"The Amazing Race" crowned its first all-female champions Sunday: the unflappable anesthesiologists and best friends Nat Strand, 31, and Kat Chang, 35, who raced around the world for 23 days this summer in pursuit of $1 million. Twelve million viewers tuned in watch Nat and Kat hustle around Los Angeles in the final leg, according to CBS.
Show Tracker spoke with the history-making duo on the telephone Monday.
What was your secret to success?
Nat: I definitely think one of the keys to our mutual success is respect. Kat and I both really believe in each other and we behaved as a team the whole time. There was never a moment where it was just Nat or just Kat. We were Nat and Kat the entire race and I think that really led to success. We were supportive of each other, we respected each other. We tried to pick up slack if the other person was having a difficult time. But we also knew the other person was giving 100%. So I think racing like that and just doing it in a respectful way, it really helps everybody perform at their peak level. There’s no internal distractions or anything like that. So I think that mutual respect is the biggest key and working well together in all those different situations.
Kat: I think also on a more tangible level, we just really were prepared. We kind of geeked out. We were prepared in terms of reading all these articles beforehand on dehydration, on jet lag, how to have your peak performance and sports psychology and all these kinds of things. We just made ourselves ready for anything and expecting the unexpected.
Nat: You never know the particulars and you never know what each day is going to hold. But as Kat said, you know to expect the unexpected. So we approached it the way any athlete would train for any competition. We tried to visualize everything. We tried to imagine what we’d be doing. And even though you don’t know the specifics, you do know that it’s going to involve fatigue, you do know it’s going to require focus, and you do know the team is going to have to function as a unit. So from all those perspectives we really did try to prepare to the fullest.
You were just completely unflappable and it was so nice to see. It just seemed so easy between you. The challenges may have been hard but it seemed easy between you.
Kat: I think one of the reasons for that is our medical background and our training. We’re used to being in stressful situations. We’re used to being tired and having to conform, and not being able to give up. We’re not allowed to say "I’m tired after being up for 24 hours and I’m just going to go to sleep" when there’s a patient that needs an emergency surgery. So, for us, we just don’t give up. I think that plays a big role in why we were able to do so well and have some endurance all the way to the end.
Nat: Can you imagine during a code blue or something like that, you never hear the doctor saying, "Holy crap! This is a code blue! This is so awful. I can’t believe this is happening. What did we do wrong?" You just go into managing mode. So that’s the way we approached every disaster we had. It didn’t matter whose fault it was or why it was happening. What mattered was — OK, we’re in a situation, we need to fix it. Let’s do it quickly and move it on.
What was your biggest disaster?
Nat: Kat and I had to each face down our own worst case personal scenario.
Kat: Mine would be eating the sheep’s head in Norway. That was my own personal disaster. And Nat’s, of course, was the height challenge at the finale.
Oh my God, that finale was so scary.
Nat: I was scared! God, when I had to re-watch it, my heart started going fast again just looking at it.
How long were you swinging in the air?
Nat: A million years.
Kat: A million years that was just like a couple of minutes.
Nat: I don’t know if you could see this. But I was so scared that I was asking the guy, "OK, how long would we be dropping for? How long can I keep my eyes closed?" I was trying to tell myself — OK, say it’s four minutes long — and these are gonna be the worst four minutes of my life; you know it will be over. I was really trying to find some way to make it palatable. But, overall, I think it was just having a steady and supportive teammate that knew how to make me feel the best in such a difficult situation.
Do you have a favorite place?
Nat: I loved Sweden. I thought it was absolutely beautiful and we got to drive through almost the entire country. So to be able to drive through those national parks full of glaciers — just really intense drastic landscapes. And, of course, we had fun playing in the snow. And it didn’t hurt that we won that leg.
Kat: Probably St. Petersburg, Russia. Probably because it was somewhere that was never on my radar to go to before because there are so many other places in the world that I’d love to go. And that’s the amazing thing about the race is that you get to go to places that you never would have before. For me, St. Petersburg was so beautiful and the architecture was so stunning. It really blew me away how beautiful it was.
The other day I spoke to Phil Keoghan about the fact that there were two all-female teams in the finals. He said in his experience same-sex teams communicate better out there. He said men and women, no matter what their relationship is, have a tough time speaking to each other during the competition. What do you think?
Nat: I think that’s a very interesting observation. I thought that all three final teams communicated very differently. Kat and I were kind of this mutual support, internal motivation. Thomas and Jill had the relationship romantic dynamic. Brook and Claire had Brook as the energizer and cheerleader and Claire was being motivated by Brook’s energy. All three teams showed different ways to be successful. But I do think the female-female teams and the male-male teams, it probably is easier. The way men talk and what they think is important and the way women talk and think is important probably differs so it’s probably easier coming from the same perspective.
This season, viewers have been upset with a couple of the men for the way they’ve treated their girlfriends.
Kat: If you’re in a relationship situation, like a dating couple, you’ve probably never been in a competition together or in a stressful situation where you’re trying to do a single task together. You’ve probably been through personal stressful situations but it’s a little bit different than when you’re trying to do something in a competition situation. With Nat and I, we’ve worked together and been in stressful situations together, and that’s maybe why we we’re able to communicate together in getting a task accomplished.
Nat: It’s also our personalities. We are not very dramatic people. We don’t sweat the small stuff. We’re results-oriented. So I think our personalities were well-suited to handling the ups and downs of the race.
The 18th season of the show premieres on Feb. 20 and will be broadcast for the first time in high-definition. Announced on Sunday as an "All-Stars" type of season, CBS said Monday that it will announce the cast in January. Teams portrayed in the promo are not necessarily competing in the race that is being filmed now all over the world.
-- Maria Elena Fernandez
Photos: (Top) Kat Chang and Nat Strand running toward the finish line in Sunday's finale of "The Amazing Race." Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS
(Bottom) Host Phil Keoghan delivers the good news that Nat and Kate are the show's first all-female champions. Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS
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