Interviews

The Agony of da Bears

Mary Jean and Don at TARcon6. (Photo by piperdown.)
Mary Jean and Don at TARcon6. (Photo by piperdown.)
So I have heard there’s a very interesting story as to how you guys met.

Mary Jean: Oh, no. We can’t do that.

No? Why not?

Don: We can do a little of it.

Mary Jean: Don, now you—Don—

Don: I’ll start, and then she will—

Mary Jean: And I’ll tell you when to shut up.

Don: She’ll shut me up. Well, we were married to other people, who actually—

Mary Jean: That’s as far as you can go.

Don: Who were our very close friends.

Mary Jean: But, before he says anything else, we never had looked at each other, ever, and we’d known each other for 13 years. And we literally had never looked at each other.

Don: And we were both in relationships that just were not working. And we—

Mary Jean: Don’t say any more. It made you believe in fate. All of a sudden, we were just together.

It just happened?

Don: Yes. And it was—

Mary Jean: It happened.

Don: Yeah, the best day of my entire life.

Mary Jean: And I was in total shock because we weren’t in love with each other or anything.

Right.

Don: That was 28 years ago.

Mary Jean: 27, Don. You keep adding years.

Don: No. March 8th is 28. Yeah.

Mary Jean: No, 27. You lied all last year.

Don: Oh, it’s only 27 years? Thank goodness. Well, that’s pretty good anyway.

That’s really wonderful. I mean, we could definitely see the strength in your relationship on the show. I really think it showed.

Don: Well, it’s nothing that you can put on. I looked at it, and I said, “You can’t fake that kind of thing.” And that’s really us. And I was very pleased about that.

Mary Jean: After the first three legs, after we did the bears, we had so much fun together, because there was no conflict, because Don wasn’t running off like a horse with a bit between his teeth and doing things I didn’t want him to do. And we did things as a team after that, which was great.

Right. That was kind of where it just really jelled, the whole idea of racing for you guys?

Don: Yes.

Mary Jean: He’s changed. I mean, he works as a team now at home, too.

Wow!

Don: Yeah. You know, they promised us when we started this it would be a life-changing experience. And it has been that for a lot of reasons, but not the least of which is I have changed, and it’s been for the better.

Mary Jean: He was driven to his knees counting bears.

Don: That’s right.

Who knew that counting bears would do that to you?

Don: I still can’t go into IKEA, though.

I bet not. We wanted to have little bears in the goodie bags, but maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t end up getting them.
Let me tell you, no one in the world has more little bears than I have.
Don: Let me tell you, no one in the world has more little bears than I have. I have had them sent to me from patients. I’ve had people bring them to me. Oh my God. I will never forget that experience as long as I live.

We’re kind of jumping ahead a little bit, but how long were you guys at that? You were there quite a while, weren’t you?

Don: It felt like about two weeks, but I think it was more like about four or five hours.

Mary Jean: No, it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been that long. Maybe two and a half, three hours.

Don: Well, it was a long time.

Mary Jean: It seemed like forever.

Was there a reason? Did you just really not feel that you could do the building or—

Mary Jean: Don’t even go there! Why do you think I hated him? I begged him to build the desk.

Don: Yeah. I had a reason for not building the desk, which, as I look back, may not have been terribly valid. But I’ve built their stuff before, and it’s always missing parts. And, sure enough, ours was missing four parts. And when they said, “You’ll have to go across the store to get the parts from the parts bin,” IKEA is the biggest store in the world next to the Pentagon. It was about a mile over to the parts department.

Mary Jean: This is not an acceptable excuse.

Don: Well, anyway, we got it built. And I tell you, I have gotten more interesting letters and so forth from patients of mine who want me to come over to their garage and count 1500 widgets. You know, they want to take me fishing so that I can throw up so they can catch fish. I’ve got an interesting clientele of people.

See, instead, you need to approach IKEA for—you know, you could be a spokesperson saying, “It’s easier than counting bears!”

Mary Jean: Well, it really is. And, besides, Don builds things all the time at home. I couldn’t believe it when he said he wouldn’t do it.

Well, and I think that’s one of the things that I hear from a lot of people. It’s just that your brain is going so fast, and you’re so stressed that you do things that, when you look back on them, you’re going, what? But it makes perfect sense to you at the time.

Don: That is 100% true, because the thing we learned on this was the effect of the sleep deprivation.

Mary Jean: It didn’t make sense to me to count bears.

[Laughs]

Don: But let me tell you the really funny thing about this. And I don’t want to ever get away from the bear counting. We probably counted the bears right five times. What we weren’t counting right was the pots and pans. See, the pots and pans were packaged together, and we were counting them as packages.

Mary Jean: They were shrink-wrapped.

Don: Right. They were shrink-wrapped. But some of them had three pots in them, and some had two. And so we were counting them as a package. I think we counted the bears right probably five times, but, when we went up with our total, it wasn’t correct, because we had miscounted the pots and pans each time.

