Exclusive: Jennifer Hopka and Preston McCamy talk 'The Amazing Race'
By John Bracchitta, 02/17/2009
"Dating Couple" Jennifer Hopka and Preston McCamy don't mean to brag, but they did not expect to be leaving The Amazing Race 14 this early.
However, after some travel delays, an odd challenge involving cheese wheels and a hill, and getting lost on the way to the competition's initial Pit Stop, the 26-year-old student and 28-year-old software engineer from Columbia, SC became the first couple to be eliminated from The Amazing Race 14.
On Tuesday, Jennifer and Preston talked to Reality TV World about what racing problems they encountered that weren't shown on television, how they managed to blow a thirty-minute lead after arriving near the leg's Pit Stop, and why they ended up on the wrong end of the closest initial Pit Stop finish in the history of The Amazing Race.
Reality TV World: Letâ€™s start right at the end -- Jennifer, it looked like Preston was carrying you on his back for that final sprint to the Pit Stop, did something happen to you?
Jennifer: (Sarcastically) I broke my leg.
Reality TV World: Oh, you broke it...
Jennifer: (Laughs) No, what it really boiled down to was [it was footrace that went] Preston first, [Jodi Wincheski], me -- well the picture that they show has Jodi first -- but Preston was always in the lead and right after they took that picture, that's when Preston put me on his back. But it was almost a line run, it was Preston, Jodi, and me and [Christie Volkmer] were neck and neck.
I was running as fast as I could, but as fast as Christie and I could run it wasn't fast enough so Preston put me on his back to give me that extra push and at the very end -- he only did it for like a couple of steps -- and after that last step he threw me off his back to give me a jump and I just couldn't jump quick enough on the [finish mat] because Preston and Jodie were already on the mat and Christie and me literally [stepped on the mat] foot and foot.
Reality TV World: Oh, so it was really that close at the end?
Jennifer: They said it was the closest in race history for the last two teams. For tenth and eleventh place it had never been that close. It literally was a half-a-second, if that, that we stepped on the mat together, me and Christy. And both teammates have to be on the mat, and [Preston and Jodie] were already there.
We weren't far behind them, it literally was like bam-bam they were on the mat and then bam-bam we were on the mat. We were neck and neck and it was the closest footrace I think I've ever seen in my life.
Reality TV World: Okay, and then after that when you were on the mat and found out you were eliminated, [Jennifer,] you told [The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan] that you felt like you had let Preston down. What was that a reference to?
Jennifer: The whole time he was supporting me and I never thought that I could lug 50 to 100 pounds of cheese, I never thought that I [could do any of that], because, you know, we didn't eat or sleep for those three days. That was actually three days of racing that they showed.
I just didn't think I had it in me, and he was supporting me so much, like "You can do this baby, I know it!" I was so proud of myself because I never once stopped and said I can't do this, or I give up. And as we're in the race, I was pushing myself to the limit, but he was behind me 100% [and saying] "You can do this baby, run faster. good job baby, I'm so proud of you."
And in the end it's like, I stepped on the mat last so I felt like I let him down because he was so supportive of me and then it's like "Wah-wah," we're last, you know?.
Reality TV World: Yeah, and actually I was gonna say, Preston you jumped in right after [she said that] to say that she hadn't disappointed you at all...
Jennifer: (Interrupting) Yeah, he's competitive. He was already on the mat. He's very competitive and I knew that his pride was hurting because he never, well... We never expected to be the first [team] out, but I think none of the other teams expected us to be the first out. None of our family and friends expected us [to be the first out], like, nobody would've guessed that. So I just felt like I let him down and I hurt him and I felt like it was my fault.
I don't know if it's because I was having a little loser's regret at the time, but I really, honestly felt like he had pushed me so hard and it was my fault because I stepped on the mat last.
Reality TV World: You two seemed to admit to being a couple that isn't afraid to get into an argument or express your feelings to each other. Do you think having that trait helped you or hurt you as a team on The Amazing Race?
Preston: Well it's always a detriment any time you and your partner on the race are gonna argue. The teams that get along the best always do the best. But you know, we're both very blunt and outspoken people and passionate people, and...
Jennifer: (Interrupting) Our fighting didn't hurt us on the race at all, like because we fought is why we missed our train or because we fought we missed our taxi.
Our arguing never cost us on the race at all at any point. There were two things that mainly, ultimately cost us in the race. One [was] at the beginning at the church, if that would've been a Pit Stop that would've cost us. But other than that, our fighting never got in the way of the race. We were just tired, hungry, irritated...
Preston: The only time we were actually bickering was when we were on the train and somewhere where [we had downtime] and we were tired and hungry and grumpy. On the train when they're showing us bickering, we were last and...
