Dreams do come true. Just ask James Wallington. Ever since he was twelve he has been a fan of the CBS reality competition show, The Amazing Race. In an interview with CBS, Wallington said, “I remember watching episode one of the first season and saying to myself ‘I’m going to race one day.’”
Nineteen years later that dream has become a reality for Wallington and his boyfriend, Will Jardell. The duo is a part of the season 32 cast of The Amazing Race as Team Purple. The first episode of the globetrotting competition show aired on Wednesday, October 14, and in an exclusive interview, Jardell and Wallington revealed their reactions to finding out they were going to be on The Amazing Race, what items they brought helped with their strategy, how their previous experiences traveling helped them on the Race, what might be coming up during their time on TAR, and more.
Gerald Biggerstaff: What were your reactions when you got the call that you were going to be on The Amazing Race?
James: Oh gosh, well, we definitely weren’t together when we got the phone call. So we had to wait all day until we could finally celebrate together, and Will picked me up from work and I just like started bawling. I was just so excited. It was such a relief, it felt like a dream come true.
Will: I think, for the two of us, we’ve been applying together. I think this was our third time as a couple to apply and I feel like we had just waiting for that call to happen and when it did happen, it was just pure excitement to know that we were going to be able to do it together.
In your video, you showed everything you had to pack in your backpacks for the competition. What were some of the things, besides clothes, you were allowed to bring that you brought?
James: We had a bag of snacks. My mom came to visit before we left. She was very adamant about us bringing protein bars to make sure we had good energy for the competition. So we had definitely a bag of snacks.
Will: We also intentionally brought a deck of cards because we knew that if we had a moment to bond with other teams or do anything at airports we wanted to play games and get to know everybody so we brought a deck of cards to make sure we could have some fun with everyone.
James: Yeah, playing a card game definitely brings on good conversation and it gives you the opportunity to size up your competition, so we thought that was a good strategic thing to pack.
Will: We also brought these weird like blow-up pillows that we could use at the airport and so that first leg when we were at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) waiting to go to Trinidad and Tobago we used those blow-up pillows and quickly found out they were very uncomfortable. (Laughs) Like a waste of space in our backpacks.
James: So we got rid of them pretty quickly.
Speaking of LAX, Will, in your bio on the CBS page you mentioned your fear of being in taxis. How did you cope with having to take a taxi to the airport and then another in Trinidad?
Will: I think my fear of taxis mainly because I am so tall and so riding in the back of cars for long periods of time can be super uncomfortable. I think James and I are really good at directions so not being able to be in control of navigating is also a stress. It’s definitely not a fear of the actual taxi. It’s definitely like a lack of control in those moments and so I think you kind of have to let it happen. And then stress out when you need to, but you just have to let it go and keep going.
James: And we binge-watched so many seasons prior to leaving for the starting line. In that, almost every season there is one team, if not a few, that have an issue with the taxi driver getting lost that costs them a lot of time and so that was definitely something I think we were worried about going into the race.
James, what was going through your head when you and Will were standing on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl at the start of the race?
James: Oh my gosh, I just got goosebumps. When you asked that question, just being transported back to that moment and finally watching it in the premiere episode, it was a whirlwind of emotions. It had been a dream come true, something that I have been wanting and dreaming of since I was 12-years-old, so it brought back all of those emotions and just seeing all the other teams and finally hearing Phil say the words “The world is waiting. Go!” It was just very surreal. It was definitely an adrenaline rush and then after that moment, everything was kind of a blur.
Will: It was an out of body experience.
James: Yeah! I think my soul left my body! (laughs)
Was there anything from your previous travels from your Where to Next? videos that helped you during your time on The Amazing Race?
Will: I will say this for us, having traveled together before, we’ve been in really stressful situations when flights are delayed or we lose luggage or different situations: getting lost, not having cell phone service. We’ve definitely been through those moments in our travels as a couple and I think we’ve learned really well how to communicate with each other and how to balance different dynamics and I think, for us, knowing that prior to going on The Race, we hoped it would help us in balancing each other out, communicating when things got stressful and that’s something that we definitely took from our previous trips together.
After you finished the first part of the first leg, were the teams allowed to stick around and have fun at the carnival?
Will: We did for a while! Yeah! We all danced and partied for quite a bit of time and I think, the mixture of exhaustion of that first day from sleeping at LAX and then traveling and then pushing those steel barrels, which, to me, I don’t think the episode really shows you how difficult that challenge was. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. And then partying for a little while like you get this wave of like I am so tired, and it was just the first leg day.
What sticks out in your mind from that moment almost two years later?
