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Exclusive: Ericka Dunlap, Brian Kleinschmidt talk 'The Amazing Race'


By Christopher Rocchio, 12/09/2009 

Ericka Dunlap and Brian Kleinschmidt feel a problem in the poker room sunk their chances of winning The Amazing Race's fifteenth season.

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Instead, the married couple from Nashville, TN finished in third behind "Dating Couple" Meghan Rickey and Cheyne Whitney, who crossed the finish line first, and "Brothers" Daniel and Samuel McMillen, who were the runner-ups, during Sunday night's finale of the CBS reality series.

On Monday, Ericka and Brian talked to Reality TV World about what went down in the poker room; how mistakes during the penultimate Circque du Soleil task were discouraging but not enough to crush their confidence; whether they enjoyed their roles as the fifteenth-season's underdogs; and if the way they were portrayed on the show was accurate.


Reality TV World: You were unable to capitalize on your lead heading into the Circque du Soleil show and had to switch roles several times. What was your major problem with that task and do you think that's what ultimately cost you guys the $1 million?

Ericka: No, I don't. (laughing)

Brian: I didn't think anyone would notice! The bungee chords isn't what put us out. They made us look like we were there for like an hour. We really weren't there that long. If you think about it, Meghan and Cheyne got out of the bungee chords and they made a wrong turn and went to The Venetian. As soon as they realized their mistake, they went straight to the Monte Carlo. Somehow, we got the Monte Carlo before them. So as soon as Meghan got her bouquet, Ericka got it not too long after that. So that's not what put us out. It was the poker chips.

Reality TV World: Ericka, you got really frustrated and started crying and shouting at Brian during that task. Was it just that you were struggling with the task that caused the meltdown or was it something else?

Ericka: Yeah, I was racing for $1 million. Everybody else was behind us -- we were ahead of them by like 15 minutes -- and they all caught up to us and then passed us. So absolutely, I was very stressed out. I think anybody would have been emotional from having such a great lead and potentially having a great upset and what was an underdog situation. Then they lose it. It was a very emotional time.

Brian: It was definitely... I feel like we lost out on $1 million by about four inches. That's really what it came down to, and that's really a tough challenge to have in a finale. It would be like asking some guy 5'11" to dunk a ball when you've got a guy who's 6'6" dunking it easy. That was a tough challenge to have at the finale. But hey, we wound up getting it done, we get to the poker room before Meghan and Cheyne and we met up with Sam and Dan. So [the Circque du Soleil task] is not what put us out at all.

Reality TV World: Brian, you seemed to handle Ericka's breakdown pretty well, even when she seemed to be blaming you for your team's inability to complete the task.  What was going through your mind during her meltdown?

Brian: I was trying to stay calm because you've got to understand I'm the one who's actually controlling where she's going. It wasn't really Ericka's fault. It was almost more mine because I had to figure out the right angle to take. I realized you couldn't get it on the first attempt up. You had to put her up, down, and then on the second time up she was going to get it. So I really had to figure out the angle and how hard to push. I wound up getting the right format.

But like I said, most of the times she was up there grabbing flowers and she was about three or four inches away from grabbing that entire bouquet. So I knew we had to stay calm and stay focused and try to finish this because we knew we weren't out of it yet.

Reality TV World: You mentioned the height problems, but based on last night's show it looked like the other teams competed the task quicker because the harnessed person used their arms to pull on the bungee cords and give themselves a bit of an extra boost during their rebound bounces.  Did either of you guys ever notice that?

Brian: Interestingly enough, we were the very first team there and what I think they told us was, "Do not grab the bungee chords." So that's why I was grabbing her legs at first and after I saw they were doing that, I was like, "I've got to figure out something else." Maybe being first at some challenges is not always the biggest advantage. They specifically said you cannot hang onto the bungee chords.

Reality TV World: You talked about how you had the lead going into the Circque du Soleil task and then lost it going out. What was your mind set like at that point? Were you skeptical you weren't going to be able to make up that lost time?

Brian: If you notice in the cab, the unexpected always happens on the race -- anything can happen. I said in the cab, "Maybe a team went to the wrong hotel." Sure enough, [Meghan and Cheyne] went to The Venetian. When we showed up at the poker room, we saw that Sam and Dan had just started and Meghan and Cheyne weren't even there. Our spirits were lifted.

Whatever happened at the bungee chords, we kind of left that behind -- we forgot all about it. That's what you've got to do, you've got to move on. If you dwell on things that happened, we'd still be dwelling on the bells from Amsterdam. That's why we were a strong team, we've got a strong memory.

