'The Amazing Race 36' Winners Ricky Rotandi and César Aldrete Break Down Their Record-Breaking Run

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Ricky and César Aldrete knew nobody would take them seriously going into The Amazing Race. Coming from New York City with personalities as colorful as their shirts, they were far from your prototypical dominating team. But to say the boyfriends proved everyone wrong would be an understatement. Their combination of navigation skills, adaptability, and experience at seemingly every chance proved to be lethal, as they crushed the competition from start to finish. Things had changed monumentally since the Mexican heat of the starting line to the Philly chill of the finish line. Ricky and César dominated yet again in the final leg, not only winning first place, but cementing their legacy as one of the best teams of all time.

Ricky and César started their race by using their previous experience in Puerto Vallarta to see through the "catch" in the first Detour. That ended up being emblematic of their entire race. Whether it was drag, cooking, baseball, or welding, they seemed to have a history with nearly every task they picked, giving them an anchor to accomplish everything with relative ease. On top of that, in a season where self-driving was more important than ever, they were the only pair to consistently do well, both with navigating the streets and the stress. As a result, they came into the finale with six first-place finishes, never coming in below second. The penultimate leg proved to be their worst, as Ricky finally met his match in windsurfing. But even if he couldn't find his balance in the Roadblock, they showcased their balance as a team in the final leg. Ricky and César took the lead due to (of course) Ricky's time as a mascot and his knowledge of Philadelphia. And so, for the last time, the couple surged ahead of the pack and never looked back, winning their seventh leg and the million-dollar prize.

The day after the finale, Ricky and César talk with Parade.com about how they turned from superfans into racers, their surprise at their dominance, and how their relationship grew as "perfect partners" racing around the world together.

Related: Everything to Know About The Amazing Race 36

I know you had a big viewing party last night to watch the finale. It's one thing to, of course, win the million dollars in the moment. It's probably another to watch it all back surrounded by friends and family, a year and a half later. What was that like?
César Aldrete:
 We were super happy to have a lot of the cast there. We missed Bizzy and Sunny. It was really fun!
Ricky: It was really great to have the cast there. And then we had family and friends there. We kept everyone in the dark. No one knew anything. We didn't realize we were going to be holding it for this long! But it just was so great to experience it and see their reaction.
César: And everything with the editing and what happened on the penultimate leg. And on top of that is, as you mentioned, we've been waiting for a year and a half. We have developed these relationships with all our cast. And then now we get to see them race for the first time. So it was just like getting to know them again, getting to know a little bit of the experience, their strategies, how they race. So that was just really fun as well.
Ricky: So great.

Well let's rewind over a year and a half ago. César, of course, we know that you're a huge fan of The Amazing Race. When did you get into the show, and what made you want to apply? Were you always going to do it with Ricky?
César: So I have been watching for many years, like a lot of seasons, I remember watching Oswald and Danny, and just being like, "Oh my God, great representation." Then I went back to season one. The Amazing Race has always been great at representation of everyone. And seeing gay couples there, it was something that, if I were to talk to my little César self, I would have never believed that this dream was going to happen. So I recorded videos before with one of my best friends. I had told my cousin whenever she turned 18, we would apply together. But there was always in the back of my mind, "Oh, I'm not in my best shape. I'm not super fit."
Ricky: Like waiting for the right moment.
César: Exactly. So now COVID happened and we started watching more. Now I get Ricky super invested.
Ricky: I knew the show. But I got super hooked.
César: And then we're talking about a traveling show and all these restrictions. Thankfully the show keeps happening. But I was like, "What if something happens?" Like we try to lead with no regrets. So I was like, "Ricky, we need to apply. It doesn't matter if we might not be in our best shape. We're going to start training at the moment." So we submitted our video, and the following day, we started training. And it just happened to happen that we got our call the following day. And it was just like that. It was so fast. We were just physically training, mentally training.
Ricky: It was non-stop. We'd come home and we'd have puzzles set up for each other. We were running with backpacks. We look like lunatics running outside.
César: I was doing lots of steps. But we needed to put the work in because we knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Ricky: And we didn't want to miss the chance of self-doubting ourselves.
César: Let me backtrack over there. It might not be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We're hoping for all-stars, all-winners, something!

Yeah! I know Greg and John said the exact same thing when I talked with them after their finale. I think you two racing in an all-winners season would be really interesting, considering how it wouldn't be a "COVID era" season. Could you make it a two-peat?
Ricky: Maybe, who knows. It'd be a very interesting thing. So when we were training and getting ready, we were not expecting going onto the chartered type of format. We were ready for the regular format of going through the airport and sleeping on the ground and all of that. So we were prepared. So when we got there, we were like, "Oh, okay, this is going to be a different beast." So I'd be excited to see what it would be like.
César: With no U-Turns, our strategy was definitely more "let's just go." And we saw it maybe on the second episode with Derek and Shelisa, we were like, "Oh, we were so close to first! Maybe next time." But we develop these relationships. And then you see us working with Yvonne and Melissa and talking a little bit more with Danny and Angie and little things like that...
Ricky: Maybe a season [with U-Turns], it would play out a little differently.