James; I think just the energy. I think it was, watching it back on the premiere it was the realization of wow like The Race is no joke. We’re going to absolutely be pushed to our limits. That exhaustion, that mental fatigue is definitely already setting in and it’s already the start of leg one so that just reliving that through the premiere, I was exhausted again just watching it. (laughs)
Will: I will say this, too. When you are in a country or you’re with other people from a different culture, you really get to experience their way of life and their love of living and to be at carnival and to dance with these people, the memories of interacting with them and talking to them and dancing with them come back and just show you how beautiful and how welcoming and how just joyous the entire 30 minutes was that we were there and so just thinking about the people that we met and got to interact with also just brings back really great memories because I think in one of our first interviews, we talk about crying all of the time and that’s one of those moments where you get goosebumps and you cry because just having that opportunity to meet other people from around the world, it makes you emotional and very grateful.
You mentioned you watched previous seasons of the show to prepare. What stood out from your research?
James: Well, we definitely had a notebook of notes from all the seasons that we were able to re-watch prior to leaving and I think the big takeaway for us was just communication between each other. A lot of teams, I think, on paper, going into the race look like they’re going to be strong but when it came to their communication, it definitely hindered their performance. And Will and I have a really wonderful relationship, communication can sometimes be hit or miss, so we knew going into it that was something we needed to be very vigilant on. So, we tried our best to, when situations did arise in that first leg like the fish in the water, we tried to memorize the colors. It was one of those moments where it was a frustrating situation for both of us and just to let it play out and not get frustrated with each other and be as patient as possible.
Will: And we also talked about, before going on The Race, one of the things we agreed to was whenever we’re presented with any type of challenge where we work together or if it’s a roadblock clue, making sure we just take charge and if somebody feels more comfortable doing it, just go for it and not second-guessing anything that we’re doing and just putting all of our attention into what’s in front of us and trying to go “We shouldn’t have this” or “This is not working” or “This is not going well.” Trying to focus on what’s in front of us.
James: And would say the last takeaway that we thought was important too was the relationship you have with your partner is extremely important for The Race obviously but I think relationships with other teams is as also extremely important, so we, during that first leg, wanted to make sure we get to know as many teams as we possibly could, even though there wasn’t a lot of time but just to leave a good impression, you would hope that eventually if something were to happen where you were in a spot you couldn’t figure something out that someone might help you. So we really wanted to make sure we could form relationships with the other teams.
Do you have any favorite teams from past seasons?
Will and James, almost simultaneously: Of course!!
Will: I personally, just because I also love Big Brother, Rachel Reilly, every time she runs The Race, it’s the most entertaining thing in the world. Maybe a little bit whiny but I adore her, and I love watching her do reality TV, so I do love Rachel and Brenden and also Rachel and Elissa.
James: And for me, I’m definitely a big fan of Rob and Amber from season seven. They were also on Survivor and I loved that they brought that Survivor strategy to The Race and the fact that Boston Rob was able to convince other teams to take a penalty just so they could have an even playing field I thought was brilliant. So any teams that are strong with strategy that brings to The Race definitely makes for an interesting competition.
In the first roadblock, you both agreed Will should do it. What was your strategy in deciding who should do each roadblock?
James: Before we left, we, just from our re-watching of seasons, we were like “Okay when we’re put into situations with Roadblocks, we can’t sit there and think a lot about who’s going to do it. We kind of need to make a decision and the just go with it and we thought the easiest option was to maybe go back and forth so if Will did on, I would be next. Whether that’s ultimately what plays out moving forward, you’ll have to stay tuned. (laughs)
Will: When we read that first clue for the first Roadblock, I mean, it’s definitely our fault because we didn’t read between the lines because the word ‘steel’ was spelled s-t-e-e-l…
James: and it was italicized I’m pretty sure. (laughs)
Will: you’re in that adrenaline moment, you’ve just been in saltwater, you had just been in the sun so you read it really quickly and I think we immediately thought it was some type of dancing challenge because we heard music on the beach and I’m obviously a dancer and so we said I’ll do it and I’m like okay sure and then when it got to be an instrument, we literally were like “Oh, you (James) should have done this. You’ve played musical instruments before.”
James: Yeah, I was in the marching band, I was in the jazz band, but you know Will did a great job. I think being a dancer definitely helped because you have rhythm.
With filming close to two years ago, was there something that you might have forgotten about the first leg that came back to you while watching the first episode?
Will: To be honest, it just the emotions. The emotions came back to us watching it immediately and I think we were able to put ourselves in those situations where, for the past two years, we’ve not been thinking about it and then the second that you see it on TV you’re transported back into exactly what you were thinking exactly what you were feeling, exactly what you were trying to do. If it worked, if it didn’t work, and even the relationship with the teams. You’re obviously just interacting with everyone and so those initial meetings with the other teams, it all just floods you, like the second that you saw it on TV, even after two years.
