Amy DeJong (left) and Maya Warren (right) are winners of season 25 of The Amazing Race.
If you're reading this, it's very likely that you followed Amy DeJong and Maya Warren as they traveled from New York to Los Angeles, taking the long way around the world, in a quest to win $1 million on the 25th season of The Amazing Race. Labeled the #SweetScientists by CBS, they visited 20 cities in eight nations over the span of about three weeks.
Amy and Maya weren't the most aggressive contestants, only coming in first place at the finish line. In fact, the pair would have been eliminated in the previous leg if the rules weren't modified this season to allow for a fourth team, as they were informed in Manila by producer and host Phil Keoghan.
The #SweetScientists had been serious dark-horse contenders over the first half of the season. As someone recapping episodes with with a focus on their exploits, it was frustrating when I simply had to explain, "Well, not much happened with Amy and Maya this time around."
But as the race picked up and the storylines became less cluttered with each teams getting scratched from the scoreboard, Amy and Maya came increasingly came into focus, showing off their charm, generosity, warmth, and the general sense of all-around niceness for which Midwesterners are famed. Maya gave away one of her extra pair of shoes to professional surfer Bethany, who was down to a single shoe after a challenge in the second episode. Madison couldn't have asked for better Amazing Race ambassadors.
So, who are Amy and Maya? They are doctoral students in the Department of Food Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who came into the race with a point to prove for anyone who thinks scientists are just folks in wearing lab coats and goggles, and messing with beakers and Bunsen burners. No, but they do have analytical facility and ingenuity, and whenever there was a challenge requiring more mind than muscle, you know Amy and Maya were going to come out somewhere near the top.
The other contestants playfully called them the "Candy Girls," while significantly underestimating Amy and Maya's mental agility. Once it was revealed that the final challenge of the last leg was of the brain-stretching variety -- assembling the names of the cities they had visited into the correct order and then matching that list with color-coded numbers on the sides of shipping containers -- the odds shifted dramatically to their favor.
The #SweetScientists surprised themselves on a number of occasions, but most strikingly in Singapore, where Maya shocked no one more than herself when she had zero trouble walking a tightrope 57 stories above the ground.
That episode also had one of the most memorable challenges of this season with a session of "cupping therapy." This consisted of a bone-grinding deep massage, followed by a skin-scrape, and concluded with "fire cupping," which is intended to suck toxins out of the body. This therapy didn't up take a lot of time, but was physically waaaaaaaaaaay more intense and left vibrantly colorful bruises wherever the cups were placed on the skin.
If you were to ask Amy and Maya, though, the toughest challenge of the season would be from the second leg in the U.K., where they had to punt along the River Cherwell in Oxford. What made it their most difficult challenge was that the both were frustratingly so far off of their communication game that they came dangerously close to being eliminated.
As some folks round these parts might remember, a team from Madison has won The Amazing Race previously. Back in 2012, "Army Wife & Combat Pilot" Rachel and Dave Brown, Jr. took the top honors in the 20th season, while also handily setting a record for most legs won. That's no small accomplishment, but we're here to sing the praises of Amy and Maya, who were just the third all-female team in Amazing Race history to stand atop the metaphorical podium. They did Madison proud once again, but in subtler ways.
This was the first time I watched The Amazing Race, and I gotta say... I liked it. A lot. Now, I'm not just saying I liked it because I got to watch a great underdog story play out every week that ultimately netted some nice people who live in the same city as me $1 million dollars. Sure, all that's true, but as someone that's had their head under a reality television rock for the past decade (unless you wanna call Pimp My Ride reality TV, and I do), it's really easy to see why this show is held up so often as an example of unscripted show done right.