Yeah. I think a lot of people were wondering what you were supposed to count.

Mary Jean: And, actually, that’s sleep deprivation right there.

Don: Yeah, because, when I look back on the films now, that sweet little lady that I could have strangled said, “You must count ALL the pans.”

Mary Jean: And she kept saying it.

Don: She kept saying it that way, and it just wasn’t registering.

Mary Jean: She kept saying, “You must count ALL the pans.” And it’s like you wanted to say, “We HAVE counted all the pans!”

Don: We counted all your damn pans!

[Laughs] So let’s jump back a little bit, where we should have probably started. How did you guys hear about the Race? How did you come about deciding to apply for it?

Mary Jean: We’ve watched every single Race since the beginning. And we’ve become voyeurs, I think. And, every time we would watch it, we would look at each other and say, “Now, we could do this.” I mean, we watch Survivor and things like that, or American Idol. We can’t sing.

Don: She can’t sing. I have an absolutely incredible voice.

Mary Jean: Oh, shut up! Keep going, Don. It’s your turn to talk.

Don: No, we did. And MJ said, “There’s a casting call in the Presidio.” And we thought, God, that would be fun. Let’s go up and do it. One of our kids lives in the Presidio. And we went up. There were hundreds of couples, and we were, of course, older than them by 50 years, almost all of them. And that’s how it started. We did a three-minute interview, and they said, “Thanks very much for coming. If you don’t hear from us, thanks for showing up.” We were just excited by the fact that we’d done it. Now let’s go out to lunch and have a good time. And then you take it from there. The next one, we get called back.

Mary Jean: You know, we were up there, oh, like a month ago or so and went in the same place where we’d had our first interview. And it was like I was so nostalgic. I couldn’t believe it was the same place. I was almost crying.

Don: Yeah. It was really emotional going back to where we had interviewed.

Yeah. It’s like that’s the huge step, and once you make that huge step—

Mary Jean: Well, we didn’t even think about it. It was like one of those crazy things, like just let’s go for it, never thinking that we’d ever get it.

Don: The second interview was interesting, because it was done in the KPIX studios without this morass of people. And MJ is a standup comedian. She doesn’t realize it, but she is.

Mary Jean: No. On the Race, I wasn’t.
And she had the interviewers and the camera people in hysterics. I mean, they couldn’t stop laughing.
Don: Well, she is. And she had the interviewers and the camera people in hysterics. I mean, they couldn’t stop laughing. And so, when we walked out of the interview, we both looked at each other and said, “You know, I think that went really well.” But same thing, you know: “If you don’t hear from us in five days, thanks for showing up again.”

Mary Jean: And going back to why did we do it or whatever, we looked at each other and said, at this age, we can’t say, “Hey, we should do that someday.” And I don’t think had we not been—had we been younger, we might have said, “Let’s do that sometime.” But I really think our age caused us to do it, because, you know, we’re not going to get another chance. Except now I want to beat Meredith and Gretchen. I hate them.

[Laughs] You know, when you think about them, they—

Mary Jean: I don’t hate them at all, but I’m so jealous.

Yeah. But they’re no Don and Mary Jean, so it’s okay.

Mary Jean: I mean, I have an eighth grade jealousy going.

Don: She really does. [Laughs]

Mary Jean: I mean, and I look at them, and I keep seeing similarities between them and us. And I think, “I don’t want to see them. I hate them.” Don’t let me acknowledge the fact that I’m liking them. I mean, I have to stay hating them.

[Laughs] So you said when you went to that interview, it’s like everyone there seemed so much younger than you. Were there any worries on your part because of your age?

Don: No. You know, it’s funny, and I think I’m saying this for both of us, in all sincerity. Through this entire thing, we never thought seriously about our age.

Mary Jean: We thought it would help us.

Don: Yeah. And that was just not a factor for us.

Mary Jean: Well, it was when we couldn’t think.

Don: Well, it became a factor, without question. But it wasn’t a factor in our decision to do it or to go through the whole process and so forth. It just wasn’t.

Well, I do think age very much is a mental thing.

Don: It’s attitudinal, not chronological.

Mary Jean: Well, I’m so totally immature, it’s irrelevant.

See, now, Hera put it better. She said you’re very young at heart.

Mary Jean: Well, I call it immature. You know what happens? If you still think you’re 30.

Right.

Mary Jean: And, unless they are friends whom we see every day or something, we look at people our age and we think, my God, they’re old. You know, everybody does the same thing, probably, in their own peer group.

Right. I’m 41, and, in my mind, I’m still in college. I’m in college.

Don: That’s right. Yeah. I’m still in the fraternity house.

Mary Jean: And he always will be.

Don: And I don’t think there’s anything that irritates me more than to read some article in the paper about “a 64-year-old elderly man was accosted” or something. And I always think, you know, the guy who wrote that was not 65, I can tell you.

