By: Amelia Chen
I didn’t know what to expect when I began my semester at UW-Madison, since graduate school and food science were both new to me, but it turned out to be an otherwise typical semester – meeting the department, learning new techniques, figuring out the bus system…and watching The Amazing Race with the Sweet Scientists themselves. Amy and Maya’s summer adventure extended into the fall for the rest of the department, as it became a fun weekly tradition for everyone. They shared their funniest memories behind each task during commercial breaks, and it was entertaining to hear how many wine glasses they broke in Malta and how they got lost in Scotland. We convened to cheer them on even while they jetted off to Chicago or St. Louis and then Los Angeles when no one dared to see it coming as they finally crossed the finish line. The bar filled with a deafening cheer, and no one could stop smiling or squirming with excitement. I just want to watch that again. I wish they were here! What an excellent close to the semester.
Now at the start of the new year and new semester, we asked Amy and Maya how The Amazing Race has changed their lives since everyone else was finally let in on their secret. Usually a planner, Amy mentions that the Race “helped [her] learn how to really live in the moment” as it was “a very unique experience to wake up every morning and have absolutely no idea what the day has in store,” which is a huge contrast to the daily routine of lab life. For Maya, who has been interested in entrepreneurial endeavors long before the Race, being on the show brought her closer to pursuing her goal to do a “frozen desserts around the world” show. She “had no clue if [she] would enjoy being on camera or if the camera would even like [her]. And from the Race, [she] learned that [she] really [enjoys] what [she] was exposed to thus far and now [she has her] name and face out in the public way more than before, which is simply a blessing.” Maya also mentions that the two of them now get many requests to do speaking engagements and presentations, as they have become role models for young women and future food scientists.
At a glance we wondered why as food scientists, the pair opted out of most of the food-themed challenges. Amy said that as scientists though, “[a]ttention to detail was a strength for [them],” so the Parklet challenge in Copenhagen suited their skills more than the Wedding Cake Race. Maya reminded us “a lot goes into picking one Detour over another. It is not just which one seems more fun, but which one can [they] get through together most efficiently… [and] it was sometimes advantageous to have a challenge that did not depend on [us], but simply the clock,” as was the case in choosing the cupping massage over smashing crabs in Singapore.
Something that wasn’t revealed until much later in the race was Amy’s pelvic injury, which was also the reason why they chose Changing of the Guards over the Pancake Race in London. At the time, even she and Maya weren’t aware of the severity of her injury, and viewers probably wouldn’t have noticed until Brooke was imitating her limp. In case you were wondering, yes, she is this injury-prone in lab because she gets “so focused on very specific tasks that the other things take a back seat.” While it isn’t her favorite quality, she’s “learned to laugh it off and move on!”
As for the grand prize, Maya, who is graduating in the summer, plans to invest most of the money to pursue her own show, a consulting career in frozen desserts, or a chain of ice cream shops. Amy, on the other hand, plans to save the money until she’s finished her PhD, as well as taking a vacation to Hawaii with her mom.
While the concept of the race sounds too good to be true (visiting eight countries and the chance to win numerous prizes), competing on the show did not sound easy. They were certainly the underdogs going into the finals, and throughout the season, they were portrayed as the fun, go-with-the-flow team. And the other teams certainly didn’t hide their bitterness when Amy and Maya continued on to the finale thanks to a surprise save. While that part was an unforeseen blessing, what fans of the Race didn’t know is that the pair trained for months prior to filming, and much strategy happened behind the scenes. It was refreshing to see two scientists, colleagues, and friends working together so comfortably without antagonizing the competition. And I think all that made their victory that much sweeter.
Cover image: www.cbs.com