51 - Conquering The Amazing Race with Chi O Grace

Cindy Chiang Halvorsen, Pi Alpha/ Cincinnati, might be a familiar face to some. She and her now-husband, Ernie, conquered season 19 of The Amazing Race hand in hand in 2011. Today she shares insight into what it was like to race around the world for a million dollars and how her experiences in Chi Omega helped shape her into the competitor she is today through leadership and perseverance.

Over 12 million people tuned in every Sunday to watch us race around the world for a chance to win a million dollars. We were one of eleven teams on Season 19 of The Amazing Race, where teams of two completed challenges through nine countries in hopes to be the first team to cross the finish line. The race takes place over twelve ‘legs’ or episodes and is filmed in just three weeks.

Ernie and Cindy, photo courtesy of CBS

My partner, and now husband Ernie, and I were dubbed the “most prepared” duo. We were on the show playing to win, and had spent months training mentally and physically prior to filming. I believe that much of my training happened while I was an active Chi Omega in the Pi Alpha Chapter at the University of Cincinnati. It was here that my character was reshaped into who I am today.

Chi Omega laid foundational leadership pillars that I carried with me through my time on The Amazing Race and also has translated into my professional career. Since graduating, I’ve held various roles in brand management at P&G, Wrigley and Kraft Foods. I currently work at Google, helping our largest advertisers grow their brands through data-driven marketing.

Two of these pillars, leadership and perseverance, were among the most important for my time on The Amazing Race.

Leadership

I was a very active student Bearcat on campus, serving in an executive leadership role in more than 15 campus activities and several positions in Pi Alpha. These collegiate leadership positions gave me the opportunity to develop my values-based leadership philosophy that I still very much use today. My approach is directly rooted in the principles of our 6 Purposes and our beautiful Symphony.

Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan, center, greets Cindy and Ernie as winners of season 19 of The Amazing Race, photo courtesy of CBS

In preparing for The Amazing Race, Ernie and I did a deep assessment of our strengths and weaknesses both individually and as a team. Being prepared for any situation was important for us so we could trust our quick decisions in the moment as every second counts. We already knew Ernie was more athletic and physically fit, and I would tackle logic and memory challenges. What we learned was our communication needed to improve pretty drastically! Effective communication is a core component of leadership as you establish a vision for the team and inspire action.

I believe high-performing teams are built on trust & integrity, developing skills and inspiring the will to do great work. This leadership approach continues to resonate today with the teams I manage everyday in the office. I strive to exhibit a visionary leadership style and enroll others in the pursuit of that vision by defining end results, mapping a plan, identifying stakeholders, risks and dependencies while consistently leading the thinking and being accountable for the outcome.  I motivate, inspire and energize by being a cheerleader and showing them their individual work counts. I value and appreciate each person’s unique strengths and expertise areas to deliver greater results as a whole and empower them to do more.

Perseverance

You can’t always get what you want, I certainly experienced that first-hand, but you can learn from every failure and be stronger for it. We are reminded “to be discouraged, never” from Ethel Switzer Howard. When I was a collegian, I had my eyes set on being G.H. which didn’t pan out for me. I was so disappointed at the time with feelings of self-doubt that I could ever be a leader. It was a tough lesson on perseverance but not being elected to G.H. created an opportunity for me to become our university’s Panhellenic Council President later that month. As PHC President, I fell so in love with recruiting new members to our Greek Community that the following year I was able to serve Pi Alpha as the Recruitment Chair and grew our sisterhood the most it had seen in years.

This perseverance showed up again on The Amazing Race. We had won the first episode of the race but started to make mistakes costing us wins for the majority of the other episodes. Ernie and I would debrief after every leg, thinking about what we did well and what we could have done differently. We pushed harder through devastating moments but eventually persevered in the final leg to win the ultimate $1 million prize.

Over time, I learned to not fear failure. These are the moments of strongest learning and self-understanding which is a hallmark of the growth mindset that I’ve brought into my career.

Inspired by our Chi Omega values, and rooted in the foundations built as an active member of Pi Alpha, I’ve been given the opportunity and tools to achieve success both on The Amazing Race, in my career and now building my family. Ernie and I live in the suburbs of Chicago and are raising our two wonderful boys, Maverick (4 years) and Finn (2 years).

Cindy, her husband Ernie, and their two children

We asked Cindy for some behind the scenes insight on what it’s really like to be a part of The Amazing Race. Heres what she shared with us:

1) While filming, the team of two racers are always paired with a camera person and sound person. The group of four cannot be further than 20 feet away from each other at all times!

2) There’s a short 12-24 hour downtime between filming episodes where pairs can only talk to each other and cannot talk to any other teams.

3) It is actually reality! The course is set but the emotions and reactions are natural, but do remember it’s edited to create a dramatic story.

4) We slept wherever we could – in airports, on planes and trains, on a beach in Thailand, and in a random restaurant in the countryside of Indonesia!

5) We travel with NO electronics, at all. It’s a fully disconnected experience and you have to navigate the world being resourceful and borrowing bystander devices.