'The Amazing Race 36's Juan Villa and Shane Bilek Talk the Out-of-State Blunder that Lost Them the Race

Juan Villa (L) and Shane Bilek (R)

Pack your bags, because The Amazing Race is back! Every week, Parade's Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the team most recently eliminated from the race.

It's only fitting that military pilots Juan Villa and Shane Bilek encountered plenty of changes in altitude during their time on The Amazing Race. In the first leg alone, the best friends got so lost in the streets of Puerto Vallarta that they fell to the back of the pack, only to surge ahead to fourth place with Shane's impressive Roadblock performance. Throughout the race, despite being one of the most consistent performers, the guys were not without their lows, including a bout of food poisoning that had them finishing in second-to-last place. But what kept them consistently soaring were their physical and stress-managing capabilities.

The latter was put to the test in the final leg, as Juan and Shane were given incorrect directions that sent them from Philadelphia to New Jersey. Despite going out of state, the two maintained a great state of mind throughout the day. While they kept spirits light, they also showed off their skills, jumping up one place to finish in a respectable second.

The day after the finale, Juan and Shane talk with Parade.com about falling out of the running to win, handling their highs and lows in the race, and Juan's unique experience getting to visit his hometown.

Everything to Know About The Amazing Race 36

I want to start with what got you two on The Amazing Race. Were you fans of the show beforehand? And were you always going to race together?
Shane Bilek:  So we knew The Amazing Race. We have seen The Amazing Race, but we are we were far from superfans. And that's kind of a dig at ourselves because of how awesome the show is. But we weren't super knowledgeable with the show. And I think that that reared its ugly head at times through the show. So I ran a social media platform, helping kids become fighter pilots. And it caught a lot of traction. And I was doing a live video one day. And then lo and behold, after the live video, CBS was in our inbox. And so they said, "Hey, we'd love we'd love for your friend Juan to come on The Amazing Race." [Laughs.] They said, "Hey, we'd like to like you to try out for this". And I said, "I'm kind of familiar with it. But what exactly is it?" And they went into detail, and then they said, "We'd like you to grab a buddy." And I was like, "Okay, how about a best buddy?" I gave Juan a call and the rest is history.
Juan Villa: When Shane called me up, he was like, "Hey, man. What if we did The Amazing? And I was like, "[Nonchalantly.] Totally, cool. Yeah, that'd be awesome." He's like, "No, dude. We might have a chance to interview or apply for this." And it's funny because I had him on speaker, with my wife next to me. And I kind of looked at her, and was like, "Hey, would that be cool?" Because, at this point, I have a one-and-a-half-year-old. And she's like, "Dude, you got to do it. If you get that opportunity, you have to leap at the chance." And so obviously, we got started. Like Shane said, we've been best friends since pilot training. I was fortunate enough to be the one at the other end of that phone call when Shane picked up the phone. Because it could have easily been any of our great buddies or his brothers. It was a privilege to be able to have him as a partner. If it wasn't for that opportunity of Shane grinding and doing everything he needed to do, then we would definitely would not have gotten the shot. And it was a wild ride the entire time. Honestly, the experience alone was worth a million dollars.

Well, on that note, let's talk about where your million-dollar dreams come to an end. I would imagine that once you cross state lines and arrive at a very different Pat's, you probably think you're out of the running. But, for what it's worth, you were able to catch up and pass Rod and Leticia. So what was going through your minds during that leg?
 So as we were driving back from New Jersey, we were obviously extremely stressed out. And I think that that was a good drive, because we were able to kind of like clear our heads and clear the air. I was obviously extremely frustrated. Shane really helped to kind of level me back. And so we decided, "Hey, man, whatever it is, we're running our own races. That's exactly what we're doing from day one. We're gonna sprint to the finish no matter what the outcome is." So that's exactly what we committed to. And honestly, I think my favorite part of the episode yesterday was us opening up the [clue] at Geno's and I was like, "Oh my God, we're in last place!" And we started laughing because we were like, "We're probably in last, but we're gonna have a great time anyway."

How close do you think you were to passing Ricky and César and winning the race?
 At this point, we're going against the best to ever do it. And at this point in the race, we knew that that those are who we were up against. So you kind of saw a mentality shift. Not a giving up by any means, but you saw the mentality. Because Juan and I went through a brief moment of, "We just lost the race." And we took our probably two to three minutes to really just kind of soak it in, realize that we just lost a million bucks. And then we're like, "Dude, this is our last go. This is our last one. What are we doing? Let's get our heads out of the gutter and let's have some fun with it." And that's what I think you saw for the rest of the episode. We were having fun. Because, Mike, we knew we lost. How much time did we lose to Ricky and César? I think they hit the mat about 40 minutes before we did. We knew that they weren't going to make mistakes like that.

Speaking of a shift in mentality, we hear you say in the penultimate leg that you have shifted your focus in the race from just having a good time together to winning for your families. I'm curious, did any particular moment or leg spur that shift on?
 Well, I'll say that I think we kind of did a poor job of depicting our true competitive nature. Because we were on the show to win. One night, we binge watched about five seasons before [the race]. I knew that we could win a million bucks. And so we obviously, we're gonna have fun, because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. But we're some of the most competitive people that you'll probably ever meet. And so, yes, once the team started whittling down, Juan, I mean you can take it from there, man. We got families at home.
Juan: Oh, yeah. And I would say that, at the beginning, obviously, it's all about fun. It's all about soaking it in. But I would say that those first then fourth-place finishes and then followed by a fifth-place finish was kind of a dagger to the heart every time. Because if you ain't first, you're last; Shake and Bake. So Shane and I were talking to each other. I think I think what you were seeing was was us shifting our point of views, narrowing down on the scope of what we needed to focus on. Because, like I said, we're not we're not super fans. It's an incredible show. But we obviously didn't have the experience that Danny, Ricky, César, or even Melissa had all being huge superfans. And so what we did was we would learn from the experience and we were seeing the focus kind of narrowed down to the important rocks and us kind of just locking in onto what was working and getting rid of what was working.

