Phil said to her when he found out she actually knew who I was 'Yeah, that Victor, he's smart but he can't change a tire.'
And I was like 'Phil!' He's like bad-mouthing me across the Midwest.
Victor: Yeah, I heard about that too, and so I told Phil 'You know when we go back to L. A. I'm going to challenge you to a tire-changing contest.(laughs)
Tammy: And I will watch them as I sip martinis, because who am I kidding? I know how to change a tire but I would much prefer to have someone else do it for me (laughs)
Victor: I told my friends though and the immediate answer was 'Victor, calling AAA doesn't count.'
Reality TV World: So you guys don't take any offense to it or anything?
Tammy: I don't take any offense to it. I grew up being a total nerd. I was super unathletic, and I was never good at the practical things. And I think if anything, I felt like the Race proved to me that I'm much better at these things than I thought I was.
And of course compared to an athlete or somebody who just had different life experiences that just aren't as like, academically focused, [we aren't as good] but I thought we did very well.
Victor: One of the reasons I actually loved The Amazing Race -- and frankly, one of the primary reasons I wanted to do The Amazing Race -- was because it forces you to do things you don't like to do and to do things you're not good at.
In fact, when we were preparing for the race, we didn't know it was going to be on this particular The Amazing Race, we just said 'Let's practice doing things we're not good at' and getting out of some of that comfort zone that's so much fun.
So I'm fully aware that we have strengths and we have weaknesses.
Tammy: We have many weaknesses.... (laughs)
Victor: You know that's what's funny. Frankly, walking out of it, watching Tammy do a cartwheel was one of my favorite moments of the show, and actually seeing Tammy do things she never thought she could do like lift a pig
Victor: That was a defining moment
Tammy: I never thought I could do that because I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would HAVE to do that
Reality TV World: Speaking of some of those strengths there, there have obviously been cases on some of the previous seasons where Spanish-speaking teams spent the first few legs having the advantage of being in South America or [Central America], but I'm pretty sure this is the first time we've ever had a season where a team got to spend three of the last four legs in a country where they had the sole advantage of knowing the local language.
The course was obviously planned ahead of time and I know you guys had been doing pretty well and [placing] near the top of the pack [before that] but that had to obviously be a pretty big advantage for you, correct?
Tammy: I think it was advantageous because it gave Victor and I a sense of ease. We knew, at the very least, that if our cab driver didn't know where he was going we could understand that he didn't know where he was going. We were just able to joke with the locals and just interact with the culture in a way that I think some of the other teams weren't able to.
That said, the results also speak for themselves. The first two legs in China, we didn't do much better than anybody else. You know we did not come in first, and that's because the race isn't designed to just test your language skills, it's designed to test so much more. I may speak Chinese, but I can't jump off a diving board at the same time as my brother and I certainly don't swim as fast as Margie and Luke.
Victor: Yeah, that's what I actually loved about even those legs in China. I think that really showcased just how great certain teams are at certain things. I mean Margie and Luke were swimmers that none of us could have touched. In Guilen, when we were racing for the mat, Jen and Kisha were runners that none of us can touch.
Tammy: And in Guilen as well, Jaime and Cara knew how to do the choreography for the dance
Victor: ...that none of us would be able to touch.
Tammy: Well I promise you if you had seen Victor and me do that we would not be here today (laughs)
Victor: We were sort of happy that, okay, you know what, on the ["Chinese Waiter"] task, we got to speak Chinese. That said though, Jen and Kisha did that task amazingly well
Tammy: They really did...
Victor: We were very proud of them. They did the whole thing in like 15 minutes
Reality TV World: Talking about one of those weaknesses, going back to that pig-carrying task in Maui, obviously it didn't look like those pigs [were actually going to be getting served after that] so was there a rule that you couldn't just drag them [down] the beach [as you walked]?
Tammy: There was a rule that you could not drag the pig along the sand, it had to be up in the air the entire time as you were moving it forward. Obviously if you had to drop it, you dropped it.
You couldn't float it in the water either.
Victor: Yeah, they said that too. But the impossible -- there was no way we could carry it the entire time, without dropping it.
Tammy: You know, we watched [the finale] last night with our parents, or I watched it with my parents sitting directly behind me. And they were watching the pig task and I could tell they were getting super frustrated -- they [still] didn't know the end result -- [so] they were getting very frustrated and they kept whispering to each other 'Victor and Tammy, they're so stupid, they don't see like Margie and Luke [that] the best way to do it is to just throw it on your shoulder and run with it!'
