‘The Amazing Race’s’ Derek and Claire on their ‘surreal’ win and gamble that ‘paid off the way we wanted it to’

Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss hit all the right notes — literally — on “The Amazing Race 34” finale in Nashville. After grabbing the lead at the Roadblock, the couple never relinquished it, even when when things got tight at the final memory task when Luis and Michelle, and Emily and Molly, caught up. But with their cushion and Derek’s piano skills, they hung on and crossed the finish line first, becoming the second “Big Brother” team to win “The Amazing Race.”

Find out how close the finish was and what happened during their mat chat with Phil Keoghan that you didn’t see.

Gold Derby: Congratulations! I saw Kyland’s Instagram Story of your live reaction last night, but what was it like watching it at the watch party?
Derek: Claire doesn’t like being the center of attention.
Claire: No, I really don’t. I was very nervous before it aired.
Derek: I love being the center of attention. Give me the mic, Luis! [Laughs] Watching the finale with everyone, we just felt all the emotions we felt at the finish.
Claire: It was really surreal. It’s just been a surreal process. But it was truly amazing to watch it live. We had friends and family there, and no one knew how we we did. And to see them, when we got to the piano task, going “Are you gonna lose it? What’s gonna happen?” And then when we finish and we’re running, everybody was like, “Oh, my gosh! They’re gonna do it!” And it’s just amazing to celebrate with them. For the past few months, it’s just been Derek and I who’ve known, so we’ve just been like, “Wow, we really did it, we really won.” But it’s just to each other, like when we’re driving to Costco, like, “Can you believe we did that?” People would be very nosy. People would try to trick us [into telling them], but we kept it locked down. It’s kinda fun to keep a secret.

Gold Derby: You were in first for almost the entire leg, but how stressful was it when everyone was there at the final task?
Derek: By the time people started showing up, me and Claire already knew what picture coordinated with what key. We knew which ones to memorize and the order to play them, so we were already trying to take the test, but we didn’t know we had to click the freakin’ pedal. We were, in our minds, oh, someone’s watching us. Like, “Hey, you got it, you got it.”
Claire: Like the conductor would come down and be like, “A fantastic job.” So we’re doing it, like, “Here we go, here we go.” Nothing.
Derek: We were like, “Did we do something wrong?” So we do it again and we’re just standing there for what feels like five minutes. It was staring into the abyss. It’s blacked out in there, the lights are only on us, like, “Hey, is there like a proctor here? Is anyone watching? We just took the test.” Luis and Michelle run in, but at that point, I didn’t feel nervous because we already knew the answers. We’re trying to take the test. All we had to had to figure out was how to take this freakin’ test. So I wasn’t really that nervous. When we realized we only had 11 seconds, that was the only additional hurdle to overcome. I was like, “If we could get it in 11 seconds, we’re good.”
Claire: Yeah, and it really came down to us reading the clue to figure out the pedal. The classic “Amazing Race” rule, like read the clue, of course. I will say, I was very nervous because it’s very hard to evaluate to how long you’re been at a task. When you’re not getting it, it feels like it’s 20 hours when in actuality it might be five minutes. I knew Molly and Emily are just good at so good at so many things, and Luis and Michelle — I felt like they had a music background, a dancing background. I knew both teams were studying for the final memory challenge. I knew anyone could take this, but we do have a lead and this was ours to fumble. And it’s happened to other teams … but it just didn’t happen to us, so it’s good. We probably spent like five minutes [figuring out the pedal]. … But it’s hard to know. Maybe if we had gotten it earlier, maybe we wouldn’t have found someone to give us directions. So many dominoes affect how you do on the race.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’s’ Emily and Molly explain their navigation issues and the finale ‘mistakes’ that you didn’t see

Gold Derby: You guys also had an unknown advantage. Derek knew piano and the notes, unlike Luis and Michelle.
Derek: One hundred percent. I’m not gonna lie: I didn’t know people didn’t know that there were black keys. To me, that’s just second nature. I didn’t realize what was hard about this was figuring out the black keys. There were so many things that I took for granted that I didn’t realize I knew. I understood the concept of the pedal, the keys, the black keys, I knew the notes. There were so many things that paid off on this.

Gold Derby: The editing make it look really close between you guys for the drama, but you’ve said you were about 15 ahead. When you were on your way, knowing you left the two teams behind, how confident were you?
Derek: The Pit Stop was pretty close, so I didn’t think anyone was going to pass us, so I felt pretty good.
Claire: We were very nervous when we were getting directions because that took us a while because Derek’s hands were shaking so much. He couldn’t hold the phone basically. I was terrified. I was always worried that a team would sprint past us at some point. … And I got horrible cramps, unlike anything I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Derek: Literally 10 feet from the finish line. I was like, “Claire, are you serious? Do you want me to carry you?”
Claire: I was like, “No! That’s humiliating.”

Gold Derby: That would’ve been fitting with your fake-out proposal.
Claire: [Laughs] Yeah, what if you had carried me through?
Derek: I was like, “Derek, this is your one moment.” Every camera was on me, so what am I gonna say? So I was like, “Let me tell a joke.”
Claire: No, we had been joking about this even before the race, like when we would watch it. We saw Will and James’ actual proposal and Derek’s like, “I’m gonna fake propose,” and I’m like, “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare do it!” You know, you only have so many opportunities to make jokes in front of Phil, I feel like, so why not?

