For Rachel and Dave Brown, the Race is finally over.
The last leg of "The Amazing Race" for the Madison couple came Monday, a victory lap of appearances and interviews to talk about winning the CBS reality competition series. The competition actually ended in December, but the pair couldn't tell anyone how they did until the season finale aired on Sunday night.
In addition to winning $1 million, several trips, and his-and-hers cars, the Madison couple lay claim to being the most successful team in 20 seasons, having won a record-setting eight challenges during the globe-trotting competition. They said they appreciated the wave of support they got back home.
"We've gotten such support from Madisonians and Wisconsinites and the military and the Wisconsin Guard," said Dave Brown, a Wisconsin National Guardsmen who served in Iraq. "I mean, to arrive back home today from New York City and have Bucky and the Adjutant General for the state of Wisconsin, Gen. (Donald P.) Dunbar, on site (at the airport) was astronomical. We couldn't expect anything more from those who we care about and those who we live near."
Now they say they're looking forward to getting back to a normal life (although they're thrilled about one more appearance, throwing out the first pitch at the May 19 Brewers game.) Rachel is a project manager at Epic Systems in Verona who travels frequently for work, while Dave is now is an assistant professor of military science at the UW-Madison's ROTC detachment.
The Browns talked with 77 Square about their favorite and least favorite challenges on the Race, the perception the show gave of them as a "bickering" couple, and whether they'd Race again:
Did any of your friends and family every suspect that you won? Did you ever almost slip and let the cat out of the bag?
Rachel: Not at all. It actually became kind of a fun game. I think we misled our friends and family down the wrong direction. We were very nonchalant about everything, and they kept thinking, "Oh, maybe you guys didn't win, maybe something happened."
Dave: We just returned from New York City, and there's what referred to as TARcon, these fanatics that absolutely follow and love the race. One of the individuals claimed to have 100 percent accuracy guessing the winners. I think we deterred him. He said, "Well, I'm pretty confident that the two of you won, because you're in New York, and none of the other teams in the final four are here."
And I said, "Well, Rachel and I are very close to our friends and family. Do you think I would want to spend us winning here with you, or with our friends and family?" He was like, "Dammit!" Completely threw him off.
What was it like watching the show week after week, at these parties? Because you guys were seeing the show for the first time too, right?
Rachel: It was so fun to watch. A lot of stuff, we had no idea that it happened, or how people would be portrayed. It was a little bit nerve-wracking after the edit starting coming out and we were the "bickering couple." We were like, "Oh, no, we don't want to be the bickering couple."
Dave: That truly isn't us. What most people perceive as bickering – and Rachel and I will both attest to this – we perceive as challenging. Both Rachel and I have been very successful at all our aspects of our life – personally, professionally, academically. But one aspect, relationships, had never been a strong point for either one of us. Much of that had to do with the fact that our previous partners would try to placate us. Rachel and I challenge each other, and we appreciate that challenge.
That's just the nature of your relationship, that you push each other.
Dave: We definitely push each other to strive for more. But obviously that's not the day-to-day nature of our lives. But when you're vying for a million dollars, and both of us pride ourselves on being aggressive and intense . . . Obviously the Race, being under time constraints for each episode, probably choose to concentrate on a handful of characteristics for each individual person. And mine just happened to be those that are magnified to the nth degree.
It probably would have been decent had I been racing with another Army officer or a friend. But when you're traveling with your wife, and everybody perceives her to be this "Army wife" and not this equal professional that I know her to be, it doesn't necessarily lend itself to positive remarks from the media for me.
That's one thing that we talked about in the office, Rachel being tagged as an "Army wife" on the show when we knew she had a career as a project manager at Epic Systems. How did you feel about that, Rachel?
Rachel: That is the Number Two question I receive the most. Number One is "Are Brendon and Rachel as annoying as they appear on the show?" (laughs) Everyone at work was saying "Omigosh, I can't believe they called you an Army wife. That just does not do you justice." But I really didn't mind it. A. It's part of our story, and hey, if you're going to give me a million dollars, a bunch of trips and a car, you can call me whatever the heck you want. (laughs)
What was your favorite challenge to do on the show, and what was your least favorite? I'll bet I can guess the least.
Dave: Which one would you suspect would be our least favorite?
Easily the watermelon stacking. (Teams had to stack a perfect 10-by-10 pyramid of watermelons in grueling heat.)
Dave: You got it!
Rachel: That sucked so bad! It didn't even show how bad it sucked. We were there for four hours, stacking, unstacking, stacking, unstacking. It fell down about 15 times. It was just so hot and humid and there's smog in the air. I was throwing up.
Dave: Rachel was vomiting between my legs in the backseat of a cab in Asuncion, Paraguay, with a sound guy and a cameraman, both of whom were just as nauseated by the smog and the heat as well. They could have cared less to video it.
That actually led into one of the worst challenges for me, which was the bottle dancing. As everyone's well aware, my wife can dance. Bollywood, whatever. Obviously Rachel should have done the bottle dance, but she was just out of it physically and mentally, so I was forced to do it.
So what was your favorite?
Rachel: My favorite thing that we did, and it wasn't a challenge, was the safari in Africa. Oh my gosh. The most unbelievable thing that I've ever seen. The animals, the people, the scenery. I want to go back there for sure.
Dave: That was definitely one of the most surreal, majestic experiences of my life. But as far as challenges, I'd have to say the one in Japan with the sumo wrestlers. (Rachel and Dave had to get 30 Japanese strangers to pose for photos inside a sumo wrestler cutout.) I loved it, because you were in among the populace, and you got to mingle with people outside the Race. It was honestly the only challenge that took me outside the Race. Rachel and I are very social people and that allowed us to get out there and mingle. It was awesome.
Have you maintained friendships with other team members after the Race?
Dave: I've actually maintained very healthy contact with many of the other contestants. Bopper, we'll be lifelong friends. He and I probably maintained the best friendship at this point. Elliot and Andrew were just here in Madison, those are my boys for life as well.
During the race itself, you don't get to co-mingle with the other teammates, because they want everything to be on camera, so that being said, you're somewhat sequestered back to your room after each leg.
So do you think it'll be easy to transition back to a normal, not-on-TV life again in Madison?
Rachel: We're actually looking forward to it, to having our Sundays back, where we can sit on the couch and chill out. Not worry about arguing on TV.
Dave: We're actually very excited to bring some normalcy to our lives. I'm ready for the 15-minute clock to expire.
Do you think the race has affected how you guys solve problems as a couple?
Rachel: Before Dave deployed, we worked together really well and our communication was awesome. Then he left for a year, and we became these independent people, didn't depend on each other at all. So I think the Race went to us getting back to that, where we could actually communicate with each other, and realize that we have to depend on each other to be successful.
You know if they do an Amazing Race All-Stars, they're going to knock on your door again and ask you to race. Would you do it?
Rachel: Heck yeah!
Dave: In a heartbeat.