Well, but I do think you can be 65 and be elderly because, like I said, it is mental.

Mary Jean: Yes.

Don: Oh, you sure can. You sure can. I’ve got plenty of patients who certainly meet that criteria.

Mary Jean: Or it’s total denial.

Is that what keeps you young, denial?

Mary Jean: That’s when you look in the mirror and see your mother, you just turn away.

[Laughs] So what do you do other than denial to keep young? You guys are obviously physically active.

Mary Jean: We were really physically active training for the show. I mean—well, one of us was very physically active. And I won’t say which one it was, but it was probably me.

Don: Yes, it was.

Mary Jean: Oh, shut up! No, Don started working out at the very, very last moment when he knew that we were going to be on.

Right. So having seen the previous seasons, you guys kind of knew about what to expect as much as any regular couch potato would expect?

Mary Jean: Yeah.

What, to you, was the main difference between actually being there and your expectations? What took you by surprise?

Don: I think being presented with a challenge, and, in a flash of your mind, you think, oh my God. But then you just go ahead and do it. And so there was never anything we were confronted with that we said, “Oh my God, we can’t possibly do this.”

Mary Jean: What surprised us was making stupid decisions. And not being able to think. Actually, Don and I, we learned so much on this Race, because I knew I had to speak up more—I mean, I speak up, but I don’t stand up for myself. I just speak up, then I go along, and then I bitch about it afterwards. Not that I’m always right, but I’m right probably half the time.

Don: Well, that’s pushing it a little bit.
Anyway, we talked about all of this stuff in the beginning, and we had all these plans. I mean, it doesn’t matter how well you think it out, you still revert to the way you live your life.
Mary Jean: Don, actually, we’re going to have this discussion right now. I think I’m right more than you are, and you’re crazy. Anyway, we talked about all of this stuff in the beginning, and we had all these plans. I mean, it doesn’t matter how well you think it out, you still revert to the way you live your life. And we just watched ourselves in fast motion.

Well, because I think a lot of people were worried about you guys with that ski jump when Don, you know, went off, and you were sitting there going, “I should have done that.” It seemed like, oh my gosh, they might not be working well as a team here.

Mary Jean: Right. We weren’t. I was mad. And at the bears.

Don: No. It was funny, because I had climbed that ski jump when I was 17. It was in 1952. And people looking back, when I said that, found out that the Olympics were there in 1952, which they were. But I was there in the summer. And then, all of a sudden, all the websites came up with the fact that I must have been an Olympic ski jumper.

[Laughs] You’ll take that, right?

Don: Yeah, I took that. I took that. I haven’t denied it yet.

Mary Jean: You see, that’s what we had decided, that I would do the high, scary things to save him for the strong things. And he just took off. And so I hated him.

So did y’all talk about this at the Pit Stop, or did it take the bears to—

Don: No. She didn’t wait for the Pit Stop.

[Laughs]

Mary Jean: We don’t stay mad at each other, ever. I mean, it’s like we really don’t. It’s over with in a hurry.

Don: Yeah. You know, they talk about relationships where people don’t talk or don’t discuss things. That never happens in ours, I’ll tell you. Everything gets talked out very quickly.

Mary Jean: But you didn’t listen. I talk and—

Don: I didn’t say I had to listen, just that you talked.

Mary Jean: When we were first together, when I would start saying something that was controversial, Don would get up and leave the room.

Oh, my.

Mary Jean: And it was like being on the Race again. I mean, I had to learn how not to yell, how not to scream, and, when I finally learned how to deliver my complaints differently, then he would stay and listen. It’s amazing how, in 27 years, you grow in communication.

Don: Yeah, it took a long time to train her, but I’ve finally got her in great shape now.

Mary Jean: I’m going to beat the shit out of you when this damn thing is over.

[Laughs] Oh, I can see why you’ve been together 27 years.

Mary Jean: But you know what’s crazy? I mean, here we were. I mean, we have fun, and we laugh all the time. We got on the Race, and it was so tense. I don’t think I ever smiled once on the Race.

Was that frustrating to watch after you got home, when you were watching it on TV?

Don: Yes, to a degree. People asked us a thousand times, you know, was it fun to do it? And our answer was, it’s fun to watch it.

Mary Jean: No. It was fun to be on Pit Stops.

Don: It’s fun to watch it, but it’s very stressful doing it, because it’s so unrelenting. I think that’s the major thing, is that there’s no time to really sit back other than the occasional 36-hour Pit Stop. And, boy, does that go by in a hurry.

And I guess that must have been frustrating, too, because I’m sure, as fans of the show, you expected it to be maybe more fun.

Mary Jean: Well, you know, you can’t say that it wasn’t fun. It was an incredible experience or an incredible adventure.

Don: Oh, yes.

Mary Jean: I mean, it wasn’t “ha-ha.”