Jennifer: We felt like we were last because we had a taxi error pretty much. We knew that we were probably gonna be last and we didn't know if it was a Pit Stop or not and you have no idea. And then all of the sudden we're just going at it.
Preston: Once we signed that book and knew that we were still in the race, we were lovey-dovey.
Reality TV World: So you feel the show was representative of [your behavior] and didn't show you arguing more or less than what it actually was?
Jennifer: It's TV, they're gonna clip and cut what they want to. I mean it's great for TV, we fought like that in normal life but it never gets in the way of anything. Like we fight, but 10 seconds later we're fine. Us fighting never interfered with the race at all.
Pretty much the main fight we had was in the beginning. Preston was speeding in that Mercedes, and we fought because he was just going too fast. That was a simple little fight...
Preston: (Interrupting) We were in a race! (Laughs)
Jennifer: We fought on the train because we were just tired and we hadn't eaten or slept in three days and at one point we were just like ugh. It was pretty much "Get out of my face, you need to shut up" and "You need to watch your mouth."
Preston: And part of it was we don't live together, and we've never been around each other 24/7 for an extended period of time.
Jennifer: And you can't just say "Hey, go to your house. Get in your car and leave," you're stuck together. You can't just say "Get out of my face."
Reality TV World: What led to you guys missing that first train in Milan?
Preston: [When we landed in Milan], we came off the plane and we were in first place. We got the first taxi and we were good to go.
Jennifer: We were first place for a long time.
Preston: Our taxi driver didn't speak any English, and we were telling him "Look, you need to take this specific exit, please don't go this way." We were like "No autostrado, no autostrado," whatever.
Anyway foreshadowing -- we should've known it was going to be a bad day -- but our taxi driver and one other team's were the only ones who didn't have a speedpass going through the tolls, and when we came out of there he missed the exit and he takes us into rush hour and we're stuck in traffic for maybe 45 minutes or an hour. Then we go to the wrong customs portion before we get to the train station and that takes another hour or hour-and-a-half. By the time we finally get to the train station we just missed the second train by like 20 minutes.
Reality TV World: About how far away was the train station from the airport?
Preston: Maybe an hour at the most?
Jennifer: About an hour [to an] hour-and-a-half. Of course we had to stop, so when all the other cars had speedpasses and they're just speeding on through, we lost our first place because our car had to stop and pay the toll. Then as soon as you pay the toll, that was the exit we were supposed to get off on, and all the other cars are getting off and we're like "We need to go this way, follow those cars." The [taxi driver] looks at us and is like "No," and he's like pointing up and we look up and there's this big sign [saying] that we're not supposed to take that way.
Jennifer: So we got stuck in customs for that two hours ultimately because... the language barrier is pretty much what cost us that leg. We didn't speak his language and we're telling him to go this way and we're speaking to them in a foreign language and he kinda took his initiative and went the way he wanted to and it got us lost the first day. So thank God that [church] was just a stop and not a Pit Stop.
Reality TV World: About how far behind everyone else did you end up arriving at the church?
Jennifer: I have no idea.
Preston: Man, we were at least a good hour...
Jennifer: At least 30 minutes to an hour.
Reality TV World: Given the time of day it was, did either of you suspect the church would be an overnight stop and might give you a chance to makeup some time the next day?
Preston: No, we thought we were done.
Jennifer: I thought it was an elimination (Unintelligible) I thought we were gonna get to the church and they were going to say -- because it was night time -- but I really thought we were gonna get to the place where we needed to go in the plaza and they were gonna say "Run to your next stop, you will be eliminated," and that'd mean right then and there it's over.
It was a big sigh of relief when we were like "Oh my God, this is when we leave in the morning, we're just signing in. We're last, but we're good to go.
Reality TV World: During that camp out in Switzerland it seemed like [Steve Cole] was coming down awfully hard on [his wife Linda Cole] for being slow. Did you see any of that conversation, and if so was it as harsh as it seemed on TV?
Jennifer: Yeah, we were there the whole entire time. None of us could sleep because it was very cold and we were actually sleeping in the Swiss Alps and it was snowing. We had one little blanket between Preston and I and we just couldn't sleep, so Preston made a camp fire that we were all sitting around and that's where they had that conversation. We were kinda right beside them as they were having that [talk] because everybody else was around.
He was just kinda saying [you were slow] and "You weren't fast enough," and I mean I think he was a little hard on her. She did try and she gave it everything she had.
Reality TV World: Could you talk a little about that confusing cheese challenge? Based on what we saw players like Steve, Linda, and Mel doing, it looked like you didn't actually have to carry the cheese down the hill and you could just kind of roll it -- can you explain exactly what the rules were?
Both Jennifer and Preston: The rules were you could not roll it or pull it.