Reality TV World: What happened your poker chips count -- do you remember how many chips you were off?

Brian: I wish I could tell you. Things didn't go the way they should have. It was stressful. You're watching all the other teams get it right, your hands shake a little bit. It's kind of a tricky challenge to end the show on I think because it's really in the hands of the counter. I'll leave it at that.

But it was definitely very, very stressful and we were all hoping for a memory challenge. We were all ready. I'm a huge fan of the race, I watch every single season, and I love the way they do the memory challenge because it recaps the entire season. I think viewers like that. So it was tough to see a final challenge for $1 million on something that's really decided by the dealer.

Reality TV World: Did you guys ever actually finish counting the poker chips or did the producers just eventually tell you guys to just go to the finish line?

Brian: I really wish they would have shown the rest of it. We ended up getting it right. We went and saw Wayne Newton, had a glass of wine with him on the piano for a little bit, and made our way to his house.

Reality TV World: About how far behind Meghan and Cheyne were you in crossing the finish line?

Ericka: We suspect it was about 20 minutes -- yes, that is a long time in the grand scheme of things. But it was relatively close in comparison to other seasons and their finish line times.

Reality TV World: When you received the Speed Bump penalty at the end of the tenth leg, were you confident that you'd be able to overcome it or did you think your race was likely over?

Brian: With the Speed Bumps that they had previously on this season, we knew that it was just going to be a slight hiccup -- it wasn't going to be enough to throw you out of the race. You've got to remember, we started like two hours behind. That was our real downfall there. But we knew we had to go for it. We weren't just going to sit down and say that we're out.

Things happened -- the whole season -- things happened for us and things always went our way. That was no exception. When we got to that phone challenge and I saw [Nathaniel "The Big Easy" Lofton] there, I knew we were still in it. I knew we were going to get into the Final 3.

Reality TV World: About how long did it take you to complete the Detour task where you had to carry the pint glasses and when you got to the Pit Stop? Based on the show it looked like you were out there all night.

Ericka: It took us about three-and-a-half, four-hours. It was a very long challenge. What most people didn't realize is we had to maneuver through the drunken streets of Prague where everyone was coming out of the clubs and the bars and everyone was completely wasted.

We had to carry beer -- which is what they wanted more of. (laughing) And we had to get to our location without, which was about two miles away from the brewery that we were picking up the glasses. We also had to deliver those glasses full to the line that was on the glasses.

It was very challenging. We were traveling on cobblestone by foot. So surely, it wasn't as easy as we hoped it would have been. You have to walk so carefully. It definitely took a lot longer than we originally anticipated. But I think that it was safe to say -- just by watching the episode back -- that we chose the right challenge. (laughing) Because the Golem was just as difficult and much more messy.

Reality TV World: Did you think you were the last team to arrive at that Pit Stop or did you know you had finished faster than the Globetrotters?

Ericka: We just didn't know because we didn't have any expectation. What I realized -- especially throughout this race -- is that when you have expectations, you generally get disappointed if it doesn't meet up to what it was that you had in mind. We just kind of went in with the blank hope that surely we would be able to make it into the Final 3.

Brian: We had no idea where the Globetrotters were and if you saw our reaction when [host Phil Keoghan] said we were one of the Final 3 teams, that was genuine, pure shock and excitement. You couldn't ask us to repeat that emotion. We had no idea and we were amazed that we did it.

Reality TV World: Brian, you seemed to surprise even Ericka when you volunteered her for the opera house Roadblock that asked for someone who "could remain composed under pressure."  What were you thinking when you did that -- did you really think she was the better choice or were just trying to balance the Roadblock tasks?

Brian: It's interesting you say that. Most of the Roadblocks we got to and we kind of assessed the situation -- like the hay bails, we already saw teams doing it, we were able to see what was going on. You can really pick who you think is going to be best for it. At the opera house, we were outside the opera house when we made that decision. I just felt like it was something that Ericka could do.

Like I said, we had no idea what it was. Obviously we were conscious of how many Roadblocks we had a piece. I think I was two ahead of her at that point. So we felt like that was the best decision. It was. It turned out to be just fine.

Reality TV World: We saw you two get upset with each other at several points during the race. Was that something you thought might be a problem before the competition started?

Brian: February of this year will be our third anniversary -- we've only been married three years -- and we've been through a lot in those three years, even more so in the last month we did this race. But we've been through more stuff than people who have been married 50 years went through. So some of that was kind of expected. I'm kind of glad that it did come out because what if it came out 10 years from now when we've got kids and all this other stuff.