Don: Yeah. To see the people in Senegal, you know, and the kids and so forth, and the Viking village and things of that kind, those are memories that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives, because we’re very well-traveled people, you know. We’ve traveled six continents and so forth. But it was—

Mary Jean: That sounds snotty when you say that.

Don: No, it’s not. We are well-traveled people.

Mary Jean: I want to travel more.
But, if you have an experience like that slave door on Senegal, boy, I’ll tell you, that just absolutely emotionally stops you in your tracks.
Don: But, if you have an experience like that slave door on Senegal, boy, I’ll tell you, that just absolutely emotionally stops you in your tracks.

Mary Jean: It did.

Don: That was much more emotional than I had ever anticipated.

Could you just—I mean, I’ve been to Auschwitz, and so I know places like that have this different feeling.

Mary Jean: It was as if the walls were closing in on us. I mean, absolutely like this pressure was there and this overwhelming realization of what happened there.

Was it hard to just leave, then, and start running around again?

Mary Jean: No.

[Laughs]

Don: You know, you experience the emotions, and then you just put it in low gear, and off you go again. I mean, you have to do that.

Right. You’ve got a job to do.

Don: Absolutely.

So would you say that was one of the favorite places or just places that moved you the most that you got to go to on the Race?

Mary Jean: I think we loved Senegal, and we loved the glacier.

Don: Iceland was gorgeous.

Mary Jean: And to sleep on that glacier—

Yeah. How was that like a mind game? Your first leg, and they stick you out on a glacier.

Mary Jean: It was almost one of the most amazing experiences.

Don: That was. To get on the snowmobiles, Mary Jean didn’t know I could drive one.

Mary Jean: No. You do everything like that well. You do get the credit for some things.

Don: And then, you know, just to see this gorgeous vista, with the moon coming up and this massive expanse of ice and so forth. And then, of course, I guess we can say the meal that they put on for us there was—

Mary Jean: I think they take care of you the first couple of times just to ease you into it.

Don: Yeah. You know, they picked out a welcome-to-the-Race type of meal that was catered that was just unbelievable. And that was really wonderful.

Mary Jean: I mean, I love to do like—and probably nobody in this lifetime has ever read Caddie Woodlawn or anything like that. But I love to camp. I love to light candles. I love to plan for earthquakes. Just because it’s an adventure to me to do something different like that. And so the thought of being able to sleep out there in a tent all night was like unbelievable. And I mean, oh, you can’t even believe how cold it was.

Don: Boy, it was cold.

Mary Jean: And the actual temperature wasn’t that cold, but we were sleeping on the snow. And it was so neat. I mean, I would do it again in a second.

Yeah. It looked beautiful on TV, so I can’t even imagine how beautiful it was.

Mary Jean: Oh, in every direction—it was like being on the moon.

Don: It was. It was like being on another planet, just another world.

Mary Jean: And, as far as you looked in any direction, there was snow.

Don: All of Iceland was gorgeous, with geysers and these beautiful mountains and then green valleys and these little short-legged horses that they’ve got and the people.

Mary Jean: Icelandic ponies.

Don: The people are wonderful and—

Mary Jean: And drunk.

[Laughs]

Mary Jean: We found out, because one of our—we went to the party for the opening of the Icelandic Air hub here in San Francisco. And, I mean, it was unbelievable. Even like the ambassador wanted to have his picture taken with us.

Don: Yeah. The ambassador from Iceland to Washington and his wife were there, and they asked a woman who was with us if we would mind if they had their picture taken with us.

Mary Jean: Talk about ego. But that was great, because we got to talk about Iceland with all the guests there, because most of them were from Iceland.

Don: Yeah. That was interesting. It was this huge party, and we had met a woman at the hub in Baltimore when we flew from Baltimore to Iceland. And she happened to be in San Francisco. And, when we went there, we thought, my gosh, you know, we’re here. We were asked to come, but we don’t have an invitation or anything. All of a sudden, we hear, “Don! Mary Jean!”

Mary Jean: That was so neat!

Don: And here she had recognized us from the airport in Baltimore, and came over and just shepherded us through the whole evening. It was just wonderful.

Mary Jean: It really was an incredible experience. And then I was going to say we have a friend from Iceland. And I don’t know if you remember or not, but when Don and I were starting out that morning, all of these drunk people?

Yeah.

Mary Jean: On two different occasions, they climbed all over our car. And a friend said, “You know, people don’t drink during the week much in Iceland. But, on Saturday night, they go out, and they drink all night.”

Don: The bars open at 5:00.

Mary Jean: They close at 5:00.

Don: They close at 5:00, yeah.

They were just leaving the bars.

Don: They were. That’s right.

Mary Jean: It was about 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning, and the streets were full of people. And they’d just left the bars.

[Laughs] That was so surreal.

Mary Jean: But they’re climbing on our car!

