'Amazing Race' winners talk sheep heads, diabetes, and never getting angry at each other, EVER
Image Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBSNat Strand and Kat Chang are two of the most adorably non-dramatic reality show contestants ever. The 17th season of Amazing Race had its fair share of squabbling couples (Nick and Vicki! Chad and Stephanie!) and passive-aggressive travel shenanigans, but the team of doctors made an inspirational portrait of courageous amiability under fire. Throw in the fact that Nat’s a diabetic with a fear of heights, and that vegetarian Kat had to devour a gloriously weird-looking sheep’s head in Norway, and you’re left with only one conclusion: These women deserved to win. (Read the full season finale recap here.) We caught up with the conquering heroines to get some clarification (why’d they fly to Dubai?) and ask the important question: Yeesh, do these women ever get angry?
Entertainment Weekly: Congrats on being the first ever all-woman team to win Amazing Race!
Kat: We’re still getting used to the title!
Nat: Even if it wasn’t us, we would’ve loved for any of the other girl-girl teams to win. We’re absolutely elated, and very honored, that we’re the lucky team that gets to carry that title.
You two never finished last, but you did have a couple of second-to-last-place legs. What was the low point?
Nat: Definitely the Oman leg. We had a map that was incorrect — we had the same map that Gary and Mallory had — and it took us to the wrong side of the entire mountain range. We got to the first clue six hours behind the other teams. Not only were we that much more exhausted, because our leg was hours longer than the other teams. When we got released the next day, we didn’t have time to catch the flight, so we called the airport on the way, and they were like, “Sorry.” We were gonna get to Bangladesh the next day. That’s why you saw us hop on a flight to Dubai.
You were just trying to get out of Oman, basically?
Kat: We looked up flights really quickly online, and there weren’t that many flights leaving Oman that evening. Our other option was to fly to Dubai.
Nat: What they didn’t show [on TV] is that we actually stopped by a hotel and looked up a bunch of flights. We knew that if we just bought the tickets at the airport, we would’ve basically been the Nick and Vicki.
From what we saw at home, it seems like the contestants got along well. In particular, you two seemed to really bond with Brook and Claire.
Kat: One of the best parts of the race was hanging out with all the other Racers, when you have those rare moments of down time. Like in the airports where you’re waiting for your flight to take off…
Nat: The slumber party in Oman!
Kat: The stinking shoes in the train! Just to get away from the actual stress of the race for just a second.
Did you have very much down time? How much sleep did you actually get?
Nat: We got so little sleep it was amazing. That was one of the big shockers for me. You’d get a clue, and go to the airport and often travel overnight to the next place.
Kat: Even when you’re on a plane, you’re always working. You’re talking to the other teams, you’re talking to some of the locals that might be flying to where you’re going, trying to get more information, you’re talking to the flight attendants.
Nat: You sleep every other night. And those pit stops are short! Say you have a 10-hour pit stop. By the time you check-in, and you do your post-interviews, you may be in the hotel room for only about seven hours. Well, what are you gonna do in your seven hours? You probably want to rinse out your clothes and dry them…
Kat: Or take a shower for the first time in three days.
Nat: So you’re probably sleeping like four or five hours. It was grueling.
With your jobs, you’re sort of adjusted to getting by without much sleep, right?
Kat: We’re used to still pushing through, even when we are tired. Obviously, with our jobs, you can’t just say, “I’m tired, I have to go take a nap now.” There’s patients you have to take care of. We’re used to being able to focus and getting stuff done.
Kat, which was harder: Eating the sheep’s head or trying to sell sunglasses in Ghana?
Kat: [Laughs] I think it was the sunglasses! Nat and I both feel pretty confident about tasks that are in our control. With the eating task, it was just a matter of getting it down and finishing it. With the sunglasses, I not only had to rely on my lack of sunglasses-selling ability, but also depend on who was walking by. Or if they even had the money to buy sunglasses.
Had you made peace with the fact that, at some point in the race, you’d have to eat meat? Or were you hoping that wouldn’t happen?
