A Million Ways to Win

By Erin Peterson
Maya Warren ’07 used the athletic and academic skills she developed at Carleton to win $1 million on The Amazing Race

Maya Warren ’07 

Maya Warren ’07 had planned for everything. A PhD student in food sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Warren was in peak condition mentally and physically when she arrived in Times Square in May 2014 to begin a three-week around-the-world odyssey for The Amazing Race. A triathlete and marathoner, she’d honed her strength and speed with two-a-day workouts for months. Warren and her lab partner, Amy DeJong, who was also her teammate on Race, analyzed all 24 seasons of the popular reality show to suss out the secrets of winning teams. And the fact that they won—besting 10 other teams while traveling 26,000 miles through nine countries—well, that was just step one on a much larger journey for Warren.

Maya Warren ’07Warren learned how to swim as part of the “Triathlon Training” class she took with Carleton physical education professor Andy Clark. The skill proved useful for the competition—during which she had to swim in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But that wasn’t the only benefit of the course. “Training for triathlons at Carleton was one of my first physical challenges,” says Warren. “There was value in having to get up every morning. I learned to be disciplined and motivated.”

Before Warren and DeJong’s victory, female pairs represented just 2 of the 24 winning teams in the show’s 14-year history, due to the extreme physical demands placed on the racers. Season 25 was no exception: teams had grueling cycling, surfing, and even rice-paddy-dredging challenges in countries that included Singapore and the Philippines. To improve their odds, Warren and DeJong trained for months before the show began by completing brutally hard Insanity workouts every morning. They followed up with strength training, orienteering, and basketball in the afternoons.

The two doctoral students (Warren studies ice cream and DeJong studies candy) tried to keep their secret weapon—their formidable brainpower—under wraps during the competition. “We didn’t want our intellect to be a threat,” says Warren. “We were always sort of under the radar.”

Inference is everything. Warren and DeJong studied maps and cross-referenced them with the locations visited on previous seasons of the show to determine where they might be headed. But their real insight came when the pair cleverly surmised where they wouldn’t be going: “We had to get shots, but we didn’t get a yellow fever shot,” says Warren. “So we eliminated places that required that immunization.”  

When they started the application process in fall 2013, Warren was focused on acing the auditions. But after she and DeJong were selected for the show, she aimed her sights higher. “I remember talking on the phone with my godmother the day before we left for New York, and I was like, ‘I think we’re going to win this thing,’ ” she says. “I always felt that this game was ours to win.”

Though she had to keep the results a secret for months, Warren said it made the watching parties with her friends in the fall of 2014 even sweeter. “I enjoyed being able to share this with people and experiencing with them all the emotional highs and lows of us getting lost or not reading our clue properly, all the way to us finally winning The Amazing Race,” she says. “I wanted people to go on that emotional roller-coaster with us.”

Warren, who studies the microstructural behavior properties of frozen desserts, says she saw The Amazing Race not just as the achievement of a longtime dream, but also as a launching pad for a career goal that combines her love of science, sweets, and television. “I’ve always been interested in doing a show on frozen desserts around the world,” she says. 

The discipline that defined her preparation and performance has also extended to her post-victory financial plans. “I’ve already invested the money,” she says. “I will probably buy myself one gift—a car—when I graduate.” 

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