Don: You know, when this woman called to us and said Mary Jean and Don, I have to tell you a funny story that happened just this last weekend. We were down at a medical meeting in Anaheim right next to Disneyland, and so, when the meetings were over, Mary Jean and I went over, and we were just finishing a ride through this thing called the Pirates of the Caribbean, and we heard our names yelled. Someone yelled, “Don! Mary Jean!” And immediately my reaction was, my God, one of our kids is down here, and we didn’t even know it. We turned around, and it was a couple just coming up, you know, and saying, “We loved you! We loved you!” And they actually skipped their ride—

Mary Jean: Got out of a 40-minute line.

Don: Got out of a 40-minute line to catch up with us to talk to us. And he had just come back from Iraq, where he was in the military, and his wife had taped The Amazing Race—

Mary Jean: His sister.

Don: His sister had saved The Amazing Race for him, because he loves the show.

Mary Jean: See how I have to correct him all the time?

Don: So he had just watched it, and then happened to see us coming around the corner.

Mary Jean: Oh, they were the neatest couple!

Don: Yeah. They were a great couple.

Mary Jean: And they’ve sent in applications for The Amazing Race, and he’s sent in applications for Survivor, and I want them to get on.

Wow, that would be so cool if they did, and you turned out to see a cast list and you went, “Ah!”

Mary Jean: Ah! It would be awesome!

Don: That really would.

So do you all get recognized a lot?

Don: Yes. Yes, we do, particularly when we’re together, and in places sometimes that were strange. We were coming back from someplace at the airport, and the fellow at the long-term parking wouldn’t lift the gate, because he recognized us and wanted to talk to us while he was taking our money for the ticket.

[Laughs]

Don: So, yeah, we’ve been recognized a lot.

Mary Jean: It’s fun. I mean, it’s not so much that it’s a hassle. And, I mean, we’re basically has-beens at this point. But Don’s still practicing medicine, and I sell Juice Plus, which I love doing. Don recommends it to his patients.

I’m sorry?

Mary Jean: I sell Juice Plus. It’s fruits and vegetables in a capsule.

Right.

Mary Jean: And so we’re still doing that. But it would be great to have something come out of all of this. I mean, if we could get some sort of leg up as far as—we can’t say we’re the oldest people ever to have done The Amazing Race before, but at least our faces have been out there. So we have talked to a talent agent, and we’ve talked to a publicist, and we’re going to see what we can do.

Cool! Go for it. Why not?

Mary Jean: Yeah.

Yeah. Well, you’re the oldest person who said the most cuss words on The Amazing Race.

Mary Jean: You know, I keep trying not to. And I’m going to try not to continually, and maybe, some day, it’s going to work.

I think everyone felt gypped that we didn’t get to hear you cuss out Jonathan in the—
Oh, you know, I really hoped that would be on, because you know how when you just get so frustrated and so mad? And I just screamed, “Shut the fuck up, Jonathan, and row!” I screamed it at the top of my lungs.
Mary Jean: Oh, you know, I really hoped that would be on, because you know how when you just get so frustrated and so mad? And I just screamed, “Shut the fuck up, Jonathan, and row!” I screamed it at the top of my lungs.

Don: I’ll tell you, that rowing team in that boat was really the Special Olympics team. It was unbelievable.

Mary Jean: It was the worst experience of our lives.

Don: And Hera had rowed crew for George Washington so she knew exactly what to do, and told everybody what to do. But telling people what to do and what they were able to do, it was a nightmare. I’m surprised we didn’t just row around in circles, that we’re not still out there.

Mary Jean: You were so lucky you were not in the back of the boat, because you didn’t see what was happening. Sitting in the back of the boat and watching?

And not being able to do anything about it.

Mary Jean: Oh, you couldn’t do anything, because all the oars—I mean, Meredith was on the floor crying, and, every time I’d go forward, my oar would run into her.

Oh my gosh.

Mary Jean: I mean, you just don’t even want to know.

Don: It was just a disaster.

How did the teams get chosen for the two boats?

Don: I think what happened is that the young, muscular group of models and wrestlers and what have you all kind of clustered together and said, “Let’s make this a power team.”

Mary Jean: We were the rejects.

Don: And we were all kind of the rejects, but we weren’t particularly worried about that, because, again, Hera knew what to do, how to row, what have you. So we thought we could make up for it.

Right.

Don: But we just didn’t account for the fact that some of our people do not have a lot of physical skill.

Mary Jean: Oh, no. It’s amazing.

And don’t take orders well.

Mary Jean: But also, you don’t even think about it: People who grow up in cities and whatever have never rowed a boat. I mean, we grew up rowing boats. And the thought of somebody not knowing how to put an oar in the water and pulling—and that happened with a lot of people.

Don: Yeah. I would say over half of our boat had probably never rowed a boat in their lives.

I’ve ridden a boat, but I’ve never rowed one, so you guys would have been laughing at me.