And at some point I just had to turn around and to them and just say 'Please stop talking.' We knew that we needed to put it on our shoulders. I squatted down, put the pig on my shoulder and then couldn't stand up! (laughs)
Victor: She couldn't move! So then I said, okay, we have no choice but to do it this way.
Reality TV World: There was a point where you guys actually left that jet ski [location] in last place. Did you think you still had a shot at finishing first at that point?
Victor: That cab ride, after the jet ski, it took probably 30 minutes. I mean we were literally on what I called 'turtle time.'
Tammy: We called it 'island time,' or rather that's what our taxi cab driver called it
Victor: Yeah, there was a couple in front of us that, they were clearly locals and knew were in a rush [and] didn't care, they were just going to take their time and saunter along. That was the longest cab ride. And both of us knew we were way behind. Both of us thought we were in third place.
I was frankly quietly making peace with coming in third and just actually feeling really good thoughts about Margie and Luke and about Jaime and Cara -- look, either way it'd be great for them to win, and they deserved it. And in the back of my head I thought 'You know, they only chance we have is if is I need a mental stumper that's just really, really, really, really hard and so at least have a shot,' and it just lucked out.
I mean when I saw that final task and saw that Luke was still there and that Jaime and Cara were not even there yet it didn't better how far ahead Luke was, it was a huge relief because the race wasn't over yet.
Reality TV World: Yeah, it looked like given the show has used that type of [previous leg] memory task at the end [of seasons] before, it looked like you guys had been anticipating that had been coming and had been studying in advance, was that the case?
Tammy: Oh yeah, I mean Victor and I are nerds at heart, you know? Every night after a leg we would sit down and write down everything we saw.
If we did a task we would write down every prop that we used. We even wrote down the flag of every country, including the colors. And the currencies. And the exchange rate. And you know when Phil checked us in at the mat we would write down what the greeter looked like that was next to him, including the props they had. You know in India he had the nose flute and in one of the Thailand legs it was a parrot, no [wait], that was in Bangkok.
We were definitely prepared and we knew that Victor would do it because he's very, very good under pressure in tasks like that and on the flight -- was it from O'ahu, I can't remember -- from O'ahu to Maui, Victor and I prepared. I quizzed him. I took out the booklet and I quizzed him and I knew that if Luke gave him the chance victor could pull it through.
Victor: I'm still shocked though. Because every racer, even from Day 1, knew that Luke was the person who knew the Race in and out. And that Luke was the one who -- there was no question that Luke was going to be the one who was going to do the final Roadblock [for his team]. I mean he started preparing for the final Roadblock in Leg 1 of the entire race (laughs)
And I think we were just fortunate that he got stumped and then just got a little frustrated and that allowed us to have a chance. But we knew he was formidable competition. I was still believing that a mental task would be difficult, especially against Luke. We're just fortunate the finale task wasn't like [doing] cartwheels.
Reality TV World: So when did you finally begin thinking you had a chance, when you kind of pulled up even with him?
Victor: Well when I saw he was still there. I mean I instantly saw that he had nine out of 11 of the surfboards so I thought 'Okay, whatever, I'll just start doing it' and then with each passing moment I saw that he was still there -- I didn't really want to focus on him, but I knew that he was still there -- I said 'You know what, he's stuck somehow [so] there's no reason why I can't do this.
And you know, hope grows at that moment, and even as we were leaving in the taxi from the Roadblock, that's when I started thinking it -- I know my sister started, and you could see it on the show last night, my sister started believing it. But even then I said 'Okay, you never know, we might get lost, you never know
But I think it was at that moment that we believed that we could actually win the whole thing.
Reality TV World: Victor, it was kind of hard to tell, but you actually seemed to take a little riskier approach of pulling the boards out [of the piles all the teams were sharing] but not immediately taking them over to your [own mounting] area. Were you ever worried that Luke or Jamie were going to be able to see some of the board [symbols] you had floating around out there?
Victor: Well you know, one, I wasn't really focused on either of them in terms of what I was doing, [and two,] what I didn't, I actually didn't think about it. You know I was sort of pulling the boards over and putting them in a pile just so I didn't have to keep running stand them up the whole time, because I felt like the first thing to do was to get as many of the different ones as I could.
I don't know that that would have helped them, you know it was in such a jumbled pile anyway.(laughs)
Reality TV World: So just to make sure it's clear, there was a huge pile of 300 and something surfboards, and what was it, there were three of each leg's [correct] symbol in that pile?