Kat: Well, I was hoping it was going to be a roadblock that Nat could perform. But obviously, we’re very familiar with the race. I think I was already mentally prepared going into the race that, if it was going to happen, I was going to do it. Or at least I was going to try my best.
You couldn’t have anticipated that it was going to be the grotesque head of a dead sheep.
Kat: No, that was really something special! [Laughs] Not only was it the head, it was the eyeballs, the tongue, the ears, cartilage, all of it.
Nat, on your bio at CBS.com, when asked, “What is your pet peeve about your partner?” your answer was, “Kat is so perfect! I don’t have a pet peeve.” So, I have to ask: Do you ever get angry, at all?
Nat: Not really. I’m a pretty happy person, and I just — I feel really blessed. You guys have watched Kat. She’s smart, she’s fit, she’s responsible, she’s a good friend. I really don’t have any pet peeves about Kat! I guess I could’ve made one up! I have a pet peeve now: Her hair always looks better than mine.
Kat: Well, that’s not that hard![Laughs]
Has it been strange watching the show play out on television?
Kat: What’s been most interesting is seeing the interactions of the other teams, since we actually didn’t see them while we were racing. We had no idea how bad the watermelon shot was, until we saw it just like every body else did.
Nat, was it hard watching the heights challenges again?
Nat: It was kind of fun [watching the bungee drop] last night! My heart started beating faster when they did those overhead shots. It’s so sweet, that moment right before they dropped us, when Kat reached out and held my hand because she knew I was terrified. It kind of reminds me of all the challenges that we faced together, and how it just strengthened our friendship even more.
You knew each other from UCLA, right?
Kat: Nat and I did our residency training at UCLA. We spent many hours, many holidays —
Nat: — many nights and weekends…
Kat: Many everything together. So that’s how we pretty much became friends.
Any plans for spending the money?
Nat: We have to do some necessary things, like paying back the student loans from medical school. I think we’d both love to donate to a cause. For me, diabetes research is a big thing. We’ve talked about maybe something for challenged athletes. We definitely want to donate something to a cause. And I think keep a little bit for us, to probably take a couple more trips. [Laughs]
Kat: We’ve got the travel bug now!
Had you two traveled very much before the race?
Kat: Nat and I have been very fortunate, and we’ve actually traveled a lot. It’s not something that we told the other racers! [Laughs] It’s one of our favorite things to do. It’s one of our passions. That’s one of the reasons we love watching The Amazing Race.
Had you been to any of the countries that you visited on the race?
Nat: I had studied abroad at Oxford in undergraduate school, so I actually lived in England for a few months. Everywhere else on the race was brand new for me.
Where was your favorite place?
Nat: Sweden. I absolutely loved it.
Kat: It’s her homeland, that’s why!
Nat: It was our first win, and Kat and I just had a great leg, so for several reasons, I really loved Sweden.
Kat, what about you?
Kat: For me, I think it was actually St. Petersburg. It was so amazingly, stunningly beautiful. One of the great things was that we did that whole leg where we were predominantly on foot, so we really got to see a lot more of it, so I remember it so vividly.
Nat, we didn’t see that much of your daily life living with diabetes on the race. Was it difficult?
Nat: It was definitely a challenge. Little things, like, how do you store a month’s worth of diabetic supplies? I change out my pump every two or three days. Insulin has to stay cold, so how do you carry insulin around in Ghana and Oman, and keep it from overheating? How do you carry enough snacks for a month? You know, if I get low blood sugar, I need to get sugar right away and eat, and sometimes you’re doing a leg for 16 hours with no food, my blood sugar would get really high. If my pump setting are time-set in Los Angeles, then when you’re in England, you’re reversed: When you’re normally sleeping, you’re awake! Even when we were trying to get a few hours of sleep, my pump would be alarming, and beeping, and it would need to be changed, it would need a new battery, my blood sugar was too high… [Laughs] All these kind of nitpicky little things that just take mental energy.
Would you come back for a future All-Stars edition if the offer was on the table?
Nat: In a New York minute!
Kat: We loved every second of it. We had a blast. We would definitely do it again.
Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.