Mary Jean: Well, it was just—

Don: It was just another experience.

Yeah. I think, going back a little bit, we were talking about Iceland and stuff. Do you think you really surprised the other teams with how well you did on that ice climb?

Don: Yeah. I think that was an eye-opener for them, because I think, before that, we were sort of the token old couple, and we weren’t going to be around very long.

Mary Jean: We weren’t.

Don: And when we dusted that ice wall, yeah, I think that was a great respect—not only, I think, from our teammates, but from our support staff and our crew, because several of them came over and said, “Boy, we heard what you two did on the ice wall.” And it was good. I mean, we’re strong. We’re strong, and we’re physical fit people.

Mary Jean: Don’s strong. I’m not that strong.

Don: And, you know, you get your adrenaline going, it’s great.

Mary Jean: If they would have shown Don going up that wall, Don—I couldn’t see him, but I know he flew up that wall so fast that it was unbelievable. We went over to a rock climbing place, you know, one of those walls that you climb, and took a—we thought we would probably have to rappel, so we wanted to learn how to rappel. Well, we both climbed up a wall, and Don went up the wall so fast. He went up like a monkey. And the guy had to keep telling him—he was screaming at him, telling him to stop. So I know that Don went up the wall that way, but they only showed the end of him. And I was amazed that I—I mean, it’s just like—adrenaline is an incredible thing.

Don: I bought Mary Jean an ice axe for Christmas, engraved with her name on it.

[Laughs]

Mary Jean: I’m going to add your name to it.

That’s trust, though, you know? That’s an awful lot of trust.

Don: Well, I did learn one thing: When you’re climbing an ice wall, don’t look either up or down. Just look straight ahead at the wall. If you look down, you don’t want to fall, but then if you look up, you think, I’m not going to make it.

Mary Jean: Well, I have been terrified of heights my entire life, to the point that my body just stops functioning. I mean, my knees will buckle. And it had never occurred to me before this—and it was when I took the lesson for the ice wall, or the stone wall, I thought, if I even go to fear, if I let my mind think about fear, I’ll never be able to do it. But it never occurred to me in my life that I could do that.

Right, that you could stop the fear from starting.

Don: Yeah.

Mary Jean: And, I mean, it has been disabling for me.
And I was just boggled by how she did. I was so proud of her, I couldn’t stand it.
Don: I couldn’t believe it. I was at the bottom of the ice wall watching her go up, and I absolutely—well, you heard me screaming bloody murder. And she passed Meredith. And I was just boggled by how she did. I was so proud of her, I couldn’t stand it.

Mary Jean: But that was awesome. We liked that.

Don: I think that’s what fired me up to go as quick as I did.

Mary Jean: Right. You had to go.

You had to get up there so you could give her a hug and say, “Good job.” Right?

Don: You’d better believe it. That’s right.

And speaking of good jobs, how awful was that salt task?

Mary Jean: It was awful.

That looked like—they were pretty heavy, weren’t they?

Mary Jean: It was awful. It was as awful as anything. It was—I can’t lift terribly heavy things—I mean, I’m not that strong in my upper body. But the water was like 95, 96 degrees.

Don: Yeah. People don’t know that the water was hot. It was like—there’s a thermal thing or something there, because it was like a big hot pool.

That just would sap your strength.

Mary Jean: And we’d already been on the boat for two hours, and I’d been having to witness Don throw up, which took a lot of strength, probably, just the smell.

Don: What a nightmare I was.

That boat thing looked—I mean, you think, fishing, yeah! But oh my gosh.

Mary Jean: You know, it didn’t—that’s another thought thing. See, we thought everybody else was behind us, and we thought that everybody else was going to go in the boat.

Don: Yeah. We saw all these boats out there, and we said, “Oh, the whole crew’s out there.” And, actually, they were Senegalese people out there.

Mary Jean: Well, we went out there first. That’s one of the times that we were ahead of the group. And it was Lori and Bolo, Hera and Gus, and Don and me. And so we all headed for the boats. And you never know that the rest of the people don’t get in the boats, and never once did we think, oh, the water isn’t going to get smoother once you get past the surf. But I love rough water. I mean, I love wild rides.

Don: We have pictures of us going out. As I look at them now, I think, oh my God, that water really was rough.

Mary Jean: That’s when you don’t think. You don’t think of going back.

Don: Well, the other thing, too, is that they showed us out there with my great dialogue of heaving over the side of the boat. You know, it was a few minutes on film. We were out there over two hours.

Really?

Don: Yeah. And I vomited so much, I was dehydrated. I started to hallucinate. And I hallucinated that this giant white boat had come alongside and was going to save me. And I kept pushing it away, saying, “No, no, no. I don’t want to be saved.” And then I opened my eyes, and there was no boat there. And that was really unnerving.

Oh my gosh.