James; It’s weird how it can feel a lifetime ago, but also feel just like yesterday. So, It’s just so fun to relive.
How fun was it to race goats at the end of the first leg?
Will: I think it was, for us, we walked up and I feel like we didn’t really know what to expect and we’re both really tall. James is 6’1”. I’m 6’6”. And so, the second that the gates opened with the goats, we just used every length of our legs to run past these goats and I think the goats might have been a little tired from the teams before us, so it helped us. But it was really fun to sprint and at the very end of the court, you see Phil standing there and you’re like “Oh my gosh! My first pit stop!” and it just motivates you to run as fast as you can.
James: I remember walking up being like “Oh my gosh, what are we getting ourselves into” and I asked the locals who were assisting with the goats. I said, “Okay, which goat is the slowest? How fast do these goats really run?” And they just kind of smiled and laughed at us, not giving us any answers but like Will said we used every ounce of energy we had left in us to cross that line to the pit stop but when Phil said that we were still racing, we were like “Are you kidding me?”
Either from the first leg or the entire time, was there anything that surprised you about yourself or each other?
Will: To be honest, how well we really do work together. I think, for us, it became apparent right away from being in Trinidad and Tobago, we balance each other super well and when one of us is struggling, the other one will pick up the slack and vice versa. And so, I think, it became really apparent to us that we can, you know, work really well together with whatever is put in front of us and it was really refreshing for us because knowing that we had been dating for four years and just looking ahead at our relationship, knowing how well we work together has just solidified us as a couple even outside of The Race.
Without giving spoilers, what can we expect from the second leg in Bogota?
James: Well, it was definitely announced that the YIELD is coming back and I think that as a longtime fan of the show, I think superfans are going to be excited about the YIELD just because I don’t believe it’s been on The Race since season 11 so it’s been a long time that the YIELD hasn’t been around. So, I think that’ll be an interesting twist going into this next leg and how that might affect the team dynamics.
What have you been doing since you were on The Amazing Race?
Will: When we filmed The Amazing Race, I was actually in my second semester of graduate school. I have since graduated. We have since gotten engaged. We have transitioned jobs. A lot of different life milestones have happened since we filmed The Race so it’s fun to relive that memory together and think about how far we’ve come because now we’ve been dating for six and a half years. So it’s definitely been fun to go down memory lane of watching The Race.
Okay, I have to circle back to this. You mentioned you’re engaged. Who proposed and when was the proposal?
(long pause and laughter)
Will: No comment right now (laughs)
I’ll leave it at that, but you definitely have to come back when you can talk about it with me because that sounds like an interesting story.
How has your time on TAR made your relationship stronger?
James; Oh, wow. I just think it reaffirmed everything we kind of already knew going in that we really are a great team together and whenever we are faced with a challenge we pull from each other’s strengths and are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. And we’re excited to see what the future holds for us and our relationship.
Will: I will say this, too, both of us are reality TV superfans. We have watched every show, all the CBS shows since we were kids and part of our relationship at the very beginning was bonding over how much we loved reality TV and travel, so I think, with our level of understanding of reality TV, that joy that it brings us in watching these shows. And able to something together as superfans was incredible.
James: Yeah, our love for reality TV and travel is exactly what we first started bonding over, and then it’s like a full-circle moment that we’re on a travel show and in love. It’s perfect. (Both laugh)
I look forward to seeing what happens next with you guys on The Amazing Race and I definitely would like to talk to you guys again….
James: We would love that.
It’s at this time Will and James give me a sneak peek of something that happens during the second leg (which is the video in the link below).
Will: Just to touch on that challenge, it was a moment where one of the first things that Phil says in the season is “You need a little bit of brains, you need a little bit of brawn, and a little bit of luck.” but what they don’t tell you is that Phil also goes “And always remember to read your clue.” And I will leave it at that because it’s definitely a moment where if you don’t read your clue, it really, really messes you up.
James: I will say, in our defense, we were exhausted. So, watching is one thing, but when you’re actually in the middle of The Race and you might skip over a little detail. I now get it when watching the show-
Will: When you yell at people.
James: why a team also can overskip a detail because when your mental fatigue kicks in, you may not comprehend the clue entirely.
Will: Yeah, you definitely realize really quickly that all those moments when you watch the episodes of other teams doing stuff from previous seasons, you’re sitting at home, you’re yelling at them from your couch “You should’ve done this! That was so stupid!” but when you’re in that moment and you literally can’t think straight. You’re surrounded by cameras. You’re surrounded by other teams yelling at each other. You get that sense of just being so overwhelmed it finally clicks like “Oh I get it.” I get why you really screw up in these moments because you will never have a moment like that in your normal life. (laughs) so it’s hard to prepare for something like that.