Victor: Yeah, three of each symbol and then a bunch of other symbols -- the vast majority of which had nothing to do with our race
Tammy: ...right, including the alligator that Jaime wanted you to use (laughs)
Victor: Yeah... that's right. Because in some ways I think this was smart on the race designers' part, they were symbols of things that make have come from prior seasons, like Season 13, Season 12, etc. And that starts playing with your mind because you're looking at thing after thing that you don't recognize and you start questioning whether or not you just forgot something and then something like an alligator starts looking familiar.
And I think that's what happens, especially maybe for Luke when he was stuck on the last one.
Tammy: And I think that's just a testament to Victor and why I think he's so good at these kinds of tasks. He doesn't doubt himself when it matters. You know sometimes that leads us astray like in Romania (both laugh)
But other times that's exactly what you need and I think Luke knew the information and I know in his heart of hearts in a calm situation he could bang out all of those answers. It was just the calm under pressure that Victor has that I think that really gave us a win at the end of the day.
Reality TV World: Victor, I'm sure you've been getting ribbed about it for months now, but exactly what happened in Romania?
No, you know, I think what I learned from the Romania leg is I felt a lot of responsibility going into the Romania leg that I had to carry my sister. That sounds so insulting but like, after 26 years of me being nine years -- you know I've always been nine years older than my sister...
Tammy: ... that's what happens
Victor: ...and that will never change. I've always been the person who is supposed to like -- she lived off my credit cards when she was in college -- and she was the person I had to teach certain things. I coached her in debate and you know, I've always been sort of the teacher and the coach for her and ultimately, if things go wrong, [I had] to be responsible for her.
And I felt the responsibility and I felt like I didn't have the option to be wrong. And I felt like I didn't have the option not to know the right answer, even given her doubts.
And I think what I learned in the leg was one, you know obviously I can be wrong, I always knew that, but I just felt like it was my sole responsibility to know if I was right or wrong and I learned from that [is] that you can't win the race by yourself and the race has to be two people. And we learned how to better communicate. Tammy I think discovered her voice a little bit on that leg and I think it just helped us interact a little better and get on common ground.
Tammy: Yeah, I think that leg taught me that I do need to speak up. But it also taught me that I have an unfair expectation of Victor because I want him to have the right answer all the time also. And even if I know he's wrong I still want HIM to figure it out because it just sort of blows my whole world apart if he's not the one who has the right answer because all of my life you know that's been who he is for me.
And I do think that I found my voice a little bit in that leg. But I also knew that we've had the same relationship for 26-27 years and you're not going to change that in four weeks and what we need to do is learn how to cooperate better. And if that means Victor saying something that slightly obnoxious to me or very obnoxious to mw and I think not is not the time to have a fight, I'm not going to speak up because I want to win and I want to move forward.
Reality TV World: So you think that's why it took you -- I don't know exactly, what was it, 2-3 hours you were out there?
Tammy: Two and a half hours heading uphill and then two hours back down, it was a very long time (Victor laughs)
Reality TV World: ...so the time going uphill is [what passed before] you finally put your foot down and said 'No more,' correct?
Tammy: Yes, I said a couple of times 'I don't think this is right, I don't think this is right' but there was just something so -- a sense of urgency in Victor's face and in his voice, he just needed this to be right so badly. You know it was just a very emotionally intense moment for us and I don't think I really knew what to do. I definitely didn't think he was right and I kind of just, you know, thought 'Already, this is it, we've going to lose and I'm going to follow Victor to the next country up this mountain' (laughs)
Victor: There was a little bit of a -- this was amusing, unfortunately it didn't air. We literally had our own -- we're both high school debaters so we had a little debate. Like we would give the three reasons why I believed we should keep going and she would give four reasons why she thought we should go back and we'd look at each other and go 'Okay, so how do we resolve the arguments, we're at an impasse, let's keep going.' (laughs)
Tammy: And of course the whole time our cameraman and are sound man are looking at us with like daggers in their eyes as you know, they are the only crew that had to hike up the mountain with us (laughs)
Victor: They were very upset at us but I basically said 'Look, you could have told us to go back' (laughs)
Reality TV World: How did you end up on the Race, who's idea was it and why?
Victor: Tammy's. Because I have always watched The Amazing Race since Season 1 and loved it but it took someone like Tammy to say 'You know what, why don't we do it.' It was her idea to actually take the steps to apply.
Reality TV World: Any plans for any of the prize money yet?
Tammy: Um, I have to buy myself a pair of fancy shoes but other than that I'm going to be very responsible and pay off my law school loans.
Reality TV World: Victor?
Victor: Um, I'm planning to help bail out Citibank and pay back some debt (laughs)