After finishing last in a non-elimination round and being penalized with a speed bump, construction manager and mortgage broker Gary Tomljenovich, 47, and his college student son Matt, 22, couldn’t catch up to the other teams in Estonia and were Philiminated on this week’s episode of The Amazing Race. The Montana-based father-son duo recently discussed with PEOPLE their adventures in cross-dressing, finding candelabras, male bonding and more. –Carrie Bell
You had a great run for two who had spent so little time together in recent years. What was your strategy?Gary: We went in trying to put our many differences aside. We realized we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we wanted to take advantage of it to the best of our ability. In order to do that, we had to get along. We set the goal early on to have fun and that eased a little bit of the stress.
Before the Race began, you were worried about embarrassing your mom and wife. How has she reacted to your television debuts?Matt: She has been embarrassed about a few things — mainly dad wearing a dress. Gary: She was proud of how he handled the ducks. But I sang in public and wore a dress on national TV. Matt wasn’t about to wear the girl costume. Matt: It was strategy on my part. I figured the man outfit would be bigger and I’d be able to compete better if my clothes fit better. Gary: Nice try. I’m not buying it.
Matt will forever be the guy who didn’t know what a candelabra was. Matt?Matt: I’d never heard that word in my life. We weren’t told to look for something with a number on it. It just said find the candelabra that will lead you to the next room. When you don’t know what it is, it’s difficult. And by the time we arrived, there was only one left sitting on the table. There wasn’t a line of them so it isn’t obvious that’s what you’re supposed to grab. Gary: When you’re running behind, you don’t see other teams carrying them around. There are advantages to running the Race with other teams. You feed off of them. To his credit, he figured it out deductively and actually made up some time we lost doing the speed bump.
Did you have a favorite moment or place along the course?Matt: Every new country was spectacular. I had done almost no international travel before this so to see the locations and the was unreal for me. Gary: The sight we saw in Ho Chi Minh City with all the rain and the scooters and the will stick in my mind forever. Matt: And the crazy thing about it is that they’re happy and having a good time. Why aren’t more happy in America if they are smiling constantly despite living with so little?
Your goal was to become closer through racing. What was the most important thing you learned about each other?Gary: Whenever Matt did a roadblock, he knocked them right out — water in the desert, ducks, bell counting, destroying the VCRs. To see him step up like that was huge. It makes a father proud. Matt: My dad doesn’t give up, but I learned that he was human. Growing up, he was the father figure who seemed perfect and I idolized him. But I realized he makes mistakes and it brought us closer. He wouldn’t have been able to do this alone and that made us seem like equals.
Did the closeness stick?Gary: We have talked more in the last two months than we have in the last two years. It’s carried through. Harlem Globetrotter Big Easy lost his dad a few days before we started and he was my age and he had to watch Matt and I competing together, which was hard, and we sat down and had a couple of really good talks about it and it made me appreciate sharing the experience with Matt all the more. Monty Brinton/CBS