'The Amazing Race 36's Rod and Leticia Gardner Said They Were Thrown Off By No Final Memory Challenge

Rod Gardner (L) and Leticia Gardner (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.

Rod and Leticia Gardner were the most high-profile team entering The Amazing Race 36, considering the former's six years in the NFL. And the former wide receiver quickly made a name for himself in the race, as he and his wife scored two first-place finishes to begin the season. However, that hot streak quickly cooled, as the couple spent most of the race in the middle of the pack. Though their skills and athleticism never put them in danger of going home, we saw their disparate motivators sometimes come into play. Rod's competitive drive would occasionally bristle against Leticia's more measured approach. Despite their difficulties, Rod and Leticia hit their stride by winning the penultimate leg. Unfortunately, they couldn't mirror the start of the season completely, as difficulty with mental tasks in Philadelphia sent them fumbling to a third-place finish.

Rod and Leticia talk with Parade.com about what brought them from the gridiron to the race, navigating their different motivators, and their decision to run the Megaleg in the controversial three-team alliance.

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?
Leticia Gardner: No, we haven't been watching for long. But actually, they found us on TikTok. That's how they reached out. So we're one of the recruited teams. I know that's weird on The Amazing Race. So then we definitely started watching a lot more, like, "What are we getting ourselves into?" So it was pretty cool. 

What did your preparation entail, especially considering you both were trying to throw it into your incredibly busy lives as parents and business owners?
Rod Gardner:
 Man, managing a family, owning businesses. But every night, we were watching Amazing Race. Once they said, "Hey, we're gonna cast you on this show," we agreed to it. We probably watched five or six seasons.
Leticia: Definitely. And then, athletically, we were pretty in shape. It's something we do day to day for sure. But one thing I wish I would have prepared more for us actually played hide and seek more. Because when it says, "Go find Phil on the map," well, wait a minute, where are we going? I should have played that more with the kids. [Laughs.]

So, let's jump from the beginning to the end. You came into the final leg in first place and seemed to be keeping pace with Ricky and César for a while. How did it all end up falling apart?
 Oh, Lord. Philly was a challenge. For one, it was super cold.
Leticia: Freezing!
Rod: That changes the dynamics of everything. We're used to the sun, enjoying life. We got to Philly; it was 30 degrees outside. So that was tough for the first part. But I just think the challenges didn't play to our strengths. [To do] a memory challenge for me at that point where we got to recite the Declaration, which wasn't one of my strong suits. It was funny, but it was a struggle. I was definitely trying to remember that thing as fast as possible, but it took some time.
Leticia: I think just the challenges. I think we were preparing for ourselves for what we had seen mostly on The Amazing Race. And at the end, it's usually something that had to do with everything that we kind of did throughout the entire race. So I feel like I was studying for that and remembering the flags, remembering where we went, remembering the Detours, remembering our placements. And I think my expectations were going to be in a completely different environment. So when we got to the challenges, I was like, "Ooh, okay!" [Laughs.] So yeah, they just didn't play to our strengths for sure.
Rod: 100%.

Now, let's reverse course and go back to the beginning of the race. What was your reaction to finishing in first place in the first two legs? Rod, I'd imagine that your competitive spirit was on full display.
 100%. From the gate, I was like, "Our job is to come first place every time." And it was something that we felt like we can knock out quick or kill the challenge, I was always up for it. I love the intensity, and I love competition. So it was amazing for me. One day, I had to keep my wife motivated. [Laughs.] Because it was a new experience for us. Not really into the competitive thing.
Leticia: I'll compete, but not to the same degree as he is. He gets motivated by the people next to him. I'm self-motivated. So I can only run my own race; I can't focus on what they're doing next to me. So he's like, "Look at them over there." I'm like, "Forget them. Focus right here." But it definitely brought out a different level of competitiveness. And I think the biggest thing for me is, even though he's super competitive, I'm a fighter. I refuse to quit. So if I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it. And I'm just gonna follow all the way through.
Rod: But the first couple of legs weren't standard. There was so much running we had to do. So, to me, it played to my strengths. I was like, "We're gonna kill this." And everybody thinks we're gonna choose every physical challenge, which we're not because you got to play smart. Because there is no need to kill ourselves in the first challenges if you don't have to. And I gotta play to my wife. Like everybody thinks we should everything physical because of me. Y'all don't understand. I had a wife with me who she don't want to pull them horses down the street. [Laughs.]
Leticia: I'm so glad I didn't do that. [Laughs.]

To that point, I know you spoke about having different motivators when it comes to the race, whether it be the other teams or yourselves. How difficult was it to manage those different motivators during the race?
 Oh, definitely tough. I mean, for the most part, because we've been together for so long, we know each other's strengths, and we know the degree of how far we're willing to go. And one thing he knows about me is, even if I'm not as motivated as them, I'm going to follow his lead on the decisions, and I'm going to push through with everything I've got. So even though it's not my strength to be like, "Oh, okay, do it," I'm gonna do it, if that's what we're gonna do. So I think I carry my own weight with that even so.
Rod: Yeah, I just had to push the intensity. [Laughs.]
Leticia: His thing was, even when we're getting ready to race, it's like, "Listen, when your body says quit, that's when you gotta go harder." And I'm like, "Well, no. My body says no. I haven't gotten there yet mentally." So, it was definitely a challenge to keep pushing through.

