9 mins

We chat to Emon and Jamiul, Race Across The World's 2020 champions

Post-race, we catch up with winning duo Emon and Jamiul, who reveal all about their epic victory, the highs and lows of South America, and what inspired them to make THAT decision with their prize money...

Race Across the World winners, Emon and Jamiul (BBC/Studio Lambert)

On Sunday night, the final episode of BBC Two's Race Across The World saw Bradford boys and uncle and nephew Emon and Jamiul Choudhury winning the show, beating their fellow contestants to Ushuaia in Argentina.

We catch up with them about their experiences during the epic trip, their favourite places, why they donated their winnings to charity and the importance of using local knowledge during any adventure.

Why did you decide to apply to Race Across The World?

Emon: It was my nephew [Jamiul] who applied for the show initially. He sent me a link and asked if I fancied doing it. And I thought I might as well! It’s one of those things you apply for and you just think nothing is going to come of it.

I’ve applied to a few other shows before and nothing has ever come of it, so it was more of a lighthearted application, to be honest. When they contacted me I thought it was a joke! I just couldn’t get over it.

 Why do you think you were chosen to take part?

Emon and Jamiul are uncle and nephew and bonded during the trip  (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon and Jamiul are uncle and nephew and bonded during the trip (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Jamiul: I think it was because of our individual circumstances… and also the connection between me and my uncle.

Emon: I still don’t know why they chose us! We’re just two normal guys.

Had either of you travelled much before this trip?

Emon: I’ve done a fair bit of travelling.

Jamiul: I’ve done a fair bit but not as much as you [Emon] have.

Emon: My niece did me this map diagram where she coloured in all the countries I have been to, so she asked me for all of the countries I've been to, and I have now been to 61 countries! I thought, 'bloody hell!' I didn’t even realise it.

Was the race what you expected?

The race was a lot harder than they though it was going to be (BBC/Studio Lambert)

The race was a lot harder than they though it was going to be (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon: Yes and no. To be honest with you, I didn’t realise it would be as difficult as it was. The main thing for me is obviously we didn’t have our phones so we couldn’t communicate.

I’m married, and I couldn’t communicate with my wife. The longest I have ever been away from her before this is a weekend away. All the trips I have ever been on in my whole life I have always had communication, whether that’s my phone or some kind of internet access at some point, so I could always stay in contact with my family.

But this trip was two months. They took our phones off us in London and that was it. That’s the one thing I didn’t think much about prior to the trip and that’s one of the main things that got me - not being able to communicate.

What was the most memorable view you saw during the entire trip?

Emon and Jamiul fell in love with Ilha Grande, Brazil  (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon and Jamiul fell in love with Ilha Grande, Brazil (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Jamiul: I think one of my favourite viewpoints was probably Rainbow Mountain in Peru. It’s such an amazing place, the colours are beautiful. The trek up is hard but as soon as you get to the top you get this massive sense of accomplishment. 

Peru is really beautiful and a really nice place. From the top, you can literally see all the other mountains. It was blistering cold, snow was pouring down, it was so hard to see but you could still see all of the mountains around you and all of the colours of the mountains.

Apart from Peru, there were so many other beautiful places, like the Tatacoa Desert. That was just wonderful. It’s not something that you would have expected from Colombia.

Emon: It’s proper random.

Jamiul: But it was so nice. And then Ilha Grande [Brazil], oh my God! That was just like a little island paradise. It was truly beautiful. But it’s really hard to pinpoint one place. We went to so many incredible places, so it’s a hard question to answer.

We saw in the show that you chose to take long bus rides straight through countries in order to get to the checkpoint quicker. Is there anywhere you rushed through that you regret not stopping and seeing?

Jamiul: I think the only place that we actually rushed through was Costa Rica. We didn’t get to stay there at all. All of the other countries, we got to sit down and see it. But really and truly, if we had to do it again, we would do it all again.

Is that one of the benefits of travelling by bus? Do you get a sense you’re still seeing places through the window, that you couldn’t if you were on a plane?

Emon and Jamiul travelled a lot by bus during their race across South America (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon and Jamiul travelled a lot by bus during their race across South America (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon: It sounds like a cliché but with the bus you’re looking out of the windows, you can see everything. And because you haven’t got your phone, it means you’re not looking down, you’re actually looking up! 

The bus gives you a massive insight into the landscapes of the countries, and its people as well. We met so many people on the buses that gave us really good information. I would say one of my main things about the trip is the people. It was the people who made the trip for us. 

We saw during the show that you both chatted to - and relied on the kindness of - strangers for directions, lifts, food and work. Do you think that local knowledge helped you win the show?

Emon and Jamiul relied on locals for jobs and advice during the show (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon and Jamiul relied on locals for jobs and advice during the show (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Jamiul: I think so. Without a doubt. Everyone, no matter who you are, no matter what country you’re going to, the one thing that everyone should do is speak to locals. It gives you great insight and it gets you to understand a different dynamic.

Emon: [Locals] are the best people for any information about their country. They know the best route out or the best connections. At the end of the day, it’s their country, so I would say it was key for us [winning].

It was fantastic as well because we got to learn about the different cultures and the way people live. There’s loads of examples throughout the whole journey where we really embraced that, because it’s fantastic to learn about that, as well.

Jamiul: And we got to really experience the kindness of strangers, especially on buses. People were very, very kind to us along the way and it sort of restores your faith in humanity.

Early on in the show, you lost your map. Would you have carried on racing if Shuntelle and Michael hadn’t given you their map?

Emon and Jamiul hitchhiking in an attempt to save their money (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon and Jamiul hitchhiking in an attempt to save their money (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon: I think we would have carried on!

Jamiul: I think we would have carried on, but it would have been harder. I don’t believe that we would have got as far as we got, in the position that we got, without it. It was a big help. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to plan the route. 