So let's talk about how you got into the winner's circle, let alone on a future all-winners season. I think from a lot of our perspectives, the final leg was never in doubt for you, especially considering Ricky's experience in Philadelphia and being a mascot. But, no matter how well you were doing, you both seemed to always be level-headed about your chances of winning. Plus, you had just had your worst performance to date. So what was it like balancing the excitement of possibly winning with your usual caution?
Ricky: So they showed a really cool clip of us walking to the plane. And Phil's like, "We're going to the City of Brotherly Love!" We didn't know until that moment. So when he announced [that], that reaction was so genuine for me. I grew up in Philadelphia, I lived there before moving to New York City. When I said I lived 10 blocks from the art museum, I lived 10 blocks from the art museum. I know that area. So when we found that out, I was like, "Okay, this is great." However, people who've run in their home city are notorious for not doing well.
César: The only place that we didn't ask for directions was for the stadium. Everything else we stopped.
Ricky: We made it a point. I said, "Even if I know where it is, we're stopping to verify for directions." So that was the only place we didn't was for the stadium. Because I knew exactly where the entrance for the highway was. 
César: I knew from chatting with Rod and Letitia, they were like, "We are not gonna like lose you out of sight." So they followed us all the way. I mean, it worked for them, which was smart. And just going back to our mentality, it sounds ridiculous. At the beginning, we started with the mentality, "We just want to have the experience. We want to have fun." We were in orientation, we were seeing everyone and we're trying to measure up whether everyone is extremely smart, extremely fit, or both together. So we went in with the mentality, trying not to be last. And I think more than like, "Oh, we're winning all these legs," we were just like, "We're not being last! We're getting more of this, and we're just having fun."
Ricky: I think stepping into that final leg, we had a little bit of confidence at that point. We knew had been doing so well. This was it. This was the moment. As long as we didn't have a trip up, I felt confident.
César: And we had proved to ourselves that, if we haven't done it before, we're going to learn it.
Ricky: We're going to figure it out. If I can windsurf for 35 minutes and figure it out, then we could figure anything out in Philadelphia. 

You talk about this mentality of, "If we haven't done it before, we'll learn it." Admittedly, that didn't come up a lot. Because it really did seem like nearly every task spoke to something the two of you had done previously. How surprised were you by that?
 I think it was a little surprising. As we went through, we're like, "Oh, we did kind of like have experience in this a little bit." I do think that there is a sense of confidence and flexibility for some things. I'd say there was probably 70% of things that we had background in, which really helped.
César: But for the other part, I think our jobs came in handy. Ricky's a preschool teacher. He had worked with babies from three months to five years old. He's on a constant high stress level. It's different, but he has to be caring for so many kids. Kids are trouble sometimes! And for me, I work in a catering company. I work in different places that aren't sometimes not even kitchens. Sometimes it's an office that we have to set up as a kitchen. So it's go with the flow.
Ricky: You have to learn to be flexible. And I think that's where the things that we didn't have experience in kind of helped. But we did have a lot of like, "Oh yeah, we've done this before," like the welding or the dancing and the singing and the makeup. There were a lot of things where it was like, "Oh, this really aligned with our strengths." And it helped.
César: And an extra bit that I think is key for us is patience. Working with kids, Ricky is extremely patient.
Ricky: With kids! [Laughs.] Not so much adults all the time. But with kids, I am.

You two are the second team in Amazing Race U.S. to never finish below third place, after Kristi and Jen in Season 30. And, more impressively, you officially have the highest average placement for any team in the show's history. What's your reaction to that?
 It's unbelievable. And even this morning, we're going through pictures that we have with Phil, selfies we were posting on our Instagram. And even seeing it, it still doesn't feel real.
Ricky: It feels very dreamlike. And we didn't go in thinking that we were going to dominate like this. And then just to go and just perform well and have a good time and just be good competitors, it wasn't on our radar. So it was shocking to us. And it feels really good. All of our hard work and the stress that we went through, it paid off. 
César: I mean, for me, as a superfan, I'm like, "Wow, really?! We did it?!"
Ricky: I would never, will never, and could never run the race without him. There's no way. Because he knows the race and he knows me.
César: With Ricky, everything he has, I might not. He just was so well-balanced. He's so confident driving. Maybe one of our biggest mistakes in picking a Roadblock was "Who has a better sense of direction?" I'm the navigator, and he ended up doing it because I was panicking about driving because he's better. 
Ricky: I thought I was driving that racecar.
César: But just in average, seeing through the race and being like, "Oh, we're close to Eric and Jeremy. We're almost there!" It's just unbelievable. As a superfan, I think we ticked so many boxes that we would not believe. We're still in disbelief up to this morning. We're just processing everything. We're trying to watch the episode again and really get to enjoy it, soak it all in.
Ricky: It's been incredible. I'm gonna say, he is mostly the reason why we did so well. I'm telling you, the navigator--
César: You're not giving yourself enough credit! We were a great team. And just seeing all there, we're like, "What's happening? Really, that's us?" And I thought that was awesome.

On that note, what's the biggest thing you learned about the other person racing around the world together?
Ricky: Oh, God, you're gonna make me cry. [Laughs.]I said it in one of the episodes, I always trusted him. But I knew that without a doubt now, I can trust him with anything. In a stressful situation, or a joyous situation, he's always going to be there for me no matter what. And the race really just solidified. I was worried that, with so much stress, that the cracks were going to happen and that the stress of everything was gonna pull the negative. We had never been in these situations before, and I was nervous. And it didn't happen. And what an awesome thing that happened. It just solidified a lot of things. And just knowing that the trust was there, and it was unwavering, it was amazing.
César: I mean, in preseason interviews, they were like, "What are the three things that you bring to the race to win?" I'm like, "I have the perfect partner." And Ricky kept saying, "Yeah, but I'm not perfect." I'm like, "I'm not saying that you're a perfect person, You're the perfect partner." So I think I got that out of this season, out of seeing us there, out of seeing us working together. I do think, and now I can say truly, I have the perfect partner, just a partner in life. So that is the outcome that I'm taking out of this whole thing.

Next, read our interview with Yvonne Chavez and Melissa Main, who were eliminated in The Amazing Race 35 Episode 9.