John Paul Filo/CBS/Landov
November 19, 2010 02:00 PM

Miss Kentucky 2009 and her father, an entrepreneur who moonlights as a wrestling coach, are on a race around the world. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but Gary, 53, and Mallory Ervin, 24, proved to be no laughing matter for the competition on The Amazing Race. They called from their Kentucky homes to tell PEOPLE about oversleeping, engagements, bad maps and stupid mountains.

It didn’t seem like you were that far behind. Did you have hope?
Mallory: It doesn’t show how far we drive on these legs . . . We were in the car for nine hours after a long flight. We drove all the way to the top of the mountain and all the way back down. We felt hopeless and then we saw Nat and Kat and they had the same map. At the end, we saw them and our hope was renewed.
Gary: We saw them going up the mountain when we’d finally found the right way, at the water station and then at the market. Each time we gained on them.

What’s to blame in your elimination?
Mallory: It just wasn’t meant to be. We can’t blame it on anything.
Gary: As the race goes on and the fewer the teams, the less you can afford to make mistakes – big or small. We suffered flat tires, brokedown cabs and dehydration with 11 teams and we survived. But when there are six teams, mistakes really cost you.
Mallory: There is a huge amount of luck involved.

Like with Chad and Stephanie?
Mallory: If they had slept in by two hours on any other leg, they would have been in trouble.

Did that sting to lose out to a team that overslept?
Mallory: No, I’d blame it on the map before I blame them. Actually, if there was anyone we wanted to see win that leg, it would have been them. That was a special day for them.

How was it witnessing that engagement?
Mallory: So cool. I felt like I was part of their lives. It made us all step away from all the stress and realize that while we’re competing against these people, they have become our friends.

Several teams have had big blowups but you guys were so respectful and level-headed. Do you attribute this to being father and daughter?
Mallory: Yes ma’am. We’ve always been close. We will always love each other and this wasn’t going to make or break our relationship.
Gary: Communication is also easier with Mallory. I knew what to expect from her. And we both have different skills that compliment each other.

What was your most challenging moment?
Gary: In Ghana. The bicycle challenge. It was very, very hot and we’d just pushed that wheelbarrow and incredible distance. It was in the sun with no shade. Mal was dehydrated and going into heat stroke. It took everything for us to get that challenge completed.
Mallory: The most challenging moments for me were when we were lost and hadn’t seen another team or being in an airport trying to find earlier flights or making the decision to do one challenge over the other and worrying that you’d made the wrong choice.

And the best?
Gary: Watching Mallory on the dog sleds and then the tech sleds. It was priceless to take this adventure with my daughter.
Mallory: My favorite moment was on the second leg in Ghana when we’d had a tough, tough day and we thought we were done. We were standing on that mat, looking at Phil, thinking we were eliminated, so disappointed. To hear him say we were team nine instead of 10, relief and joy poured over my body.

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