Art and JJ (‘Amazing Race’ exit interview): This was the ‘absolute nightmare scenario’

Art Velez had a terrible case of deja vu on Wednesday’s “The Amazing Race 31” premiere.

Seven years ago on Season 20, the $1 million was within his and JJ Carrell‘s grasp, but Art struggled at the final Roadblock, allowing Dave and Rachel, who had accidentally skipped the task, to return, crush it and cruise to the win. This time, after being in last place for most of the first leg in Tokyo, the border patrol agents had a chance to safely advance to the next leg when Rupert and Laura Boneham got hopelessly lost for more than two hours even though they were literally right next to the Roadblock the entire time. But Art, forced to do the second Roadblock, couldn’t scale the slippery 20-ft Mount Fuji slide and developed leg cramps so painful that JJ made an executive decision to take the four-hour penalty instead. Unfortunately, Rupert and Laura arrived at the task during that time and Rupert completed it on his first try, making Art and JJ the first elimination of the season.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race 31’ season premiere recap: Reality all-stars collide, but who’s the first to go?

Do they regret taking the penalty? Will they also not speak about this for five years? Find out in our exit interview below.

Gold Derby: Which was harder to watch: This or the Season 20 finale?
JJ: I don’t know, I didn’t watch it!

Art: I watched it. Last night wasn’t as bad as Season 20, but it was still pretty bad. It was still heart-wrenching, a little emotional. They asked us when we were doing our exit interview which one’s worse, and I’m like, “What’s worse: getting bit by a rattlesnake or a great white shark? They’ll both kill you and they’re both going to hurt.”

GD: Art, what happened? They showed you repeatedly saying in the episode that you were in the best shape of your life, which was a sign, and you started cramping in your calf.
Art: It was both calves. I had never had my body give out on me to a point where I wasn’t able to do something physically. And through being on a plane as long as we were and running around and dehydration, it got to a point where my legs just gave out on me and I literally couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t walk. It was a pretty gnarly feeling. It gave me a new appreciation of people who actually have to deal with a physical disability all the time they have no control over.

GD: Why did you have such a difficult time with it? Was it just the physical aspect and not the task itself?
Art: With the “Race,” there are so many nuances. We ran around Tokyo for probably two, two and a half hours. And just the sweating and not drinking enough water, and I think age probably [played a part]. I put on that suit and ran through the mud field to get there and by the time I got there, I was soaking wet. They only showed me doing it two or three times, but I probably tried to scale that thing close to 20-plus times and eventually my legs just gave out. They just didn’t work. I used to swim in high school and was going to be a collegiate swimmer. I’ve had things happen where my legs just cramp up in the water, but it’s not anything you can’t get over and you keep going. This just stayed; it didn’t go away. Even if we had completed this thing, I don’t know how I would’ve kept going because it took me about three days to be able to just walk. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t move. That stuff’s not shown. It looks like, oh, you have a cramp. It wasn’t just a cramp. If you looked at my leg, it looked like somebody took an ice pick and shoved it in the back of my calf.

SEE The Afghanimals and Rachel Reilly are racing (again) to make ‘Amazing Race’ history

GD: JJ, how long had you been thinking about taking the penalty?
JJ: I’m a superfan, so I’ve seen every episode and I know the rules. Once I looked at Art’s leg and asked him, “Be honest, can you do this?” And he said, “No, I can’t.” I immediately went into strategic mode and tried to figure out what are the possibilities of what could go on at the end of this leg. We were able to determine we were not the last team, so I thought, “OK, if he’s not going to do it, I don’t want to waste our time trying to do it. Let’s take a penalty. Maybe the next team is so screwed up, maybe it’ll take them a long time to do it, maybe it won’t.” And then what if there’s a head-to-head battle at finish? So I thought we’d just ride this out for four hours, Art will be rested, and we’ll do the head-to-head and win. Or I thought this could be one of the only other times on “The Amazing Race” where it’s a non-elimination first leg. I thought maybe we could be that lucky. But none of that worked out, but it was a strategic move and I think it was our only play, so I pulled the trigger on it.

GD: In hindsight, seeing how easily Rupert did it, do you regret taking the penalty or are you happy you put Art’s health first?
JJ: If I could’ve done a “Weekend at Bernie’s” and killed Art and pulled him up the thing, I would’ve done it. In all seriousness, there was just no way Art could’ve done it.