Preston: Yeah, you couldn't roll it intentionally. So what happened was when people fell and broke [their carrier] and [the cheese] rolled down, well that's not really intentional so they just go down and get the cheese and take to the [goal].
Reality TV World: So if it fell all the way down they could take it from the bottom over to the place to drop it off? They didn't have to go back and get another one?
Jennifer: Well they did, it wasn't said that there was going to be a penalty, and the rules said you couldn't push, roll it or do anything that obviously gives you an advantage. So when it was accidentally going off of people's carriers and they realized "Hey, this is a good idea," that's how a lot of people got ahead.
And they didn't show me carrying cheese but I did. I actually slid down the hill like the rest of 'em.
Reality TV World: On the show it did seem like a few people were kind of doing a controlled rolling [of the cheese] at some point, were they [actually] not doing that or did people just start to ignore the rule after a while?
Preston: We made it in the second group. The ones in the first group, we didn't really see. We got there right as people like [Mel White] or [Mike White] were finishing up.
Jennifer: All of the cheese carriers in our group were broke, so we decided the best way for almost all of us to get down way we get down was we could put [the cheese] on a sleigh-type thing. So when Preston and I put our two cheeses on the rest of our carrier that didn't break, it ended up breaking a few steps down the hill, so we didn't have any cheeses carrier left. We had two little boards left. So I decided that I was just gonna put it between my legs and go.
[The episode] showed Mel doing that, [Amanda Blackledge] and I did that, Linda did it. I know a bunch of us put i between our legs and kinda just slid it down the hill because the hill was really wet, it had just rained, and we were sliding in animal poo. There were goats, sheep and cow poop everywhere, so it was a little bit easier to slide in.
Reality TV World: About how long would you say that cheese challenge took you from beginning to end?
Jennifer: I have no idea because my adrenaline was just going so much.
Preston: It might've been 45 minutes maybe?
Jennifer: No, it was longer than that. It was at least, I would say, an hour.
Preston: I don't know.
Jennifer: Plus we didn't really check out watches.
Reality TV World: Christie and Jodi were the last team to arrive [at the cheese challenge]. Do you know about how long after you had arrived that they got there and how much of a jump you had on them?
Jennifer: We had about 30-45 minutes.
Preston: Yeah, on the cheese hill?
Reality TV World: Yeah.
Preston: Well on the cheese hill we had about a 20 minute lead, and then after we got done...
Jennifer: (Interrupting) They got there as we were running off...
Preston: No, no, no, no. They were doing the cheese hill while we were doing the cheese hill.
Jennifer: See I didn't see them. I saw them running up.
Preston: They had to go back and get one more cheese after we got finished with ours. So we had a good 30 minute lead in the taxi on the way to the Pit Stop.
Reality TV World: Oh, okay. So what happened there? Did they have a quick cab? Did you have a slow one? Did you just get lost somewhere?
Preston: We still got there 35 minutes ahead of them, we just didn't have any money. None of the teams that took our flight, none of us had enough money to pay for our [taxis] at the end.
Jennifer: The important thing is Preston and I didn't spend any money during the way. The money that we spent was on transportation. We didn't eat, we spent zero dollars. So we didn't have enough money, and for our taxi we were 75 Francs short, so we get there and I'm begging the driver, who either spoke French or German I'm not sure, I'm begging him to let us go. And the other teams had already begged for money, so as we're begging for money everybody's like "No, we've already been hit up," so nobody was giving any money.
So we were begging and I finally went back to the taxi driver and he's yelling at me in this language "I need to be paid!" so I just decide, "Okay we're just gonna run." So we run to go to the Pit Stop, well we ran the wrong way, [we did] what they showed [linda and Steve do on TV], everybody I think went that way because there were speakers going up the mountains that sounded like the yodelers, so it kinda seemed like you had to go up the mountain so that's what we all were doing.
Well we realized that it was the wrong way and we needed to go the opposite way that we were running. Preston and I got back into the little circle in town that we were running through initially and it was "Oh my God I can't believe we just went the wrong way, we're such idiots. Blah, blah blah."
Well, Jodie and Christie had just gotten out of their taxi cab and they heard that, and they're like "Hey." They started running and realized that we were running the wrong way, so then they turned around to go the other way, and then by that time it was just neck-and-neck. It was a footrace, literally a second apart, if that.
Reality TV World: When you guys were eliminated, Jennifer said that she thought The Amazing Race had "made" your relationship. Whatâ€™s the status of your relationship now?
Preston: Better than ever. (Laughs)
Jennifer: We're taking donations [to be] on the next The Amazing Race. (Laughs)
We're together. I think it's better than it ever was. It showed us a lot that we didn't know about each other, especially spending 24/7 together.http://www.realitytvworld.com/news/exclusive-jennifer-hopka-and-preston-mccamy-talk-the-amazing-race-8461.php