I think you need to settle your differences, settle your problems right up front, and what a better place to do it then in front of everybody. A way to humble yourself, right? But we learned a lot about each other, but the best thing is we grew a lot. We're still growing. We're not perfect. I think that came across on the race pretty nicely.

Reality TV World: During the show, Brian came across as the more even-keeled spouse, is that the case outside the race?

Brian: The funny thing is, it's probably the opposite outside the race. For some reason, I stayed calm on the race and she got a little frazzled. But outside the race it's a little different -- she's more calm and I'm a little more frazzled. So it's interesting to see that dynamic, and people that really know us, I think they were surprised how that all kind of turned out.

Reality TV World: You guys made it all the way to the final leg without ever being the first team to reach a Pit Stop. Do you think some of the other teams underestimated you during the race?

Brian: You know, they probably did. But I felt that was a good spot for us. The underdog is sometimes a good situation. They're not looking for you, they're not worried about you, and it was going to be the perfect upset. But things didn't go exactly right and we don't know why it didn't happen for us, but there's some reason why we were not supposed to win that $1 million and I can't wait to figure it out.

Reality TV World: Ericka, after crossing the finish line you commented that The Amazing Race was an opportunity for your family to see Brian for who he really is. Now that your family has had a chance to watch the season unfold, do you think you were able to accomplish that?

Ericka: Yes. Actually, my mom put in a call to us as soon as the episode was over and she was very emotional. She said she has definitely evaluated his character in watching him throughout the race and how he takes care of me. She's very proud of us and was very happy to accept him for who he is. So that was a wonderful moment. In spite of it all, it was a nice ending to a very intense situation.

Reality TV World: What was the most difficult task for you guys on the race? Was there anything that you thought you wouldn't be able to overcome?

Brian: By far, the most difficult task was -- and people are not going to believe me -- but it was moving the beer from the brewery to the bar. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, and I'm in great shape. I lift weights and everything. But just imagine taking two five-pound weights and putting them straight out from your arms and just see how long you can hold it up.

It was so intense and so tiring. We had to do three different trips on that two-mile course, and the last trip every 50 or so yards we would have to put our drinks down, rest, and get enough strength to get up. Our arms were like Jello. We were shaking at the end of that challenge. That was the hardest thing physical-wise that we had to do. I would challenge anybody who thinks it's easy to try something like that.

Reality TV World: What was your favorite experience on the race?

Brian: I think the ski hill in Dubai was a blast. A funny thing is, in our pre-race interviews they always say, "Where do you guys hope you go?" And I said, "I don't know where we're going, I don't even really have any hopes where we go. Wherever we go, we'll conquer it." But I had a dream two weeks before the race, and the dream was we were in Dubai and we were skiing down the ski hill. So when we got to Dubai and we got the clue that we were going to be going down the ski hill, I could not believe it.

But I think that was a great moment for us. We got second place in that leg and it was one of our better legs. We had a great time in that ski hill.

Reality TV World: Was there anything you expected to see on the show that got edited out?

Brian: There's definitely some stuff. One thing that bothered me with the editing was when they said that Ericka's mom doesn't like me because I'm white. I never said that. What I actually said was, "Ericka's mom doesn't like me, not because I'm white, but because of status issues and separation issues with her daughter." They just took that out and they cut it to where it said, "Ericka's mom doesn't like me..." cut... "because I'm white."

I hope that didn't come across the wrong way because I think there's more than me just being white. Then as far as the last episode, the last episode was very frustrating to watch. There were some issues in the poker room with the counter of the chips, with the dealer. I can't go into too much detail, but I wish they would have shown a little bit more of that because that really put us out of the race.

Reality TV World: What was the situation with the dealer? You didn't all have the same one, did you?

Brian: No, there were three counters. We unfortunately picked the one that didn't know how to count too well. She made a couple mathematical errors.

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

Ericka: It was our first time applying. For the past two years I've really become very interested in the show -- Brian's watched it since Season 1 so he always wanted to apply. We were watching back in February and we said, "Hey, let's just look and see when they're having their next casting." As it turned out, there was a week before we needed to turn everything in. So we filled out our application and we made ourselves a video and we sent it in just like everyone else.

We weren't recruited. The most thrilling part was we actually were selected. So about a month after we submitted our application we were called back. We started the process from there. So it's been a year-long journey and it's going to be nice to kind of close down this year and move onto the next thing.

(Photo credit CBS)


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