Nicole Franzel and Victor Arroyo were the best of the rest. The “Big Brother” couple was the last non-“Race” team standing on “The Amazing Race 31,” but the pair could not stop the all-“Race” final three and were eliminated in fourth place in London on Wednesday’s finale. Things may have turned out differently had they switched from the rowing Detour earlier, but alas, they tried to stick it out as long as they could.
Check out our exit interview below to see how long they were trying to get up
a creek The Serpentine without a paddle with oars, how they think they would’ve done on the final leg, and why they ultimately made the right move during that U-Turn drama with Rachel Reilly and Elissa Slater.
Gold Derby: Congrats on being the last non-“Race” team!
Nicole: [Laughs] Thank you! We’ll take it!
GD: How long were you at the boats before you finally switched?
Nicole: I’d say two hours.
Victor: Yeah, two or more at least. Tough pill to swallow.
Nicole: I think we thought [we should stay because] we invested so much time. I brought it up to Vic maybe four times that we should switch, but it was kind of like a question: Should we switch? I need him to be like, “Yes.” And then finally he realized we should switch when Colin [Guinn] and Christie [Woods] were struggling too and we thought it would take them two hours to get it, so that’s why we left.
GD: How much earlier had Tyler [Oakley] and Korey [Kuhl] left?
Nicole: Probably 30 minutes. We should’ve left when they did.
GD: How close do you think it would’ve been had you left the same time they did?
Victor: Oh, it would’ve very close. Definitely. We probably would’ve gotten [the taxi directions Detour] done around the same time. It would’ve literally been a race to the finish in the market.
GD: You were the only team that was somewhat successful with both people rowing since Colin did it by himself. Do you sort of wish you sucked more at it so you would’ve been motivated to switch earlier?
Nicole: I wish I couldn’t swim or something. Leo doesn’t like his feet in the water, so that’s why they switched so quickly. I wish it had been something like that.
Victor: Hindsight’s always 20/20. Looking back on it now, we should’ve seen how so many things had to come together — your seat, using your legs to row, using your arms to row, your oars have to cross a certain way, you have to twist your wrist a certain way — when you put all those things together, you get a perfect row. And how often do those things come together?
Nicole: Unless you’re practicing every day. And we tried what Colin and Christie did — me holding the oars up. I tried putting them in the boat. We tried every combination possible and the most success we had was when we were both rowing.
GD: It’s kind of like Chris [Hammons] and Bret [LaBelle] with the coins. You didn’t keep switching, but they didn’t know if they should switch either because they had found most of the stuff.
Nicole: Yup, exactly, that’s exactly what it was.
Victor: If I were ever to do it again, if you’re gonna switch, you switch early. You don’t wait.
Nicole: And the fact that Tyler and Korey are really talented and a really strong team were tipping and wanting to leave, that should’ve been another cue to leave. I don’t know. We had our blinders on. We were very optimistic with our boat.
GD: What was it like at the Pit Stop building your display and knowing you’re gonna be out because you can see Colin and Christie finishing theirs right next to you?
Victor: It had been sinking in, but that’s when it really sinks in that this is over and the chances of winning a million dollars is out of grasp, and it sucks. It’s a tough feeling. But you try to think about, wow, our first time on the “Race” and we made it to final four against some of the best racers there are. And people who’ve raced in the past, some of them have never gotten that far or done so well to get that far. So we’re grateful, but it was really, really sad.
GD: The editing made it seem like the “Race” teams were conspiring to get you out because you were the last non-“Race” team. I listened to your podcast, and Victor, you said Christie did help you during the decoding when Korey wasn’t around. And Tyler and Korey have since said they only wanted an all-“Race” final three was because they thought you guys were stronger than the Afghanimals. Did it feel as isolating for you during the leg as it appeared on the show?
Victor: Definitely. I still walked into the room and they would stop talking and they would whisper. I had to wait for Christie to be alone to be able to get any information. And it wasn’t any like, “Oh, these are the words.” It was more so like, “These are the instructions in a different way for you to understand it better.” And then everything clicked for me. It is what it is. It’s a game. We’re down to four teams for a million dollars. I get it. But to be given the cold shoulder at the end of this when we had worked together the whole time, it felt bad, but I understood it, and no hard feelings for sure.
GD: How did it feel when you solved it before they did and you just bounced?
Victor: Oh, that was the best feeling in the world! [Laughs] I mean, I was so happy. I was like, “Oh, wow, we went from fourth to second in an instant.” It was a great feeling. Too bad we didn’t stay in second the rest of the whole time.
Nicole: Knowing he had to do that by himself and everything and he did so well, it made me feel even worse because I felt like we had that extra push that we needed.
Victor: Yeah, but anything can happen.
GD: How do you think you would’ve done on the final leg? You live in Michigan. Do you think you would’ve had as much trouble with the lock as Leo did?
Nicole: I would’ve done it because Vic was maxed out at six Roadblocks and I had five. I don’t think I would’ve struggled. I’m afraid of heights, so maybe that part would’ve been difficult, but who knows? I know it’s stressful in that situation and when you’re sitting on your couch watching it, it seems easy. But I’ve used a lot of locks and I’m a mathematical person. I would’ve just read the directions and done exactly what it said slowly. I would’ve been more concerned I wouldn’t be able to get that door open. [Laughs] It looked super heavy.
GD: Yeah, Tyler needed like three separate pulls to open it.
