The Amazing Race: The Yak Chats with Will and Gary

Gary Wojnar and Will Chiola

The Amazing Race kicked it into high gear last night with a whirlwind of action through the streets of Dhaka, Bangledesh. With the teams racing their way through back alleys, floating back and forth across rivers, and pounding away their aggression on steel and cotton, Gary Wojnar (@GaryWojnar) and Will Chiola ended up as the superfans that became the latest casualty du jour. The substitute teachers took some time today with Yakkity Yaks to discuss their involvement in the race.


The Yak: It looked like you guys finally hit your stride in Bangledesh. What really happened at the end of the leg?
Will: At the end of the leg, at least with us, we kept going. We didn’t know Trey and Lexi were ahead of us. What happened was that our cab driver took us to the wrong side of the river, so we had to double back. We gave him the clue, and he accidentally looked at the middle part of the clue and took us to the wrong spot, but that was our own fault.
Gary: The way the clue was set up was at the beginning of the clue was a paragraph, and the first part of the clue said to make your way to the Pit Stop and it told you where the Pit Stop was. Then there was a space, and the middle of the clue had a paragraph that said, “In order to make it to the Pit Stop, you must go to a landing on the river, take a boat across to another landing, and then walk to the Pit Stop.” We had folded over the top part of the clue because we didn’t want the cab driver to see that part, as it was not necessary at that point. We just had to get to the landing at the river. At one point during the race, he got out of the cab, took the clue with him, and we think he unfolded the clue and showed somebody the top part of it, so he actually took us to the wrong part of the river. He took us to the landing that we were supposed to take the boat across to, so it was an unfortunate error. What it came down to was if I had done the bondo task a half-hour quicker, we’d still be in the race.

Will and Gary make their way to the Pit Stop

The Yak: Being superfans, how was the race different than you thought it would be going into it?
Will: It was very hard in the fact that we couldn’t communicate with the locals. Sometimes “yes” means “no.” Sometimes they took you to a certain spot, like you wanted to go to K-Mart, but you ended up going to Wal-Mart. Trying to communicate with the Taxi Cab driver turned into, “No, we don’t need to go here. We need to go there,” so going from point A to B is very hard. Plus, the heat, the lack of sleep, and the hunger – it all adds up to trying to stay calm and not get too upset. We could get upset with each other because we’re use to it, but we did not want to get upset with the locals because we’re in their country. We were representing The Amazing Race and the United States, so we wanted to leave a good impression.
Gary: With Will and I, we had made a point that before we went on the race, we would speak to people in different countries with dignity and respect because, as Will said, we were not only representing ourselves in the race, but America, so we needed to make a good impression with them. Just because we couldn’t speak their language or they didn’t speak English, it was no reason to get angry with them. No reason at all.

The Yak: The week before, in the close finish with Caitlin and Brittany, what were you guys thinking when your driver took that right turn at the end?
Will: We were talking to our becak driver, and we asked him how to get to the market. He asked the guy behind him how to get to where the clue was pointing us, so we were thinking, “Wait a minute. If you asked the guy behind you, why are we taking you then?” So, we switched becak drivers. He was slower, but we knew that he knew exactly where he was going, so we were pretty confident we were going the right way. We weren’t worried about where the girls were going because every place he took us to was correct.
Gary: It was so exciting though! We had no idea they were behind us when we were at the U-Turn, so we u-turned Team Georgia. We took a chance that someone was behind us because we weren’t going to go out without using every tool that was available to us. So, as we were going down the road and they passed us, we said, “Holy crap! It’s the girls!” So, when we took the right turn and they took the left, we turned around and asked the driver, “Is this the right way?” and he shook his head yes, so we told him to keep going. At that point, it was either right or wrong and we had faith in him. Luckily, that worked out for us that time, but that was so exciting running that. The girls were actually about 30 seconds behind us.
Will: We knew that if it came down to a foot race, we probably would lose, so we were very lucky to get there first.

The Yak: For the last couple of legs, it appeared that you were struggling with getting to the Pit Stops and there were a couple of times where it looked like you had given up hope. What made you so sure that you were done in the race with that particular leg and did it change your outlook going into the next leg?
Will: Are you talking about the leg where we weren’t running to the Pit Stop?
The Yak: Correct.
Will: The problem was that Gary had hurt his foot running across the Bund (during the first leg) and it was really swollen, but we were afraid to get medical attention because thought that they would maybe send us home. So, he was sleeping with a shoe on, icing it all night, and at that point, he couldn’t run. That’s why he said, “I can’t run.”
Gary: We didn’t give up because we knew that you never know what’s going to happen on the race. There’s no way we gave up because we tried way too hard to get on the race, but at that point, my foot was absolutely swollen and I wasn’t running because I was quitting, but because the foot was so bad. During the night, we had stuff that we kept putting on it to freeze the foot so it wouldn’t hurt as much.

The Yak: What were the hardest challenges you faced on the race?
Will: Mine was making the balloons. I’m not too creative, and I just totally freaked out when I found out I had to make balloon animals for kids. I couldn’t tie the knot, I was sweating, I was falling apart, but Gary was giving me encouragement. I made it through because Gary put his faith in me.
Gary: My difficult one was the bondo task. I’ve fixed my cars with bondo, so when we got there, I thought, “Oh, great! Bondo! I can do this in my sleep.” Although, it’s been a few years since I did it. The heat was crazy. When I got home, I looked at the weather for that day and it was 101 degrees in Dhaka. With the heat, the bondo would set up in just seconds, so as soon as you would put it on it would harden. Everybody was having difficulty on it, but the bottom line is if I would have done that task quicker and finished sooner, we’d still be in the race, so you can talk about taxis and stuff, but I just did not get the Roadblock done quick enough. I’m very upset about it.