Gold Derby: I thought you guys were one of the best teams ever because you were savvy with your strategy, you could think on the fly, which I think a lot of teams can’t because of the stress, and you were so good with navigation. I know, Claire, your parents trained you before the race. What did that training entail and how did that help you?
Claire: It was really like a two-week boot camp, trying to learn everything you could do on the race. In terms of navigation, they got us Virginia Beach, where they live, and I don’t really drive that much … so [it was] learning how to drive stick, learning how to navigate with a map. We’re going to to this random park. My parents would blindfold us and drop us off somewhere in a car and be like, “Get home.” They would take our phones and we would have to figure out where we are. Really something that was beneficial was we listened to the YouTube series that Kim and Penn Holderness did last season. We really studied how they navigated the race and we would pick up tips from them, using a ruler to measure distances and know how many miles that’s going to be. That was really beneficial.

Gold Derby: Yeah, you made up so much ground just navigating in the last two legs. In Iceland, you passed two teams because they thought they had passed the location when they hadn’t gotten there yet.
Claire: Yeah, we started off strong and then hit some road bumps with navigation. Derek and I really looked at each other and said, “This can’t happen. We need to figure out this navigation and we need to figure it out now.” There have been seasons where they don’t self-drive at all, but self-driving is a make-or-break. I feel like so many teams went out because they just got lost because they made the wrong turns, they drove to the wrong country, whatever it was. It was just so important.

Gold Derby: While the season was airing, some fans were critical of Derek not doing Roadblocks, but this was all part of your strategy. You wanted to front-load Claire and save him for the end because you thought they might be physical challenges. And they were physical and they also involved heights. Do you feel vindicated now?
Derek: Look, if I could’ve, I would’ve had Claire do all of them. [Laughs] I did have to do six. It was just a complete bet that we made. I just hoped that it was a physical challenge at the end and it just paid off. Looking back — hindsight’s 20/20 — it’s like, wow, what a great move we made. But it could’ve been a memory Roadblock and I could’ve been like, “Damn, I wish Claire is doing this right now.” It could’ve gone either way, but thankfully it paid off the way we wanted it to.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’s’ Luis and Michelle: ‘The piano took us out’

Gold Derby: Is there anything you wish they had aired?
Derek: I’m glad they showed the fake proposal. [Laughs] Actually, right before the fake proposal, we were both so excited, Claire jumped into my arms, I hug her, and as we’re embracing each other, I think her head just, like, smashed into my face.
Claire: I mean, that might’ve been what happened.

Gold Derby: Was that the red stain on your shirt?
Derek: I was having a profuse nosebleed at the finish line.
Claire: It was a lot. A lot. I think they would’ve had to change the rating. It was too much blood.
Derek: I was answering Phil’s questions, like, [pinches nose] “Yeah, I’m so excited to be here. I can’t believe we won.”

Gold Derby: Your “Big Brother” evictions were some of the saddest for me because I felt like you would’ve lasted longer if it weren’t for the Cookout, but now you have $1 million. How did “Big Brother” prep you for “The Amazing Race”?
Derek: I think in a lot of ways. Definitely understanding social strategy, but also being able to hold your wits in a high-pressure scenario. I think that’s not something you encounter in everyday life, but being able to keep calm, keep cool and collected when you’re doing a challenge and everyone’s already gone, you’re in last place — can you finish this up and recover? In those scenarios, doing “Big Brother” taught me how to stay calm under pressure.
Claire: Really the same. “Big Brother” taught me how to handle a high amount of stress and pressure and just keep living and keep doing it. And wake up and tackle it and let’s get it done. I think I did better on challenges in “The Amazing Race” than “Big Brother,” but I think that’s because I was with him.

Gold Derby: You conquered your fear of heights.
Claire: Yeah! Not my tone deafness, but that’s OK.
Derek: Did you really conquer it?
Claire: It got done. It may not have been a conquering.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’s’ Aubrey and David on taking the penalty: ‘I don’t think we would’ve changed anything’

Gold Derby: You guys are “Survivor” fans. Are you gonna complete the EGOT of CBS reality shows and tackle “Survivor” next?
Derek: Hopefully. “Survivor” would be really fun to do. We’ve been watching a lot of seasons. I think it’d be cool if we went on for a ”Blood vs. Water” season. I already know if I go on “Survivor,” I’ll get voted out early. But a “Blood vs. Water” season, we’ve talked about this, so we won’t reveal our strategy, but we’ve had thoughts about how we would play the game.
Claire: But I wanna know, Derek, I know I wouldn’t do this — would you do “Tough as Nails”? That’s the true EGOT.
Derek: That’s the T in EGOT. [Laughs]
Claire: That is the T in EGOT.
Derek: You know what? I’d do it just to do another fake proposal in front of Phil.
Claire: Does that mean I have to do it now or are you proposing to the welder next door?
Derek: It’s a fake proposal. I can do it to anyone.
Claire: That’s fair.

Gold Derby: What are you gonna do with the money?
Derek: We haven’t made any plans for it. We’re pretty boring. I think we’re going to invest it and let it sit and accumulate.
Claire: We’re still pretty young. We’re not really trying to buy a house yet. We don’t wanna start a family yet. We have a cat. I think we’ll get her a new cat tree.
Derek: Wow, it’s gonna be huge for her.
Claire: Yeah, no one’s told her yet.

Gold Derby: That’s a good Christmas present. Maybe you can pay back your parents for training you guys.
Claire: Probably should.
Derek: I already got my parents a trip to Mexico, so you’re overdue.
Claire: It’s true. I am overdue.

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