By Jodi Walker
December 22, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST
Robert Voets/CBS
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When EW caught up with the 25th winners of The Amazing Race, they were hoarse from celebrating all weekend with their “race family,” but still flying high from the $1 million win. Amy and Maya—Candy Scientists, by trade—beat out three much more physically imposing teams, two-thirds of whom were professional athletes (one-third of whom were potentially teeth-cleaning super humans), to become only the third all-female first-place finishers in TAR history.

Amy and Maya ran an impressively academic Race, but more importantly to them, they played the game well while “staying true to themselves.” That often becomes a meaningless phrase, but The Amazing Race is a game where it’s easy to turn up sides of yourself you’d prefer stay buried under hypothetical behavioral questions of “How would I act in a zombie apocalypse?” and “What if I lived in Game of Thrones’ world?”

Say, if you had been traveling through 20 cities all over the globe with little sleep and more sweat than you knew your body could contain, all while harboring two stress fractures in your pelvis, and then you were asked to deliver a couple of 20-pound bunches of coconuts within a maze of Moroccan vendors while the other people doing the same thing could literally bench press you…y’know, then it might become a challenge to stay true to the version of yourself that doesn’t yell at your partner and start throwing coconuts at innocent Moroccan bystanders. And for Amy and Maya, it was tough, but overcoming that challenge, and running the race with smiles on their faces and a little hobble in their gait is exactly what won them the race. EW caught up with the Candy Girls to discuss their underdog status and how they hope they inspired viewers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your approach to The Amazing Race—the approach that helped you win—was very academic, very studied. Have you always been fans of the show?

Maya: I’ve been a fan of the show for years; I’ve always wanted to go on it. There’s a clip that just came out in this past episode where I’m saying I wanted to go on it with my future husband. But since that husband is nowhere to be found, I knew that I needed to change that a little bit.

You were always the first to refer to yourselves as “underdogs,” but you must have had some you could win…how did you rank your chances going in?

Amy: Physically, we were underdogs; toward the end, it was us against a lot of professional athletes. But throughout the whole race we believed that if we ran our race and really focused and worked hard that we could do it.

Maya: And from the get go, I had an innate feeling that we were going to win. I never thought that we were going to lose. I just knew it.

Well, you were certainly the most positive team! You played such a strong game as partners—we never even saw a cross word between the two of you! How did you work on your communication with one another?

Amy: I think a lot of it is just that we’re supportive and have a lot of faith in each other as teammates. We watched a lot of episodes going in and we saw people arguing, but there’s no reason to argue. You only have a certain amount of energy in the day, why waste it on arguing? We’re a team, and I think we didn’t want to let each other down. We knew that the other was going to do their best, and that’s really all you can expect out of anybody.

Maya: And we knew that we had somewhat more of an advantage just being friends and lab-mates than the people who are married or dating because there’s an emotional tie that they have that we don’t. We did definitely have in our moments, but we made sure to never let the other teams see that, because that could be seen as a weakness… which it definitely was for Brooke and Rob.

Nowhere was your support for each other and perseverance more evident than in watching Amy run the entire race with an injured leg. It wasn’t even revealed to the audience until a few weeks in!

Amy: I actually didn’t find out until I got home—I got an MRI pretty much immediately when I got back and found out that I had two stress fractures in my lower pelvis. So, yeah, it was a pretty bad injury [laughs] but at the same time, you just have to focus and work hard.

With as much as you had to push to keep up physically, what do you recall as the toughest leg for the Scientists team?

Amy: I think it was probably the second Morocco leg. Both Morocco legs were tough for us; it was very hot and we got very lost. We still had fun though, so there’s no single leg I can look back on and say we didn’t enjoy it.

Maya: I actually think the toughest leg for us a team was London/Oxford.

Amy: Oh, yeah…

Maya: We argued the whole time we were punting, for, like, three hours. They don’t show us arguing, but we were arguing the whole time, so I think as a team, that was definitely the hardest leg. But I’m glad it happened early because we were able to bounce back from it and talk about it and run the race even better than we previously had.

I know you were really excited to be the third ever all-female team to win the Race and made some great comments after your win about inspiring people to do more than just what they think they can do. What did it mean to you to be an all-female team winning The Amazing Race?

Maya: For us, being and all female team—especially a young, academically driven all female team, and me being a person of color, as well—it’s hopefully inspiring to people along the way, especially young girls that you can sort of think outside of the box and be more than you think you can be. Because Amy and I are just like everyone else. There’s nothing—okay, I guess we’re pretty special people [laughs], but everyone is special in their own way. It’s just knowing how to use what you’ve been given to your advantage and I think we did that and hope we inspired other people to do that as well.

Amy: For me, the race was never something that I had considered doing. It was never something that I thought that I could do, and here we are—we just won The Amazing Race! You really can do what you put your mind on to do.

Maya: Beyond what you can put your mind on, you can do.

Amy: Anything is possible.

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Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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