‘The Amazing Race’s’ Will and James on their million dollar engagement: ‘No matter what place we came in, I was gonna propose’

Will Jardell and James Wallington had their cake and ate it too on “The Amazing Race 32” finale. The couple cruised through the final leg in New Orleans — when your biggest problem is trying to eat beignets, you know you’re having a good night — and never saw either of the other two teams, Hung and Chee, and Riley and Maddison, at the final two tasks.

And if winning $1 million isn’t enough, Will also popped the question at the finish line. When would he have proposed if they hadn’t won? Why was Will struggling so hard with the beignets? And what do they have to say about their divisive alliances on the race? Find out below.

Gold Derby: Double congratulations! How does it feel to be able to finally talk about it two years later?
Will: Overwhelming. I think we’ve only had each other to talk about it for two years. And now we’re getting messages and our families are here with us. It’s insane to kind of tell them all the stories and everything that happened.

Gold Derby: So what was your engagement story that you were telling people?
Will: Great question because to be honest it’s changed. [Laughs] We were like, “We got engaged on a trip” or “We got engaged privately and we don’t wanna talk about it” or “We got engaged doing something else.” But our families have assumed it was on “The Amazing Race,” so now that they know and all of our friends have gotten to see it, and they’re like, “Everything makes so much sense!”

James: Which is even funnier because when we left the finish line, they said, “You can say you got engaged on a TV show because that’s the truth, but obviously don’t give out any details.” And we both laughed and said, “There’s no way we’re gonna tell our friends that because the moment we say that, they’re gonna know it was “The Amazing Race” because they know we’re huge fans of the show.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’ finale recap: And the winner is…

Gold Derby: Will, would you have proposed if you hadn’t won?
Will: Yeah, I had two things in my mind: I said I’m gonna propose when we get eliminated — never happened — or I’m gonna propose in a country we had been to before as a couple, and that was the Philippines. … But that leg was like a nightmare, so it just didn’t feel right. And going to the finish line, no matter what place we came in, I was gonna propose because it was just a dream fulfilled of crossing that finish line, so why not put a cherry on top and propose?

Gold Derby: Where did you keep the ring the entire time and was there any moment where you thought you may have lost it?
Will: [Laughs] I definitely kept track of it the entire time because I was super paranoid. But I had it in my backpack, deep, deep down. At the last leg, I pulled it out and put it in the fanny pack and I would never let James have the fanny pack.

James: He never let me wear it and I was always so upset because it’s a superfan’s dream to wear that.

Gold Derby: James, were you suspecting anything?
James: No, honestly. Before “The Amazing Race” became a reality, we had always talked about getting engaged. And then when we left for the show, I knew everything that Will had packed … and every Pit Stop we would do laundry and empty out our bags and air everything out — and there was nothing. I never once thought about it because I never saw anything that would even hint at it.

When we were in Paris, Phil [Keoghan] did make some comments about it being the City of Love, and it was the first time in the race I actually took a step back and was like, “Why is he making this comment?” And then nothing happened and I was like, “Well, it is the City of Love. Phil does love to say those facts to the viewers,” so I didn’t think anything of it. And then at the finish line, when he got down on one knee, it was an out-of-body experience because not only did we win together, now we’re taking that next step in our lives together.

Gold Derby: What about the wedding? You haven’t tied the knot yet, right?
Will: No, we actually were supposed to get married in October of this year, but we have pushed it back. We’re actually getting married in New Orleans because we thought that was very fitting.

James: It was actually a blessing in disguise we had to push it back because now everyone who’s been invited understands the significance of why it’s in New Orleans.

Gold Derby: That final leg was kind of a blowout for you guys after the cake baby task. Did it feel that way too in the moment?
James: I don’t think it was when we left the beignets and king cake challenge. It was the moment I jumped off the bridge. I know I was definitely nervous, but the moment Will looked at me and said, “This is for a million dollars, you’ve got this,” there was no hesitation for me. I knew the moment I jumped, it would give us enough of a lead where I felt confident we could continue to take it all the way.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’s’ DeAngelo and Gary feel betrayed by a ‘super secret alliance’ you never saw

Your biggest problem the whole leg was eating the beignets. Will, what was going on there? You were eating the cake first too.
Will: [Laughs] I know, I had been eating so much king cake because it would stick to your fingers. I just kept trying to get it off by licking it, and I really love cake, so I kept eating it. And then the beignets — the amount of powdered sugar on those things, it just sticks to your throat, and I couldn’t make saliva. So it was just staying in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow. It was a moment. … I asked the bakers to bring me a trash can in case I threw up and I asked for water. It was definitely the low point of the entire episode.

James: I do want it to be known, though, that he has a beignet sitting next to him currently. I’m having him make up for all that.