Don: When we got to the salt thing and so forth, I was still sicker than a dog. And MJ really handles that kind of ocean—she loves it.

Mary Jean: I love it. And we love to fish. So that was a plus for me. But—

Don: I should have known that that was coming, because, when we were first together, we went up to a place called Calistoga, and we went soaring, and we slept underneath the wing of the glider that night. It was one of our great romantic interludes.

Mary Jean: Oh, shut up, Don.

Don: And she wants this pilot to do loop-the-loops and things like this. If you do one loop-the-loop, I’m going to lose it in this thing, I can guarantee you. So this started a long, long time ago.

Mary Jean: He takes all the fun out of my life!

[Laughs] Oh, my goodness. [Pause] I’m sorry.

Mary Jean: Oh, no. We’ll just keep talking.

[Laughs]

Mary Jean: We love to talk about the Race.

Yeah. I mean, because I know, when you’re getting ready to go, you can’t tell everyone.

Mary Jean: That is so hard.

Don: That’s tough. I mean, you can’t tell anybody.

Mary Jean: When we started watching Television Without Pity, I mean, logging on, because I was reading everything to try to figure out what to do on the Race. And we didn’t even know you guys existed. So before the Race, I’m sitting there reading everything, so I couldn’t wait to be able to start writing myself. And now I never have time.

So you read some of that stuff. You know how—

Mary Jean: Every word of it.

Don: Oh, yeah.

You know how mean we could be. Were you worried about that at all?

Mary Jean: When people say mean things, I don’t read it.

That’s good.

Mary Jean: It’s like the stock market.

Don: Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.
Well, we were not smart Racers. I hate to admit it, but we were not smart Racers.
Mary Jean: Well, we were not smart Racers. I hate to admit it, but we were not smart Racers. And with the current Race, we watch it, and like, last night, Don said—or last week, “The brothers are really dumb.” And I said, “Look how dumb we look.” You know, you don’t know. You don’t know if someone’s smart or dumb. It’s just what they show you. I’m sorry that I said that you said the brothers were dumb.

Don: But you did. Well, in fact, I did. They said the clue box is under the water tower, and they climbed up on top of it.

Mary Jean: A perfect example of how you can’t think.

Right. And you’ve experienced that. I mean, you had that in Berlin.

Don: Yeah. That’s right. Oh, boy.

Mary Jean: We don’t even—

Don: We missed one line. But, you know, it was interesting. After we were let go in Berlin, there’s a kind of perverse pleasure watching the younger people get eliminated by making the same sort of stupid mistake we did. You know, Jonathan and Victoria brought one donkey instead of two. Lori and Bolo were running—you know, Lori runs up and forgets the ticket. And it said right on it, “Take your ticket when you’re running up to the top of that monster hill.” And they got eliminated because of that. And poor Jon and Kris, I felt really bad that American Airlines lied to them in Hawaii.

Mary Jean: You know something? And I love Jon and Kris, but it just goes right into it. They didn’t double-check.

Don: Yeah.

Mary Jean: So you’ve got to cover every single base every second of the time, and you just can’t.

And that’s the thing that—on top of the physical fatigue you’re feeling—that constant rethinking and thinking has just got to wear you down so much.

Don: Yeah. Yeah.

Mary Jean: But, you know, Jon and Kris, they took time to relax. I mean, and they smiled.

Don: They’re a neat couple. They’re just delightful people.

Mary Jean: You know who we hated to see go so soon were Joe and Avi.

Don: They’re really funny.

Mary Jean: They are the most fun, funniest guys in the world. And we talked with them and stuff in the beginning about, you know, buddying up and—

Don: Yeah. We talk to Joe pretty frequently, and we were on the phone with Avi for a long time just about a week or so ago.

Mary Jean: We talk with them.

Don: It’s really neat to stay in touch with everybody.

Yeah. It seems like y’all’s Race, the people in Sequesterville seemed to really bond. And y’all have had a lot of good friendships, it seems.

Don: Oh, yeah.

Mary Jean: But, you know, you’re bonding also when you’re on the Race. I mean, you share that racing.

Don: Yeah. The bonding on the Race is every bit as strong as the bonding at Sequester, if not even more, because you’ve just shared the same things together. I mean, Adam—I had an experience with him in which I kind of bonded in a very strange way. I mean, we drove 160 miles across Iceland with me one foot behind his car. I mean, I’ve never been so tense in my entire life, you know? But we were hanging right behind him the whole time.

Mary Jean: And it was like an inch. We had the whole traffic stopped on the whole road.

Don: Oh, God, yeah. It was something. And then it was funny, because Bob Parr, who was in charge of our security, said, “You did some fancy driving today.” And I didn’t know how he knew that. And I said, “How did you know that?” And he says, “I was in the helicopter over the top of your car.” I mean, it’s so weird to think that they’re watching you so closely. Is it okay to say we’re going to a wedding, that we’re going to Kristy’s wedding?

