After we stepped off the mat and checked in with Ashley, she asked us to stay behind for an interview with Phil.
"We want to do a longer clip, not only about the leg but your thoughts in general," she said.
We were tired, after waking up at an inhuman time and racing all day, but Phil was always nice, he didn't come across as full of himself just because he was a tv personality. He endeared himself to us, and me in particular, when he came up to ask how we were after we came last in Bellinzona. "Not to mention he's hot," Willow would say to tease me. After 10 days of being in each other's company 24/7, we'd already gotten comfortable with teasing. I would have been extremely anxious and insecure, before, if she came out with something like that. All the thoughts about whether she was really interested in me, or if she was going to head back to boystown one day.
"You want just me and Xander, or all four of us," Anya's question shook me out of my private thoughts. I reached out to link my arm through Willow's.
"Why don't we have you all," Ashley replied. "I'll let you freshen up first, we'll start in 20 minutes, is that enough time?"
We nodded, used to working quickly now.
Twenty minutes later we settled into comfortable chairs, sipping tea in the garden of a beautiful hotel in a beautiful Swiss village, with the most famous mountain in Switzerland as our backdrop. It felt like a vacation.
"So how are you finding the race, Willow?" Phil asked.
"We're happy not to be last anymore, we were lucky with the non-Elim but haven't made any mistakes this leg," she answered, quite diplomatically I thought.
"How did you manage to get yourselves out the situation you found yourselves in at the end of last leg? You started this leg with even more money than the others," he said, smiling.
"We went into town and had quite a successful begging spree," she winced at the memory. It hurt her pride a lot, having to ask strangers for money. "But then people started paying for Tara's portrait drawings and we had a pretty good run."
Phil turned to me. "That was inspired, where did you get the idea of doing portraits?"
"Well Phil, drawing and painting are very natural to me, and there were a group of children there that morning doing the same. They let me join in and borrow their stuff, it was great of them," I answered.
"I like the sketches, you have a lot of talent," he praised. I blushed.
"May be you can draw for us too. I'll pay good money for it," Anya interrupted. At our looks, "Seriously!"
"What would you have done?" Phil asked Anya and Xander.
"Probably just the begging," Xander shrugged. "It's not like I can build a wooden cabinet or Anya can do someone's taxes in such a short time."
"You know, like in Charlie Brown, you can knock together a little booth and Anya can sit behind it and there'll be a sign that says 'The Tax Accountant is in'," Willow joked. We all laughed.
"You guys seem to have developed a friendship, how does that help you in the Race?" Phil asked.
"We've formed an alliance with Willow and Tara, we get along well and we want to work together to get ahead of the other teams. Our aim is to go into the final three together and I think we have a good chance of that, right?" Anya said, turning to us.
"Definitely, we don't want to be clique-y to the extent of alienating the other teams, but we have a comfortable partnership that seems to be working to our benefit," Willow explained.
"Tell me about your motivation for coming on the Amazing Race," Phil posed.
Xander and Anya went first. "For the past few years, since I came out of construction, we've been working our butts off building the business, we haven't had a lot of time to spend together. And it got to a stage where we felt like we're more business partners than, well, bed partners," Xander started.
"When we eventually have children, we'll have even less time, so this is a great opportunity to re-affirm our relationship," Anya added. "That, and to win the million dollars, of course."
"What will you do with the million, if you win?" Phil asked.
"You know, after taxes, you're not left with a lot, at least not enough to retire. We'll probably pay off our debts, inject some into the business and save the rest for the kids' college fund."
"What about you ladies?" Phil asked us.
"Don't really know, upgrade my computers, buy some start-of-the-art equipment, invest in some software startups," Willow said.
"Fly first class," I said simply. Willow smiled and took my hand, she knew what I was talking about.
Phil noticed the gesture too. "How has the Race affected your relationship?"
We paused and looked at each other before replying. "We feel very close, this is the longest we've spent together and although it hasn't exactly been relaxing, I'm amazed at how easily we slot in together-" Willow trailed off and smirked at me. After last night I knew exactly what she meant by 'slot in together', I smirked back.
"Yes we're thinking and acting as one unit. Of course we've worked on projects together before, but this time it feels like a real partnership, that we are connected, as a couple," I smiled. "And the people in the Race have been very accepting, which is a bonus."
"Pfff, what do you take us for? Christian Identity followers who can't tolerate the idea of accepting people who are different from them? They have more than a screw wrong in their heads," Anya said rather vehemently. "Love is love, why are people so hung up about who other people love?"
"May be they're not secure enough in their own lives and relationships," I said.
"May be they're not getting any so they get jealous," Xander snickered.
Phil quickly intervened to get the interview back to PG-13. "How do you feel about your relationship being so out in the open? How total strangers can see all and pass judgment, whether you like it or not?"
"It was only after we got through to the short-list did it fully hit us, if we do well on the Race, we'll be targeted by the media. It was scary at first, cos none of my family know about our relationship. Willow was the one who came through for me," I said.
"I nagged and nagged and nagged," she grinned. Actually it took her a great deal of gentle persuasion, coaxing and one surprise visit at a vulnerable moment to convince me. I'd just heard some bad news and was feeling down, we talked until the small hours one night, only hanging up when we started becoming incoherent. Imagine my surprise when she showed up at my doorstep the following afternoon, she took a 6am flight to get to Birmingham, after being up till 4am. How could I not fall in love with her even more?
If we weren't in the company of eight other people and in front of the cameras, I would have grabbed her and showed the extent of my appreciation there and then. I made do with squeezing her arm.
"You did a good job, no amount of nagging from my wife would have convinced me to come on the race," Phil said.
We looked at him curiously. "Why not?" Xander asked the obvious question.
"It's too hard, physically and mentally. I have so much admiration for all racers, but no, I'd never do it myself," Phil answered.
"Do you have a favorite team, Phil?" Anya asked.
"Oh, I don't want to show favoritism, plus each season is different, the team dynamics change from season to season," Phil answered tactfully. "I just want to wish you guys the best of luck, you've done well so far. Even if you don't win, consider yourselves as having gone on a one in a lifetime adventure."
And with that, the interview wrapped up.
Of course I could tell you how I showed Will my appreciation that night, but a girl needs to have some secrets, so I'll leave it up to your imagination :).