Art: I didn’t know how anyone else did it. I was like, how did people get up this thing? After watching it last night, I saw people walking out [of the tent] with shoes on and drying their hands. I didn’t do that. I came out of the tent and I ran through the mud field, so by the time I got to the thing I was soaking wet and tired, so I was already behind the eight ball by the time I did it. Maybe strategically I should’ve thought about that more before I went out, but I didn’t. I just put the thing on because I knew we were behind and I wanted to get it done as fast as possible.

GD: Do you know why you served the penalty at the Roadblock instead of at the Pit Stop like usual?
JJ: I think because we were done. I think it didn’t matter where we served it. Once Rupert got through it, we knew we were the last team. We saw Corinne and Eliza leave the chocolate sandal place, so we figured they had already gotten to the mat. The hard part was when Art and I were trying to make the decision, we ran back to the tent to see if all the uniforms were gone. And they weren’t. There was one more left and we figured out it had to be Rupert and Laura. I just think it was the absolute nightmare scenario. If you had asked us before the “Race,” tell me your worst-case scenario, I think we would’ve described that leg. It was a nightmare before we even ran it. It just wasn’t meant to be. I know it’s just a race and a game, but it mattered to me and Art. It mattered we got to do it again. It mattered to not just win it, but to experience running around the world, and seeing cultures through the lens of “The Amazing Race” is special and unique and rare. It hurt, it hurts still. Both Art and I have been through hard times in our lives and have come out the other end, so this is no different, but it doesn’t make it any funner or easier. It just sucks.

SEE The returning ‘Amazing Race’ team you’re rooting to cross the finish line first is…

GD: You guys said you didn’t talk about the Season 20 finale for five years. Have you talked about this yet in the last 10 months since it happened or will you also not talk about it for five years?
Art: I remind him every day! He has the worst “Amazing Race” partner ever!

JJ: What’s funny is we didn’t talk about last time for five years. We did a podcast for the border patrol and that was the first time we talked about it for five years. It was still emotional after five years. Now, I actually got transferred and promoted to the same station as Art and we see each other almost every day. We won’t talk about it. Like Art says, we were there, we experienced it, we don’t need to talk about it. I told Art, it doesn’t matter how all this played out, I’ll do it all over again with you, win or lose. He’s a great “Race” partner, he’s real good friend. It’s disappointing that it ended that way, but it just did. You just gotta eat it and move on.

Art: Somebody asked me, “How is your relationship with him?” And I said, “If you go into the ‘Race’ and you don’t have a strong relationship, the ‘Race’ is going to end up completely destroying it.” I view the “Race,” whether you win or lose, it’s good or bad, it should bring you closer together as friends, partners, spouses, whatever, and not rip you apart. Your bond needs to be strong enough to withstand all the stress and problems that come up on the “Race.”

GD: What were your impressions of the “Survivor” and “Big Brother” teams? Were you familiar with them beforehand or did you hear all their names for the first time at the starting line?
JJ: I love “Survivor.” I watch that, but like Art, I’ve never seen “Big Brother.” I was never interested in it. But like Art, the guy that we always knew was Rupert. You know how some people go, “Oh, that guy’s a fake”? Rupert is exactly how you think he is. He is exactly the guy that was on the island that was on the pier. We had some conversations when we were flying to Tokyo and his wife is a super, wonderful lady. Rupert is a very interesting guy all the way around. When we saw [it was the three shows], we thought, like the other racers, we had a very big leg up because we knew the nuances of the game. There’s a learning curve on “The Amazing Race” and we thought we had a distinct advantage. It was cool to see everybody. Everybody that we met and interacted with are wonderful people. Sometimes competition and the overwhelming paranoia and anxiety bring out some bad things, but overall, everybody was wonderful. You can always count on the Reilly sisters for some drama!

GD: “Amazing Race” is supposed to be fun and good.
JJ: That’s my favorite quote! It’s supposed to be fun and good. I love that line more than anything I’ve ever seen in a reality TV show. When in doubt, you need some flare in reality, pick up the Reilly sisters and drop them right in the middle of it. You’ve got your instant drama and iconic quotes.

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