Mary Jean: Well, I think we are.

Don: Yeah. Kristy is getting married in Utah, and so we’re going to go to—I think we’re going to go to her wedding. We’ve got some conflict that we’ve got to settle.

Mary Jean: Well, what’s happening is Freddy and Kendra are getting married on Friday, and Kristy is getting married on Saturday. And we were planning on going to Freddy and Kendra’s, and then we decided we couldn’t do it, because it was just too expensive to go.

Don: Fly all the way to Florida.

Mary Jean: From here to get to Florida and everything. And we just thought, oh, we just can’t do it. And then we found out that Kristy is getting married, and it’s so much closer, we go, shit, let’s do that. But now how do we tell Kendra and Freddy? I mean, it’s not personal at all. It’s just—

Don: Hera, of course, has become really close. You know, she’s stayed up at our house three times.

Mary Jean: She’s coming again in another week.

Don: Oh, is she coming again? Oh, good. And she and MJ talk all the time. I think MJ has sort of become the mother confessor for a lot of these young ladies, too.

I got the feeling from Hera it was more like you’re a girlfriend, you know, just a best friend.

Don: Yeah. MJ has that unbelievable ability.

Mary Jean: It’s immaturity.

[Laughs]

Don: Well, people love her. I do, too, for a whole different reason. But she is just wonderful with people.

Mary Jean: Don, but people really think you’re the god.

Don: But only I know that.
I come across as the evil bitch, and he comes across as the perfect person. But it works well for us.
Mary Jean: I come across as the evil bitch, and he comes across as the perfect person. But it works well for us.

Don: Whatever it is, it sure works for us.

Yeah. Well, listen, I want to thank you guys so much.

Mary Jean: It was so fun. We didn’t get to talk about you. I didn’t get to ask anything about the website or say anything about the party, TARcon.

Oh, yeah. I was so looking forward to saying hi to you guys at TARcon, and I missed you.

Don: Well, you know, I’ll tell you candidly, it absolutely blew me out of the water, because we went over there—we were the first ones to come in, you know.

Mary Jean: Almost.

Don: Yeah, we were. Gus and Hera were right behind us. And, when we walked in, I had no idea what to expect. None. And we’re walking up that long ramp, and, all of a sudden, here’s all these people, you know, shouting and screaming and calling our names and so forth. And I was absolutely blown away. Yeah. It was—

Mary Jean: The goodie bags—I mean, the goodie bag is still sitting here.

Don: We’re looking at the goodie bag right now. We’re looking at the goodie bag.

Mary Jean: For you guys to do all that, it’s absolutely amazing.

It takes a lot of people the whole season to make those, but they are so much fun to make.

Don: Oh, it was just great. You know, I just got hysterical looking through it. “Stickshift For Dummies.”

[Laughs]

Yeah. And, every time I go back and look at the “New York Jews in Iceland” playbill, it cracks me up.

Mary Jean: Oh, yeah. I know.

Don: You know, you guys just did a marvelous, marvelous job with that. A lot of thought and a lot of time and care went into it. And I’ll tell you, we appreciated it.

Mary Jean: But I love the website.

Don: There’s some good photographs, too, that we got off of TARflies, weren’t there?

Mary Jean: I don’t remember. Did we get them from TARflies?

Yeah. We have a pretty big photo gallery. I obsessively compulsively take—

Don: Yeah. Great pictures. Great photographs, yes.

Yeah. I do screen grabs of all the episodes, and then we have—

Mary Jean: You’re the one who does it?

Yes.

Mary Jean: Oh. My. God.

Don: You’re our heroine. You are our heroine.

Mary Jean: Oh my God. And I think I’m busy? I went through a whole two days and took and printed, you know, and saved every one of those.

Don: Oh, yeah. We’ve used a tremendous number of your photographs.

Mary Jean: We don’t use them. We just—

Don: No, they’re for us, you know? They’re for our memory bag.

Right.

Mary Jean: I wish we could use them.

Don: Yeah. I’m sorry MJ was so sick when she was back there. We had flown in from Mexico City, where she’d been flat on her back in bed for about nine days. But she was not going to miss that program. And so we had to leave early, and we were—

Mary Jean: I was in the bathroom throwing up.

Don: She spent most of her time in the bathroom throwing up at Madison Square Garden. It was just pathetic.

Oh my gosh.

Mary Jean: Well, I’d had it long enough I don’t think I gave it to anybody. Do you know anybody that came down being deathly ill?

Not that I know of. So are you going to come to the next TARcon?

Mary Jean: The odds are probably pretty slight. Is there anything out here?

There is a West Coast TARcon.

Mary Jean: When is that?

It’s pretty small. It’s also on the night of the finale. And we think the finale is going to be May 10th.

[Some chatting about TARcon West, weather and other things.]

Don: You’re a sweetheart to call, and it’s been great talking to you.

And I appreciate your time so much.