The Yak: Yeah, it looked like it was a pretty tough task.
Gary: We were there for probably 3 hours. It was hot and we were hungry, but everybody was having difficulty with it. I just thought for sure when we got there and I saw it was bondo, I thought, “No problem. We’ll breeze through that.” However, it didn’t turn out that way.

Gary and Will sew up a mattress during a Detour

The Yak: Did you do anything special to prepare for the race after you found out you had been chosen?
Will: I was brushing up on my Spanish speaking classes. I was also going on the Internet and doing brain activities to become more focused and more alert. Sometimes I have a tendency to lose focus.
Gary: We worked out six days a week. Will’s an athlete – he runs marathons – and I run on the treadmill, but when you run in an air-conditioned building for two hours, it does not translate in a hundred degree weather. The advice I would give to anybody who wants to go on the show: Get a backpack with 50 pounds in it, and run and run and run. Then, when you think you’ve run enough, run some more. Plus, like Will said, we were going to Internet websites and doing brain puzzles. We actually did some jigsaw puzzles and we timed ourselves in order to get our skills quicker at putting stuff together. We did a lot of biking, which we do anyway. Basically, there’s really no good way to prepare except to run with a backpack. You have no idea what they’re going to make you do.
Will: As far as the languages go, we took Spanish because it’s one of the most common languages in the world. Unfortunately, there’s two hundred countries in the world and who knows how many thousands of dialects, so there’s no way to know which countries to prepare for, but we thought Spanish would be good because we did have more of a chance in a Spanish-speaking country.

The Yak: What was your favorite part of the race?
Will: My favorite part of the race was driving a cab through Indonesia, and I saw a moped that had a father, three kids, and a mother on it, taking their kids to school. I though, “Wow!” You don’t realize how good we have it in the United States.
Gary: That is a cliché. We do have it better in the United States, and it is a cliché, but it’s so true. I have so many favorite moments. I enjoyed it so much. I had it come down to two moments. When we were in Indonesia, we were in the back of the truck going to deliver ice, and they didn’t show this, but Will and I were waving to the people, chanting out stuff, singing songs, and people were waving back to us. Then, at the train station in Surabaya, they had a Japanese Beatles cover band, singing Beatles songs, and I got up and sang a little bit of “Ticket to Ride” with the band. We were in front of people who probably had no idea what we were singing, but that was such a fun time right then.

The Yak: Did the two of you get close with any other teams and have you stayed in touch since the race ended?
Will: We pretty much talk to all the teams on a daily basis, via the Internet, Facebook or texting. There’s a special bond that we’ll have forever since we all shared the Amazing Race experience.
Gary: Daniel and Amy – We were very close to them. Those two have amazing hearts. No only with what Amy went through, but they set up the foundation to help disabled athletes, so those guys are great. The Goat Farmers – the Beakman Boys – we love them. They’re so fun. They’re so considerate. Caitlin and Brittany – We love their competitiveness on the show. James and Abba (Mark) – We thought those guys had a great way to run the show, where they worked by themselves. We keep in touch with a lot of them, and we plan to for the rest of our lives.

The Yak: Would you have changed anything about the way that you ran the race?
Will: If we could go back, we would have definitely kept Rob and Sheila from going out on the first leg. At the time, we thought that we were the last two teams left and we didn’t want to give them the clue, but in hindsight, if we had helped them out, we could have eliminated the Chippendales because didn’t know they were behind [Rob and Sheila]. So, if we could go back, I would definitely help out Rob and Sheila. They were our friends and we did have an alliance, so I feel really bad because we love Rob and Sheila.
Gary: We did have an alliance with them, but when it came down to it being us or them being eliminated, of course we’re going to pick us to survive. If we knew we could have eliminated the Chippendales, of course we would have taken them out. They’re a strong team, and you want to get rid of the stronger teams. It would have changed the whole race dynamic because if you notice, there are a lot of alliances between the Chippendales and Trey and Lexi and the Sri Lankan twins. Who knows what would have happened? Hindsight is 20/20, though.

The Yak: So, what’s next for the two of you?
Will: We’re hoping that maybe the Amazing Race will invite us back on the show because we’re running every day with our backpacks. [Will and Gary laugh] We’re basically teaching and trying to get a permanent teaching gig, which is kind of tough in Michigan right now, but I’m working at one school all the time as a stand-in. What’s great about it is I’m able to communicate to the kids about the different things we saw, and what I’m really able to communicate with them is that the United States – even though there were times when we were down and had forces against us, we still had the most opportunity out of anybody in the world. So, we try to teach them that there’s always someone who will help them reach their goals and commit to an opportunity.
Gary: What I share with my students is that you have to work together and have teamwork to accomplish a goal and to keep trying. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever quit. No matter how bleak it looks.

The Yak: We appreciate the time you took to talk with us, and thank you so much for being teachers to the youth of America!
Will: Thank you very much! I appreciate that!
Gary: Thank you very much!

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