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Amazing Race Blog: Sarah Leshner on Amazing Race 21

The following is a blog from RHAP Amazing Race correspondent, Jessica Liese (@HaymakerHattie)


Time and time again, completely dumb luck has proven to be the most formidable opponent on the Amazing Race. With half the competition eliminated, room for error is almost nonexistent, but that error doesn’t always have to be your own. It could be the universe’s.

Between losing all their money last week and losing all the rest of their stuff this week, James and Abba are being positively pummeled by the universe this season. But they had some formidable competitors in the bad-luck department this week when an unfortunately placed flight delay knocked Ryan and Abbie and the Beekman boys down to the back of the pack by an entire half day.

If you’re in the very back of the pack, I can understand wanting the comfort of having another team there with you, and of feeling bonded to a similarly screwed team. I guess it’s admirable to cheer each other on when you’re both in such a desperate position. It was extremely classy on the parts of both teams to agree to that, but I think they took it a little too far. Why on Earth would you decide to hang out and wait for the only other team that might be eliminated? It’s still a race! At a certain point, both teams needed to say “may the best team win” and make a run for it. In making that stupid pact, they basically ensured that if either of them DID try to save themselves, they’d look like the biggest jerks on the show.

I suppose that given the choice between getting eliminated for sure tagging along on the rest of the race as a decoy team (as the last few teams eliminated before the finals are said to do) or trying to fight your way back from extreme last place, the options might feel about equal. But teams have bounced back from worse in the past. Losing should never be a foregone conclusion. No matter the circumstances, teams should always run out the leg. In the words of the great Captain Peter Quincy Taggart, “Never give up. Never surrender.”

Who’s a lock for the finals? It took Trey and Lexi themselves this long to realize what a strong team they were, but they’re in a good groove now and there’s no sign of fatigue or negativity catching up to them. James and Jaymes ran a quietly solid leg this week as well, plus they wore their Chippendales bowties while they did the swimming Detour, which was weirdly adorable. The twins narrowly avoided a huge mistake when they opted to not burn their express pass on a task they were so close to completing, and with a 10-hour lead on other teams to boot. Obviously their antics last week caused them to take a huge dive from everyone’s favorites list, but apart from that ugly little episode, they’re still good racers and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them in the finals.

Who’s completely sunk? It’s hard to say. The two teams bringing up the rear have a good attitude, and it’s nice to see Ryan being relatively zen about his circumstances rather than relentlessly bitching about them as he’s done in recent episodes. But as Toni and Dallas from Season 13 can tell you, losing your passport in Russia is not a minor complication. We’ll have to wait a week to find out exactly how screwed Team Long Hair actually is.

In Season 13 of the Amazing Race, dating couple Sarah Leshner and Terence Gerchberg stood out as one of the most intensely competitive teams ever to run the race. They hit the ground running and consistently finished near the front of the pack until an unsuccessful grab at a Fast Forward led them to a surprising fifth-place finish. Their physical stamina was undeniable, and Sarah even correctly guessed the location of the first leg of their race before they were even officially cast. Until an unfortunate plate of meat destroyed their chance at a million dollars, they seemed ready for virtually every obstacle in their path. In later interviews, and at that season’s TARcon, they confirmed that they’d spent weeks training for the race, which included some fairly unorthodox methods. I caught up with Sarah recently to find out more, and to get a few thoughts from her on this season’s crop of racers.

On a scale of “I guess that show is kind of cool” to “I have a framed photo of Phil hanging on my wall”, how big a fan were you before you decided to apply? How big a fan was Terence?

I was a very casual fan of the show before we applied, and it was actually Terence’s idea because he was more of a fan (which is why I never say I was mad at him for causing us to lose when people ask me that… I wouldn’t have even applied if not for him!) Once we got the very first call from casting letting us know we were in the running, I became an absolute fanatic and watched every episode of every season and took notes feverishly.

When did you start really preparing for the race? Was it before or after you knew you’d been cast?

We started preparing like maniacs right after the first call from casting. Even the prospect of being on the show was enough to kick us into high-gear and that meant physical training, diet changes, watching the show, etc.

In brief, describe your action plan. What were some of the weirdest things you did?

The most important thing we did was buy our backpacks right when our casting was confirmed and then do EVERYTHING in them. I carried it to work every day, we went running with them, stairmaster with them, rowing with them, weightlifting with them… we were never without them and they almost felt like a part of our body. Then we took notes on challenges from previous seasons and tried to practice as many of the strange ones as we could. This included spending a lot of time with animals, since we knew that was always a favorite for producers. We went to a farm and learned to milk cows. Terence walked a goat that hadn’t seen sunlight in 5 years. Also we learned archery, ice climbing, ascending and rappelling, and we hitchhiked 4 different times to practice asking strangers for help. I was always really bad at that, and even on the race, Terence was the one begging (very successfully, btw!) for extra money in the airports.

What useful data were you able to extract from watching all of the seasons as a whole?

I created a spreadsheet with every single country the race had ever gone to. I then analyzed which were the “favorite” countries for them, and which of those had been skipped in recent seasons. The clear winner was Brazil, and I really improved my Portuguese in anticipation. Sure enough, the first country we hit (and then stayed there for another leg!) was Brazil. I could tell the producers were really annoyed with me when I rubbed it in their faces that I had said “I bet we go to Brazil” in all of our pre-race interviews 🙂 I unfortunately wasn’t right with any of the other legs 🙁


What skills, either acquired over the course of your training regimen, or skills you already had, ended up being the most helpful once you started racing?

The only skill we honed in training that ended up being helpful was related to endurance and stamina. We were so comfortable with those backpacks, that it was no problem at all to carry them around. We were not even tired a bit at the end of most legs – we could have continued racing, and we usually wanted to if we weren’t in the front of the pack! Also, my facility with languages was really helpful because on every flight, I would make sure to learn about 10 words in the language of the country where we were headed and then it was sooo much easier to communicate with locals. I always learned “are you sure?” and “faster please” and “I will give you lots of money” and “don’t help those other people”.

Did you spend a lot of time on anything that ended up not being all that helpful? Anything you wish you’d done more of?

All of our animal training was useless, as was the ice climbing and ascending/rappelling. Frankly, most of the specific physical training was just too far-fetched. The other thing is that we prepared for an eating challenge really poorly. Terence is a vegetarian and I keep kosher, so we didn’t want to practice eating meat. Instead, we ate several pounds of tofu :-/ Ultimately it was a meat-related eating challenge that did us in, so we were really kicking ourselves for having practiced that so LAMELY.

Who are you rooting for on this season of the Race, and why?

I’m cheering for the twins because they’re so entertaining! I know a lot of fans find them annoying but I just love them. I also really liked the blond girls right up until the episode in which they were eliminated – then they annoyed me with their irritation at the locals for not speaking English.

What’s happening in your world lately?

I still work on Wall Street, doing Latin American investments, and I’m very involved in helping poor people down there. My primary passion is microfinance – small loans for low-income women (over 50% of the populations don’t even have a bank account!) On the reality circuit, I’ve made tons of friends from other shows and helped form the Athletic Celebrity Team (ACT) with performance apparel company Champion System. We have about 30 different reality tv alums, actors, models, and newscasters and we compete in athletic events to both raise money for charity and bring awareness and visibility to new and different sports! I’ve done more than 20 triathlons before and after the show, and the most fun thing EVER was a 26-hour adventure race I did earlier this year comprised of trekking, orienteering, canoe-ing, mountain biking… overnight… with 3 other reality alums – from Survivor, Amazing Race, and The Bachelor. Keep an eye out for other events the ACT team is doing!

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