To understand the difference between Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, a couple of 14 years and the stars of the reality TV show The Fabulous Beekman Boys who just won this season's The Amazing Race, you need only raise the subject of drag queens. What if, for example, these gay goat farmers turned jet-setting champions had instead competed on The Amazing Drag Race?
"That would be so funny," says Brent, a former Martha Stewart Omnimedia exec. But then again: "I have an insane fear of clowns, or really anything that involves masks. Drag queens kind of fall into that category -- particularly really good ones." Perhaps that explains why Brent has never seen Josh, a writer and advertising creative director, in the guise of his former professional drag persona, Aqua. Could that glamor girl have run a worldwide race in heels? "It would take a lot longer," Josh says. "But it'd be very interesting to see drag queens take their makeup off with puddles and fashion outfits out of safari grass. The race would probably last one or two legs and then just completely unravel."
Unravel is exactly what Brent and Josh didn't do. Though self-admittedly opposites, the couple proved the strength of their unity in a slew of endurance-testing, mind-fraying tasks during a month-long sprint across the world. Interviewed separately this week, Brent and Josh together offer 12 lessons that only being gay and winning The Amazing Race can teach you:
1) When you come home, all anyone will talk about is how skinny you are.
Brent: Of course, you're not allowed to tell anybody that you're doing the race, so we said we were going on an international tour for our cookbook that came out last year. Even when we did come back, we couldn't tell. By then, we'd both lost 15 pounds. Everybody was like, "Wow, that must be the hardest book tour ever." We came back to 3,000 emails, a yard and garden overgrown -- we just had to get right back into it.
Josh: When we found out we were going on the race, I went to my boss, and I said, "You have to give me a month off, and you can't ask me why." So it was strange, after three and a half weeks of a grueling experience, and losing 15 pounds and being exhausted, to come home and a day and a half later to be back in New York City going to work at 9 a.m. like nothing had happened.
2) Yes, there's still someplace left to see in the world.
Brent: It's always been my dream to go to Antarctica. I was hoping we'd go there on the race, but no luck. I think there's something fascinating and primal about it. It's pure, and I like that idea.
Josh: Anywhere in South America. We traveled to Africa. We've done Europe. China. Japan. But nowhere in South America.
3) If you want to win a reality show, first get your own.
Brent: If we hadn't had the experience of almost losing it all and reinventing ourselves on The Fabulous Beekman Boys, we wouldn't have ever had the strength of spirit or the fortitude to run the race. I think the experience of the past five years has really made us more flexible and adaptable to things that are happening in our lives -- it gave us not only a can-do attitude,but also a go-with-the-flow attitude.
4) If watching yourself on TV gets boring, you're doing it wrong.
Brent: By the time the race aired in September, so many things about watching it seemed fresh. It was like an out-of-body experience to be watching yourself, because a lot of the things that happened had already started to recede into your memory.
Josh: Watching myself on the race was particularly brutal. I looked like a 70-year-old man with Alzheimer's wandering around the world.
5) Train for running an Amazing Race marathon by watching an Amazing Race marathon.
Brent: We spent the bulk of our training working on our communication skills. As a middle-aged couple, we knew we weren't going to be the fastest or the strongest. So we watched as many past seasons as we could. What you see are teams defeating themselves rather than other teams defeating them, and that really boils down to communication. So we spent time deciding, "OK, in this kind of situation, how do you want me to respond to you? What trigger words will motivate you, and what words should I avoid that will just irritate you?" If I'm in the middle of a difficult task, I don't like to be cheered for; however, Josh likes that form of motivation and moral support.
6) Obviously, Martha Stewart would win The Amazing Race celebrity edition.
Brent: Martha is a very smart woman, and she's very strategic. She could do well. Josh and I were doing The Talk the other day, and Andy Cohen was also on the show -- he's a huge fan of The Amazing Race -- so we were talking about the fact that he should do it. He said that he and Sarah Jessica Parker always pretend like they're going to run, like, "You would have to do that task," and, "You would have to do that task."
Josh: If Brent were teamed with Martha, they'd never get off the starting line. On The Amazing Race, you have to complete every task to the judge's satisfaction. The judges would be telling Martha it's perfect, and she'd still be finishing it.
7) Underdog? Been there, done that.
Brent: For the majority of the race, we never felt like we were the underdog. We went in saying we were going to give each leg of the race our all, knowing that our strategy was not going to be trying to win each leg but just trying not to lose. The term "underdog" was not relevant to us until we heard about the alliance the other teams had made. Josh has said in several interviews that it made him feel like going back to high school. I think any LGBT person will remember those times and how if felt to be an outcast. That's how that felt in that moment. It really did motivate us. If they don't think we have what it takes to be here, then we'll show them. And we did.
Josh: I think LGBT people are born underdogs. We've learned how to creatively go from the bottom of the heap to life on the top. Maybe the skills we picked up being picked on in high school helped us to win the race.
8) You develop a love/hate relationship with your inbox.
Brent: There have been a lot of negative comments, and a lot of people were upset about the gay victory kiss. But the vast majority of people have been very positive. It's made us realize that reality TV doesn't always have to be about the worst parts of society and human nature. It can be uplifting. That's one of the reasons we agreed to run The Amazing Race -- it has the ability to inspire people.
Josh: [12-year-old gay fan] Colin's mother wrote a letter saying how there are all these messages out there about it being OK to be gay but it's still hard to get kids to understand that it gets better. So seeing a gay couple win The Amazing Race shows that it doesn't just get better; it might get amazing.
9) You'd be surprised by the fan club that comes with gay reality stardom.
Brent: The Fabulous Beekman Boys was the first show that focused on a long-term gay relationship. We were more surprised by the response from the straight community, by far. We get countless emails saying how we've changed their perspective on the gay marriage debate. Josh and I both feel that at the root of homophobia is the fact that so many people have never seen an honest portrayal of a long-term gay relationship on television. The prejudice was inherent, and they never had anything to dispel that prejudice.
Josh: I think The Fabulous Beekman Boys had an impact on Middle America more so than in the LGBT community. We never once acted like or talked about being a gay couple. We were just a couple with a dream and a farm -- just trying to make it, like all sorts of couples.
10) For a foodie, being on The Amazing Race is like your mouth winning the lottery.
Brent: We've always been very adventurous eaters. Wherever we are, we try to keep our senses open to new experiences. Running through the markets in Indonesia and Bangladesh was incredible -- the spices, the colors, the sounds. I have no doubt those experiences are going to filter into some of the things we're designing with our company, Beekman 1802, and some of the recipes we're creating.
11) Whatever you do, keep your trap shut.
Brent: It's a pressure cooker. There's no couple that runs the race who doesn't at some point snap at one another, or snap at another couple. I think that's what we were trying to be most conscious of: that no matter whether we won the race or not, people would say we came out of it with good will and integrity.
Josh: During the first two seasons of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, everyone commented on how much we bickered. We bickered because we were going through tough times in life, but I think that show held up a mirror. When we were going on The Amazing Race, we said we're not going to win the million dollars if we bicker about every little thing. So what we learned from The Fabulous Beekman Boys was how to monitor and manage our communication better.
12) If you can choose anyone in the world to be your race partner, you'd be smart to pick...
Brent: I honestly don't think there's another person besides Josh I could have run the race with and done so well. There's an incredible benefit to having been with someone for 14 years and having gone through ups and downs. I think that's why we won.
Josh: Screw it. Rob Lowe.