Gold Derby: You guys are superfans, and I thought it was interesting you kind of brought “Survivor” and “Big Brother” tactics onto the show with the alliance-building and plotting who to target. Some of the teams I’ve talked to have called you the masterminds of the alliance. Was this always your strategy going into the race?
James: We did a lot of preparation before we left and a lot of that was rewatching previous seasons. We took note of all these different strategies, and a lot of times it was little moments where teams would help each other or they would share tips with another team just to help maintain a lead. And we thought, “Why isn’t that more long term?”

In Season 21, you kind of see that play out with the Chippendales and the twinnies, and Trey and Lexi. They almost made top three together, and seeing how close they were, Will and I thought, “What if we take that strategy, go into Season 32, find two teams that we feel like have a similar mentality and approach to the race to compete hard and have fun while doing it?” So the core three alliance was always meant to happen. The five was more supposed to be short term, but it became long term by the nature of the race.

Will: I think this season, it’s super important to note that every leg was an equalizer. After the first two, James and I were like, “OK, there’s not really and advantage to finishing at the top of the pack, so what can you do to give yourself a little leg up?” The Yields were introduced, which added another social element because James and I didn’t want to be U-Turned, we didn’t want to be yielded, so what do we have in our toolkit to make sure that didn’t happen? And that was the social relationships that we were building with the other teams. It became a more prominent part of our strategy because of how close all the teams were every single leg of the race.

James: And another thing to note, we had gotten three first-place finishes before any other team in the race, but people were still talking about Hung and Chee. And by “people,” I mean teams not in the alliance, so that’s why social relationships are important because people still didn’t talk about Will and I being that big of threat.

Gold Derby: Did you want to form an alliance with two other strong teams or did it just so happen that Riley and Maddison, and Hung and Chee also turned out to be really good racers like you guys?
Will: I think we really just clicked with Riley and Maddison, and Hung and Chee very early on. We had gotten along well with the entire cast, and particularly we got along really well with Michelle and Victoria too. I think we had a mini alliance, and when they were eliminated in Paris, we were really upset. But Hung and Chee, and the beards and us, we just got along so well. And the entire race, we saw each other at almost every single challenge, so it just kind of felt like we were already racing together.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’s’ Eswar and Aparna are still upset about getting U-Turned: DeAngelo and Gary’s ‘move was really dumb’

Gold Derby: What do you have to say to fans who thought the alliance made the season boring?
Will: It’s hard to imagine what you would do on the race and how you would play out situations. And I think the alliance, yes, it does make the series a little predictable, but … this is a competition; you wouldn’t play Monopoly and not take an advantage no matter who you’re playing with. So whatever’s in front of you, it’s all tools to help you get further in the race, so why not use it to get an advantage, including working with other teams, U-Turns, yields?

James: And I think as a fan of the show, you want to experience every aspect of it, even if it doesn’t make sense to the viewers. So when we got to the U-Turn board and used it, we felt like we had a strategy. We always laid out pros and cons before we made a decision. And the only other thing I will say is that sure, I get that the alliance was really polarizing, but when you watch the whole season, the alliance was never really the reason a team was eliminated. And I think that’s something that’s overlooked. No one from the alliance was really the reason people lost.

Gold Derby: What do you think was your best move on the race besides forming the alliance?
James: I know that this is definitely a polarizing move to some, but I would say the U-Turn of Leo and Alana. It was so early in the game, but because some in the Mine Five thought it was more of a long-term thing, it came off as if we were being loyal. We gave them extra time to complete the Detour. A lot of people thanked us for using the U-Turn. I think that kind of set the tone for the social dynamics to develop. … People say you should never use the U-Turn when you’re in first place, but when you’re on the race, you never really know where you are. We didn’t even know were in first. But looking back, we would’ve done the same thing.

Gold Derby: Can you guys drive stick now?
Will: Oh, my God, no. [Laughs]

James: The funny thing is we did take lessons before we left. We knew that would be an important part of the race, but when we practiced, it was on this this old-school, vintage car. … But you could feel it when you changed all the gears. It was all about feeling it. So when we got to Paris in the parking garage, it was a brand new, what, like 2018 Volkswagen.

Will: You give me a brand new car and you move the stick and you feel no shift of gear? I literally was like, “I have no idea what is going on.” And I was starting in third gear the entire time. After I figured it out, it was OK, but that initial — if you get into something like that and you can’t figure it out, it’s like the most overwhelming feeling because you feel responsible for everything. The entire city of Paris was behind me!

James: The thing about that was we got through it together and Will was ultimately able to figure it out. I think speaks a lot to our patience together on the race.

Will: Everybody gives me a hard time, but I’m like, “I figured it out!”

Gold Derby: What are you gonna do with the money?
Will: We’re planning our wedding and that’s the first big thing that we’re doing. And I think after we get married, it’s looking into adopting children and that would be our next big adventure for Will and James.

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