It must have been interesting to rely on a map so much…

Emon: Yes. It was like going back to basics with a compass and a map. One person gave us a little magnifying glass in La Paz. We asked him where a place was and he couldn’t see it, so he pulled this little magnifying glass out and said, "here you go, you can have that."

Jamiul: It was needed for that map!

Has the race changed what travel means to you?

Jamiul enjoying the mountain views (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Jamiul enjoying the mountain views (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon: I was discussing this with my wife last night. We were talking about holidays and she said she would like to go to a hostel and do it like the way we did the race. It’s inspired her a little bit because she’s all about four and five star hotels and resorts and all of that.

But after she saw the race for herself and witnessed what we went through, she’s warmed to the idea of going to hostels and experiencing travel the way we did in Race Across The World, which was music to my ears! I’ve always wanted to take my wife on those kind of trips, and now I can do it. 

The trailer of the show mentions that the trip sees contestants travelling through some of the most volatile regions on Earth. Did it ever feel volatile when you were travelling?

Jamiul: I would say sometimes it did. I would say for certain that to other contestants it did. But we were safe because we had a crew behind us and if we were to get in any sort of trouble, they would take action. But to anyone who was travelling on their own, I would say be careful and be wary.

Emon: Even at the start of the race when they said we would be going from Mexico to Ushuaia, I thought to myself, there is no way they are taking us all the way to South America. The preconception of South America is that it is volatile and dangerous. You do hear all of these things. And I’m not going to deny it, it is volatile.

Jamiul: But it is beautiful, as well. It's fine, you know, it’s like any other part of the world.

Emon: On the whole, we had our crew with us, and I felt pretty safe. At no point did I ever fear for my life.

Is there a country you weren’t particularly looking forward to that surprised you and ended up being better than you expected it to be?

Emon was jealous when he found out fellow contestants Jen and Rob had visited Iguazu Falls (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon was jealous when he found out fellow contestants Jen and Rob had visited Iguazu Falls (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon: For me, it was Peru. All I’d really heard about Peru was Machu Picchu, but when you actually go there, you realise there are so many other amazing things to do in Peru. Again, the Rainbow Mountain was absolutely incredible, and so were the people we met up there.

We went to this small town called Huanchaco which is like the surf capital of the world and that was incredible, just this little town full of surfers, from all around the globe, who were loving life. Those guys were just there for the surf, with not a care in the world! 

Jamiul: One country I think that gets a bad rep that isn’t as bad as it seems is Brazil. Brazil was amazing! The culture, everything about it was just phenomenal. You have to be wary and have your wits about you but all of these countries, all of the people we met along the way, they were so kind to us and so nice to us. There are no words, really - I can’t really describe how much that changed my view. I had a preconceived idea that Brazil would be really bad but it was so good to us.

Emon: It was. It was good. Brazil is so massive, it’s the fifth biggest country in the world. We belted it in what, six days? Six or seven days? And we missed so much of it. Like the Amazon Rainforest, and when Jen and Rob did the Iguazu Falls. When I found out about that, I was so jealous. That has always been on my bucket list. And Rio as well, we didn’t get to go to Rio. So, there was so much we didn’t get to do in Brazil. 

Seeing something with our own eyes makes it feel more immediate and more real. Is that why you donated your prize money to the children in São Paulo? 

Emon and Jamiul at the finishing line with the other teams (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon and Jamiul at the finishing line with the other teams (BBC/Studio Lambert)

Emon: Definitely. When you experience something first hand, when you see it right in front of your face, there’s no misconception about it. You’ve seen it, you’ve felt it, you were there. And that’s what it was.

It was at that point in São Paulo, when we came across the street kids, that we both decided then that if we were to win, we would donate at least half the money to these kids. At the end of the day, we were on an amazing trip, and you can’t put a price on that. Even if the prize was a million pounds, it wouldn’t really matter, the experience we had was incredible.

We just felt we needed to give something back to a place that had given us so much. It’s made us friends for life, it’s given us memories for life, incredible stories to tell and the best thing about it for me was, you know when you go on holiday and you come back from holiday at the end and you tell your friends about what you did? This way, everyone can see our story - it’s on TV.

That’s the beauty of it. If I have to tell my friends about the kids in São Paulo, they might think, 'oh, you know it’s just homeless kids', but because everyone has seen it now and seen it for themselves - and because me and Jam are just two normal guys - a lot of people can relate to us and feel that, too.

People are talking about it, and that's key Because we say 'poverty' and we don’t really think about poverty in South America, we think about poverty in Africa or Asia, but it is very strife there.

What’s next for you guys? Where are you keen to visit next?

Emon and Jamiul enjoyed their time in Huanchaco in Peru (Shutterstock)

Emon and Jamiul enjoyed their time in Huanchaco in Peru (Shutterstock)

Jamiul: Well, the plan for us was to actually go back to South America and distribute the prize money. And we also want to go to Bangladesh to visit an orphanage that my grandad, Emon’s dad owns and do some work there. So, those are the next two destinations.

I know my uncle has been wanting to go on holiday with his wife, so he probably has some other plans, too. We don’t really know how we’re going to go about doing all this under the current circumstances, but as soon as this is over we can go forward in those plans.

Emon: Yeah, I just want to get out there. With the lockdown and everything, it makes you realise how crucial it is to travel, and how we have taken it for granted that we can literally just jump on a plane and go anywhere in the world. 

What's your #WishIWasThere travel destination? 

Jamiul: I wish I was in São Paulo, Brazil right now, it’s just the perfect place to embrace culture and art. 

Emon: I wish I was in Ushuaia, Argentina right now, the snow-capped mountains are amazing and I would love to embrace the Argentinian food right now. 

 

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