Nicole: Yeah, and Victor would’ve done really well on the fowling. He would’ve been very attention-to-detail on the records. I think it would’ve come down to the drum sets. We would’ve been assembling a standalone set alongside whoever else and I think it would’ve been a race to the finish line. That’s what we like to think anyway. [Laughs]
GD: On your podcast, you did a great recap of your U-Turn drama with the Reillys. You said part of the reason you didn’t really believe them is because you weren’t close with the Reillys and you’re good friends with Team Fun and hung out at the airport a lot. Were the Reillys unaware of your friendship with Team Fun or do you think they thought them giving you this information would override your friendship?
Nicole: I don’t know what they thought.
Victor: Yeah, I’m not entirely sure. I’m sure there was a part of them that thought they were doing us a favor in the most positive way. But at the same time, when confronted about the story, they said they weren’t part of the conversation, they just overheard or maybe there were more teams there or less teams there. So when all these things started changing, it kind of seemed like they wanted us to do their dirty work and U-Turn Team Fun.
GD: Which was true.
Victor: Exactly! That was true, and us not having any verification other than them that what Team Fun said was true. And after talking to Team Fun when the show was said and done, they told us that us bringing that up to them and them lying to us — Team Fun lying to us, “Oh, no, we didn’t say at all. We don’t want to U-Turn you” — it made them not want to U-Turn us to prove that their story was true. So it ended up saving us from also getting U-Turned [at the U-Turn Vote] when we already had a Speed Bump.
GD: Your gut was right because you didn’t have to confront Team Fun.
Nicole: Yeah, and holding onto that info wouldn’t have done us any good except make us hold in resentment for a team that we thought we were friends with. We were really close with them. Vic was juggling and doing their little rapping with them. It’s weird. You’re not going to go up to one of your friends like, “Hey, did you just say this about me?” It’s just like, are you going to hold on to it? And what are you going to do? And believe someone you’re not friends with? It was just a really weird situation how it all played out. It was kind of confusing for the viewer.
GD: Oh, yeah. It wasn’t until I listened to your podcast that I was like, “OK, this makes a lot more sense.”
Nicole: Yeah, it’s confusing to watch that back!
GD: It also felt like a very “Big Brother”-esque strategy of lying by omission. They were within their right to do that, but they didn’t have their story straight. And it seemed like some non-“Race” teams were trying to play the “Race” like they would on their original show, but “Race” is much less of a social game with that type of backstabbing and manipulation. What was your strategy going into it?
Nicole: Yeah, I think we just wanted to get along with everybody and try to stay under the radar. We would want a first place, but at the same time, when we got second, I would tell Vic, “Hey, this is really good. Our target’s a little smaller.” We just wanted to be underestimated and get along with everyone. We literally helped everyone whenever they asked. We never turned our backs. At one point, Elissa dropped her shoe out of her backpack and we were behind them. I picked up her shoe and brought it to her so she didn’t have to run all the way back. We made sure to stick our neck out for anyone unless it’s a footrace to the finish, which we never had. We were thinking we put this out into the universe and it’ll come back to us.
GD: How upset were you at the Afghanimals for U-Turning you?
Victor: I was really upset. I get why they did it, but at the same time, they didn’t get U-Turned. They didn’t have to go through it. I was very upset, but I think more than anything, if they liked Team Fun at all — if they were friends, if they wanted an all-“Race” final four — they essentially U-Turned them as well. For us to survive it and for Team Fun to get out, that’s how the game goes. In the moment and during the “Race,” I was mad. I wouldn’t talk to them or anything. But as soon as the “Race” was over and Colin and Christie won, I went up to both of them and said, “You know what? The ‘Race’ is over. We can be friends again.” [Laughs]
GD: Nicole, can you ever hear “happy birthday” the same way again? It’s this weekend, isn’t it? Happy early birthday!
Nicole: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s in a couple days. It feels like it’s been my birthday since that episode aired! Everyone keeps saying it to me.
GD: You guys also said this was much harder than “Big Brother.” What was the thing you were least prepared for?
Nicole: Just the physicality of it. We got a call early on [to be on the show] and then we became alternates, so it was a last-minute thing. We didn’t run, we didn’t have backpacks. We weren’t in shape. Vic is always kind of in shape, but for me, it was something I would’ve definitely trained for, so I wasn’t ready for that. And I don’t think you can go into the “Race” and feel — I mean, I’m so small, so running is difficult for me. Running for two miles against guys with muscles and girls with long legs, it’s difficult, and that makes a huge difference in the “Race.”
Victor: For me, it was just how go-go-go it was. One competition to another competition to another competition. No breaks. You can’t just go eat somewhere. Even using the restroom, your body doesn’t really register that. You just kind of hold it in until it’s the end of the leg. … I had never slept so well in my life until I ran the “Race” and got to the hotel room and didn’t even want to answer the door, which was room service with the food, because I just wanted to sleep. It’s really just completely exhausting. I was just not ready for that.
GD: You have so much downtime on “Big Brother.” You play the Veto, the Veto ceremony is two days later, and three days after that is eviction and HOH.
Victor: Exactly. There are maybe three competitions in a span of a whole week if there’s a twist. This, you’re doing three competitions a day! And miles and miles — I think we did like 20 miles on the bike.
Nicole: And you also have the stress of knowing there’s something you have to do solely on your own. It’s just stressful to anticipate that moment.
GD: Have you guys watched the new season of “Big Brother” yet?
Nicole: I watched only the first episode because obviously the [second one] was when we were at the [“Race” finale] party. It looks like a really good season. I’m just really excited to watch. I’m feeling like a superfan again, finally getting into that groove. It took me a couple years just because it felt weird watching it. But I’m excited and I’m happy a couple people know each other, so I want to see how that plays out. But I haven’t seen the twist or anything yet. I know David [Alexander] went home, but I don’t know why.
Victor: I think it’s cool. [Laughs] It’s so early, so I’m excited to watch it unfold.