"We're hopeful for what we can do now that we've won," Ernie Halvorsen tells PEOPLE

By Dahvi Shira
Updated December 12, 2011 06:00 PM
Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS/Getty

Engaged duo Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang covered four continents, 20 cities and nearly 40,000 miles in their quest to win the latest season of The Amazing Race.

Putting their wedding plans aside to complete the competition, project manager Halvorsen, 29 and his brand manager fiancée Cindy Chiang, 30, walked away with $1 million, a group of new friends and an even stronger bond.

PEOPLE caught up with the happy couple, who dished about their win and what’s next for them.

How are you feeling right now? What’s going through your mind?
Ernie: We just feel elated and relieved. We’re just looking forward. We’re very optimistic and hopeful for what we can do now that we’ve won. … If we could do the whole thing over again without being paid, of course we’d do it.

Cindy: We’re excited to have shared this moment with our family and our friends. The experience was invaluable. Just getting to see all these places – literally, there are so few people in the world who got to experience what we got to experience.

What were your lowest moments during the competition?
Ernie: One of the lowest points was definitely in Malawi when Andy and Tommy had beat us to the finish line. We were just so devastated. We thought we’d done everything in our power to beat everyone at the race. And it just never panned out for us. We didn’t use our express pass. We didn’t use U-turns.

Cindy: The wind was just out of our sails that day. I had, unfortunately, gotten hurt during the roadblock cask, and it was really difficult to run. I was trying to do my best and keep spirits high, but it was a tough day for us.

By the end of the competition, which couple were you closest to?
Cindy: We’re definitely closest to Justin and Jennifer. We actually just asked Justin to be part of our wedding. We keep in touch with every single person from the cast. We were watching with them last night. There’s a game to be played, but then there’s time for fun and enjoyment.

What was your favorite place visited?

Cindy: I loved Taiwan because my parents grew up there. My brother was living there when we actually toured through the town. But I’d never seen it. It was just nice to experience where my parents grew up and where their families were for many years.

Ernie: Every country had good people and nice people who helped us along the way, but for me, I think the people in Copenhagen stood out more than the others. They were very fluent in English, which we were very thankful for.

What was your strangest or most difficult task?
Ernie: Cindy was probably very upset to do the bodybuilding challenge.

Cindy: I didn’t want to expose myself like that. All the women were in the dressing room like, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe we’re about to do this.”

Ernie: On the flipside, I was more than excited to do this. I actually got into my outfit, and couldn’t figure out what door I had to go into. I was running around for 15 minutes in my skivvies trying to figure out where I was supposed to put this tanning lotion.

And what are you planning to do with the $1 million prize? Will it go toward the wedding?
Cindy: Ernie and I are actually planning to use the winnings to start a business. We really want to be able to help provide education for children in developing markets. We were running around on the race, and we saw all these kids on the street who weren’t in school. We came back and we researched and learned that education is not free everywhere. Even public education costs some kind of fee per year. Education is kind of the thing that alleviates poverty.