Well speaking of what was not working, we do see your toughest leg in Uruguay. Juan, it seemed like you were fighting some sort of bug. Then you get majorly lost, and you lose out on a footrace to Yvonne and Melissa to finish second-to-last. Was that another dagger to the heart?
 I mean, it was definitely not easy. Because I mean, we were pretty intuitive at this point. And we're receiving our worst place finish, period. I know that there was definitely factors out of our control. I was personally out to lunch on that on that episode, because I was just feeling like crap. And Shane, good on him. He was helping me out and pushing me as much as possible. I would say that it definitely hurt. But we knew we weren't gonna go home. Towards the end of it, I think we were pretty we were pretty secure knowing that we weren't going to be the last place finish. And so, like Shane says, we took our two or three minutes, got our head out of the gutter, refocused, and got in the mindset of, "Hey, alright, we're leaving as the last place team next leg. We got to lock it back in. I gotta rest up. I got to do what I got to do."
Shane: That was exactly it. At that point, Mike, it wasn't a dagger at all. Because we knew that we we were going up against some factors that we couldn't control. And they had a small hand in controlling that leg. So when we finished in second to last, we were obviously very upset, frustrated. But we knew that's not where we live.

Then we hop to this next leg in Barbados. And, true to this relationship you mentioned, we see you try to deal with the stress after falling into last place. But you jump all the way up to second place just from the Detour alone. Talk me through what was happening that day.
 This was probably the moment in the race when I thought we were going home. When we were going through the mountains in in Barbados, we had a couple of conversations in the car, like, "Man, this isn't looking good, buddy." We started talking about seeing the wives, seeing the kids. [Laughs.] Just because it wasn't good, We weren't lost. We were on top of the street, but we were three streets up and we just couldn't find the next spot. And then finally, we get there, we're like, "Alright, we got there. Let's go." Because we compartmentalize very well, I would say. You take what's happening right now, you figure out what you need to do, you put it behind you, and you move on to the next task. So we put the car right behind us and Juan goes, "Dude we gotta do the seaweed." And I'm like, "Alright, let's do it!"
Juan: Yeah, I would definitely say that I carried a lot of the weight of the previous leg results on my shoulders. Because I obviously blamed myself for not being at 100. So I think that's where the frustration kind of already originated from during the Barbados leg. Shane helped me to just lock it back in. And, like Shane said, we were having conversation in the car. We were cracking jokes, having a good time. We really bounced back. I think at one point, I was like, "You know what, dude? I think my wife might be too upset if I'm gone for too long. Maybe it's better I'm going home tonight." But, in all reality, once we got to it, we obviously guessed we were the last place team. And I think we had a conversation there along the lines of like, "Hey, brother, listen. With the exception of Rod and Leticia, most of these teams are taking the fishtrap. It's Hail Mary time. We gotta go big or go home, literally."
Shane: And, Mike, I just want to make sure that everybody understands that that's our way of dealing with stress. Obviously, that is not what we truly believed. We were there for our families; we were there to change our lives. Obviously, this is not what we wanted, as far as to get bounced. But that's how Juan and I deal with anything stressful. We crack jokes; we smile.

Well, you mention "go big or go home." Juan, you actually got to go home! What was it like to revisit your birth city of Medellín, Colombia?
 I think it was an incredible experience and an incredible opportunity to be able to share with Shane my origin story, if you will, where I'm coming from. And for him to realize my culture and my background. It was amazing to share that with him. And I mean, obviously going back home and representing was incredible. I wish I would have finished a little better. And, to be brutally honest with you half the time, I was genuinely concerned that I might run into a family member. At which point I was like, "Dude, I don't know what [we'll do]. We're gonna have to just ditch them. They can't lead us. They can't go with us. There's rules, obviously." But so every other second, I was taking it in. And thank God Shane stepped up and did the Roadblocks, because it kind of gave me a chance to step back and really appreciate the surroundings and the reality of where we were. So I thought it was actually a phenomenal, phenomenal opportunity. And then I thought it was hilarious that they didn't tell me during the interviews, knowing that was from Colombia.

Did any relatives in Colombia contact you once they saw you were in Medellín?
Juan: Oh, definitely. I got a few phone calls when I got back home. [Laughs.]

Finally, what did you learn most about each other racing around the world?
 Oh, man, what did I learn about Juan? Well, it really confirmed that Juan is more like myself than I thought. We were very similar, how we deal with conflict, how we deal with stress. And that's just been bred into us through our training. And to say it brought us closer it would be an extremely underwhelming comment. Because we were best buddies going into it and brothers. But, gosh, I'm pretty sure the blood runs deep now.
Juan: I would say that obviously Shane and I going through pilot training together, he was like my best friend. He's my brother. He's somebody I could rely on. I would say that The Amazing Race gave me the opportunity to be able to see how much Shane had matured and become this incredible husband and father. It's a great example for me. Because, obviously, Shane and I will be best friends till the day we die. No matter what, no matter where we are. But obviously some time had passed with some distance. We hadn't been able to sit down a lot; I didn't have too many opportunities to sit down and have real conversations. And I think The Amazing Race gave us that. And I told Shane this last night, I think. By far my favorite part of The Amazing Race was that night in Philly, when we got there, just prepping up for the race. We had this big window, and we just sat down in front of the window, turned the lights off, and just talked, looking at the city. It was a phenomenal experience. I'll take that to my grave.

Next, read our interview with The Amazing Race 36 winners Ricky Rotandi and César Aldrete.