We did see a couple of conflicts between you two, whether it was Rod choosing the dance Detour to Leticia's protests, or bickering over getting lost on the way to a Pit Stop. How comparable were handling those conflicts to what you do in your marriage?
For the most part, we still handled it. I think we've learned, in marriage, and even on a race, to fight the problem and not each other. We're gonna make mistakes. We're not always gonna make the best decision. But we all laugh about it and make the best of it. I might take a spring along the way and say, "Told you so!" [Laughs.] But ultimately, it was the decision; we follow through. We gotta get it done. So we get over it. We don't harbor anything.
Rod: To me, it feels like dancing; it can't be that hard. But at the end of the day, I didn't know we had to choreograph. But I felt like that play does shift in trying to figure out the puzzle. It felt like I could do the dance. And we had knocked that out quicker. It didn't take as long but it definitely was tough.
Leticia: And I don't mind letting him put his foot in his mouth sometimes! "You want to do it? Fine." And then watch a struggle and be like, "Well, that one was on you." [Laughs.]
Rod: Well, I know you had two left feet. But I didn't know it was that bad! Even though I didn't look too good neither.
Leticia: I was about to say, did you see yourself? [Laughs.] 

[Laughs.] Well, let's talk about some of your relationships with the other teams. You seemed to be working together with Juan and Shane on a couple of tasks, most recently in the Dominican Republic. When I spoke with Danny, he said that there was apparently this alliance brewing between you, Juan and Shane, and Amber and Vinny. Talk to me about that.
 Yeah, Juan and Shane, we definitely love them, first of all. They were so much fun to race with, which made it easy to create alliances with, when you like each other.
Rod: We definitely had a good time. We bonded so fast. So it was like, we're gonna leverage each other because we wanna see each other in the final. So it was like, "Man, we can help each other throughout this race. Let's pick it back and get it done." And I don't think we didn't get a chance to see this much, but it was a lot of time that we definitely were aligned with a lot of the challenges. But Vinny and Amber, they were a great team too.
Leticia: But I don't think we ran with them too much outside of the Megaleg. I definitely needed Amber that day. So, shoutout to her. [Laughs.]
Rod: The objective of the race is to make it to the final dance. We got to get to the Final Three. So, whatever it takes to get there. Everybody says, "Y'all should have did this; you shouldn't have done that." 
Leticia: We succeeded! It got us to the top three.
Rod: Our job is to make it to the final date.

Talk to me more about that. It seemed like that alliance ran through the Megaleg like one big six-headed team. What was your approach to that day, and what was your reaction to the fan reaction to that type of strategy?
 All three different teams, we really fed to each other strengths in that moment. The biggest thing was to survive and get through it, so we had built that alliance. It was us and everyone else that day. And even though it rubbed [fans] the wrong way, it worked in all of our favors. We needed each other at different places. And people talk a lot about Amber helping me with the map, which, thank God she did. But we're also the reason why they both made it out of the meat challenge. And Danny helped us to get to the roadblock. We all helped each other. And ultimately, it worked in our favor.
Rod: I think that's what made the dynamic work because everybody had input. It wasn't just leaning on one team, and you didn't add value. So everybody added value. We were trying to knock out Juan, Shane, Ricky, and César from the one and two. So our goal was trying to actually overtake them. So let's pair up while they're fighting each other. But they did amazing. I mean, Shane and Juan killed that day. So we couldn't get up there. But we was trying; our objective was trying to get first or second.

Lastly, suffice it to say racing around the world puts your relationship in a brand-new light, even after years of marriage. What did you learn the most about the other person racing around the world together?
 First, I'd say I want to give big ups to my wife. This was out of her wheelhouse. At first, I didn't know if she was motivated enough to even want to do it, because it was something she'd never done before. And it was really out of her comfort zone for her to push through and say, "Babe, I'm gonna do it because I know you want to do it." And then [to] come in with a positive attitude and see how well she did, it was amazing. I give my wife all respect. Everybody's out there being like, "Man, he was so supportive." I was amazed [with] love and joy to see my wife out there competing and getting it done, taking on all these obstacles and challenges. It was amazing for me. So I was enjoying the time with my wife doing all this. Because you never really get that experience when you get a chance for you and your spouse to compete against other teams around the world, and at the same time race for a million dollars.
Leticia: So I feel like the biggest thing I learned is, in the finale, I feel like I swear I had a concussion when that pole hit me on the head windsurfing. But I jumped right back on there, and I killed it. And I was like, "I get why when you play football." These concussion cases aren't a good thing. But I get why you're like, "Don't take me off the game, coach. Let me just keep going." It's all on us. The game is on the mind. So you got to get up, you got to keep fighting, and you push through the pain. So I realized that day, in that moment, I'm like, "Okay, I can't stop. I'm okay, but I just got to keep going." So I realized that, in that moment, where that drive comes from. When life knocks you down, get up and go even harder the next time around. 
Rod: And I definitely taught her, "We got to focus on the next play. We can't worry about what already happened. We just got to focus on the next play." So she did well with it.
Leticia: Yeah, that definitely helped us push through conflict. Because he can be so like, "Let's go. Get over it." I'm like, "Well, I'm still in my feelings. I'm not over it yet." [Laughs.] But on the race, I realized, "Okay, I can't be mad at yesterday's race. I gotta focus on today. We got to keep moving, pushing through." I learned how to do that for sure on the race.

Next, check out our interview with Amber Craven and Vinny Cagungun, who were eliminated in The Amazing Race 36 finale.