‘The Amazing Race’ winners Kim and Penn explain how she knew the final task would be a visual memory challenge

After being in second for the entire final leg on “The Amazing Race 33,” Kim and Penn Holderness caught up with Raquel and Cayla at the final memory task on a tennis court, where the couple served up an ace, completing it first with a combo of diligent note-taking and drawing and trial and error, to win the $1 million prize. The internet personalities are now the oldest winners, at 45 and 47, respectively, and never finished lower than fifth on the race, which started production on Season 33 in February 2020 before halting for 19 months because of COVID-19.

Find out how they — or specifically Kim — clocked what the final challenge would be, what you didn’t see in the final leg and more.

Gold Derby: Congratulations! How does it feel no longer having to keep this a secret?
Kim: The best part is not having to keep this a secret anymore. … It was surreal [to watch it], and to be honest, we still haven’t seen the end of the show because we obviously knew what was going to happen. We were watching our kids because we didn’t tell our kids, so we wanted to see their reaction. It was a really sweet moment that I’ll remember forever, just being able to see their reactions.

Gold Derby: You guys ran a really strong race and this was a come-from-behind victory. You were in second the entire leg. What was going through your mind when you completed the task?
Penn: Just to get you up to that point, between Portugal and Los Angeles, we counted eight lead changes, which doesn’t normally happen at the end of a race. Our mindset at that last challenge was, “OK, there’s been this many lead changes. There can be one more. We can catch these guys.”

Kim: I think you hear me say, “We’re ready for this. We can do this.” Coming in, knowing there’s a memory task, I felt very confident we’re gonna get out of there first.

Penn: The reason she was confident was every single night for the last four nights, she had drawn these pictures — she put them on little cue cards — and spread them on the hotel floor because she just had a feeling it’d be a visual memory challenge. This is how much of the race she watches. She was dead-on right. We saw it … and I looked at Kim, like, “How did you know this was gonna happen?”

Kim: I had the shape of Napoleon’s hat. I was just drawing places we’d been. The only thing that I didn’t draw a picture of was the coin. I just drew a generic gold coin because to be honest, when I got the coin, I saw it and made a run for it. I didn’t sit there and study it. So we struggled on that.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race 33’ finale recap

Gold Derby: How did you have that intuition? You’re superfans and there have been lots of final memory challenges, but how did you know specifically it’d be images?
Kim: I thought it’d be images or numbers. In the clues, it’d be, “Jump 722 feet.” There were numbers, but I thought it’d be too easy.

Penn: One of the other things I noticed was at the Pit Stops, Phil [Keoghan] kept saying, “Take a look at this view.” “Take a look at this whale overhead.” He made us look at something.

Kim: He was making us look at something, but he was making us look away. In Lugano, we were facing that pink building that was the clue, but he said, “That’s Italy over there,” so we turned around and looked away. I was like, “He wants us to look away from something. I’m not gonna be tricked by you, Phil.” He’s pointing something out that’s very nondescript, meaning there’s something else that we should be noticing, so it was in that leg that I [realized] I needed to go back and start drawing pictures of everything we’ve done.

Gold Derby: Do you have a photographic memory?
Kim: I do not. He does. I got through school. I did well in school, but mostly through brute force and studying. I just had repetition and notecards. So that’s what we did.

Gold Derby: That’s so cool you picked up on that, but like you said, you didn’t draw that specific coin, so you got there through process of elimination.
Penn: Then it became percentages. We were 95 to 100 percent sure that all of the other ones were right and there four or five other coins and you could quickly check each one. I think that was the last one that we picked. But all of the preparation that she did before that and the recognition that this was going to be a visual memory challenge got those percentages up so high that we were able to finish it in, I think in real time, six or seven minutes.

Gold Derby: How far behind were you when you arrived?
Kim: We were about 10 minutes behind. We got out of the foley challenge at the same time, but they were getting in their car. It took us a little while to get directions. Then we got there and we had to park in a specific spot, so we circled around.

Penn: We asked the guy for directions and his phone died. We were about to look at it and it was, “Aah!” So we found another dude and it was about 10 minutes.

SEE ‘The Amazing Race’s’ Lulu and Lala: Accidentally finding the Pit Stop was a ‘blow to the stomach’

Gold Derby: So that wasn’t what they showed in the episode — you getting directions from the same guy they did?
Penn: We asked him, but his phone died, so we had to go somewhere else.

Kim: It’s not interesting TV. [Laughs]

Gold Derby: Right, we need the drama of him helping both of you. But you guys also made up a lot of time at the foley task. A lot of these were up your alley.
Kim: We shoot our videos on a cell phone, so foley is not something we do.

Penn: I have made some sound effects in some of our things, not that fancy.

Kim: When you get to a challenge, you just try to get through it, but that was the first challenge throughout this entire season that I really enjoyed. We got out of the piñatas like 10, 15 minutes after Raquel and Cayla, so it was like, “We’re in second place, let’s enjoy our day.” And I loved it. We had a great time. I wanna go back.

Gold Derby: You guys can have new careers as foley artists now. Obviously you knew you were in a two-team race with Raquel and Cayla. What did you think happened to Dusty and Ryan?
Penn: I think they were at that elevator for a little bit. We’ve talked to Dusty about this. When they get stuff right, they are so fast. They’re good navigators. They work together really well. They have so much kinetic energy that something like foley would be easy for them. And they also studied just like us. I think they did well on the memory challenge too. For Dusty and Ryan, it all came down to the clue in the elevator.

Gold Derby: I feel like it happens a lot where the third place team just falls way behind, so it would’ve been fun had all three of you battled it out because all three of you were so good.
Kim: It would’ve been fun for you to watch it. [Laughs]

Gold Derby: Not for you guys in the moment.
Penn: You don’t know the terror of having Dusty and Ryan behind you. [Laughs] You’re always looking over your shoulder.

Kim: They teleport places. If they had figured out the elevator thing — toast.

Gold Derby: I love what you did at the mat, giving a shout-out to the camera crew. What was it like coming back and filming during COVID?
Penn: It was a plan that CBS came up with that they presented to each of us individually to make sure we felt safe. We were quarantining, zone restrictions, testing every 48 hours, making sure you had a mask on every time you’re off camera. You saw masks occasionally on the show. Through all of that, we had these two members with us, a photographer and a sound person that were running with this heavy equipment, just as fast as we were, and they wore masks the entire time. They kept us safe. Any time they noticed any possibility of contact, they made sure we were in the right place. CBS generally keeps them out of the shot, but I’m so glad they showed them. First of all, they’re jacked! They’re like the fittest people on the planet. They run forever and they have a great work ethic.

Kim: I’ll just say they are famously the best in the business, the crew on the show, and they are the unsung heroes. For everything we had to to get back safely, they had to do and then some. I’m so happy that for a brief moment, you got to see the magnitude of what goes into it behind the scenes. That crew is — round of applause, they’re just amazing.

Gold Derby: Have your kids been studying?
Kim: They head back to school today, so hopefully!

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