Best friends Zev Glassenberg, 26, and Justin Kanew, 20, made a dramatic comeback from last place to first on the fifth leg of The Amazing Race only to realize at the pit stop that they’d misplaced a passport–an automatic disqualification on the world traveling game show. ‘Team Special’ talked with PEOPLE about DQ depression, raising awareness about Asperger syndrome and a possible future calling in either public speaking or duck whispering for the currently unemployed Zev. –Carrie Bell
Walk readers through what happened after elimination. Did you ever find the passport? Justin: We went across the street to the embassy and someone had turned it in. When they told us where it was found, we realized what happened. I had the passport in my fanny pack when we went to the monkey dance place. They didn’t show it but at first we had gone incorrectly inside the monastery. It was really dark so I pulled out my headlight from the pack and the passport must have come out with it.
Zev: We were stuck in Cambodia for about four days because this happened on Friday and the embassy was closed on weekends. We were depressed the whole time.
Were you disappointed by your performance? Z: Yes. We didn’t even make it out of Asia. If we didn’t do something stupid like lose our passports, we would have won the whole thing.
J: We went in knowing we’d have a great time and were pretty confident. But we weren’t sure how we’d stack up against the rest of the teams. As the Race went on, we thought we could beat anyone there. It has so much to do with luck and getting the right bouncing ball or taxi driver, so despite our weaknesses, we had as good of a chance as anyone at winning.
Even in the most stressful moments like when Zev had a hard time with the monkey moves, you remained patient with each other. Your secret?J: We went to Zev’s therapist to talk about how we would get past our problems if they came up and that paid off. We went into the Race knowing that we wanted to deal with each other in a rational way, be calm and enjoy it.
Z: Tightly wound fellow Racer Lance should have seen my shrink beforehand.
You told other teams early on that Zev has Asperger syndrome. Was this strategy and how did they respond? Z: At first, they thought we were computer geeks. I said, “No, I’m this season’s special kid.”
J: We decided to tell because it was a way to get them to not see us as a threat. You need help from other teams along the way so we explained it. Zev has such a great sense of humor about the whole thing that it really endeared us to everyone except the poker chicks.
Viewers had grown quite fond of Team Special. Z: I talked to Meghan and she said they had a party Sunday with 35 and everyone was bawling their eyes out when we got eliminated.
J: We’ve gotten a lot of emails and have seen the positive comments on PEOPLE.com. People with Asperger’s and their parents have reached out and been extremely supportive. It’s corny to say, but we really do feel like even though we didn’t win, we proved that with Asperger’s can do anything they set their mind to. That has made this something we never thought it could be.
Z: It has been Phnom Penh-omenall!
Did the experience change how you live with the condition daily? J: He’s a different person in his day-to-day interactions. The everyday moments that used to make him uncomfortable are really nothing now because we went through this.
Z: True. When we went to a baseball game the other day, our friend was bringing another friend and I freaked out and didn’t want to go. But I ended up going and had a great time.
J: He had the moment that he always has about a new person but the minute she got in the car, she was his best friend. That used to be a longer moment. The awkwardness would last multiple interactions. He gets comfortable quicker now.
Did it change your relationship? Z: This is the first time we’ve talked since the Race ended. Kidding. It hasn’t changed us. It gave us more memories to reflect back on when we’re old.
J: You can’t help but be tighter after.
What was the best moment? Z: Taking the Japanese around Japan was fun.
J: Seeing him parade the ducks around Vietnam. I had seen so many struggle that I thought we were in real trouble. Then it was like he waved his magic wand and they lined up and marched into the cage. If we could find him a job herding ducks somewhere in this country, he would thrive.
The worst moment? J: We’re gonna go with losing our passport for 500. The L.A. teams did not represent this season!
Who are you rooting for? Z: If we had to be lead into a jungle, Brian would be our leader.
J: It’s tough to choose between Brian and Ericka, the Globetrotters and Meghan and Cheyne. Lance is getting a bad rap but we really liked Lance. Everyone has friends who bicker. That’s just their dynamic.
Z: They didn’t fight with anyone else. Lance was the man!
People also love to hate the poker players. Z: People don’t like them? Shocking. Heavy sarcasm noted.
J: We didn’t bond with them. They weren’t our best friends.