Preparation paid off for 'Amazing Race' winners Ernie and Cindy

Preparation paid off for 'Amazing Race' winners Ernie and Cindy
Host Phil Keoghan, right, greets engaged couple Cindy Chiang and Ernie Halvorsen, winners of the 19th installment of "The Amazing Race," Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/CBS, Sonja Flemming)
by: Sheri Block

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To prepare for “The Amazing Race,” Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang learned new languages, tried rock climbing and kayaking, and even practiced running across the beach, to prepare for any challenge that might come their way. 

All this extra effort definitely paid off when the engaged couple from Chicago, Ill., crossed the finish line in first place in Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday night’s Season 19 finale, beating out Jeremy and Sandy and Amani and Marcus, and took home the million dollar prize.

“You have to prepare for a race like this. You can’t just go into it blind . . . you learn throughout the preparation process what you’re going to be good at and what you’re going to be weak at and then you can build from there,” Ernie tells over the phone.

The team also practiced their communication skills by sitting back to back in their living room and building Lego.

“We had the lights flashing, the TV blaring, the radio on (for distraction) and I had the instruction manual, Ernie had all the Lego pieces and I had to instruct him how to build a truck based on the step by step manual,” says Cindy.

“That was probably the most frustrating preparation that we did but it paid off because all of our communication was just so strong going into the ‘Race’ because we knew we had lingo between us in order to describe certain things.”

The couple had to laugh when one of the actual challenges on the ‘Race’ took them to LegoLand in Copenhagen where they had to put together a Lego puzzle while riding a Pirate Carousel ride.  

“The whole time we were just so excited. We were like, ‘We totally prepared with Legos,’ although we didn’t have a teacup spinning in our living room,” says Cindy with a laugh. “It was just ironic.”

Working out their communication issues before the “Race” also meant the couple spent less time arguing during the actual challenges, which also may have given them an edge.

“You just can’t get into all the bickering and think about why you’re doing it this way and why this person’s doing it that way, you just really need to get into it,” says Ernie.

Cindy says all of the preparation was like “pre-marital counselling.”

“We got all of our fighting out then, we understood what each of our strengths were and where we could push buttons and when we just needed to keep our mouths shut so we got it all out before we actually went on the ‘Race,’” she says.

Even though it looked like the final moments of the “Race” were neck and neck, Ernie and Cindy say they crossed the finish line about an hour and a half before runner-ups Jeremy and Sandy.  

“We all had lunch and we were celebrating and hugging and then they told us to re-line back up when Sandy and Jeremy were on their way,” says Cindy. “We were excited to welcome them in.”

Both Ernie and Cindy say they were confident they could win the final leg after having such a strong showing throughout the “Race” and also considering professional snowboarders and frontrunners Andy and Tommy had been eliminated on the previous leg.  

“It just seemed like the opportunity was right there for us to take it and we had three couples going against each other, which I think is a better scenario than two boys against a couple so in that regard we felt pretty confident,” says Ernie.

The couple plans to use the million dollars to help bring awareness to childhood obesity in the U.S. and to help fund children’s education in developing markets.

“We think we really can make a huge impact by providing scholarships for primary education,” says Cindy.

They are also busy getting ready for their wedding in March and plan to use the free trip to Fiji they won on the “Race” for their honeymoon.

Ernie laughs at the suggestion that this trip might be more relaxing than their time on the “Race.”

“I would hope but (going) on vacation with Cindy, it’s always like ‘The Amazing Race,’” says Ernie.

“I plead guilty on that one because I definitely want to get the most out of all of our travel experiences so I usually have a pretty detailed itinerary, which sometimes Ernie hates but we get to see everything we want to see,” answers Cindy.

“It’s down to the minute,” adds Ernie.

“No, only Paris was down to the minute. Everything else was like down to the hour,” she says with a laugh.

For more on the couple’s future plans, visit their website at  


About SheriSheri Block has been covering entertainment for since 2008. In addition to covering Will and Kate’s Royal Wedding in London, Sheri’s highlights have included going on tour with “Canadian Idol,” being a stand-in on “Canada’s Next Top Model” and meeting Colin Farrell at the Toronto International Film Festival.Follow her on Twitter!


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