You might have seen Haley and Kaylynn Williams a few months ago when they were in India, bidding farewell to their competitors on last season’s “The Amazing Race” on CBS television.
But don’t be surprised if you bump into them here in Bluffton soon, perhaps having a drink with friends at Pour Richard’s or boating down the May River.
The sisters were born and raised in Bluffton and moved to Charleston more than a decade ago. While their travels have taken them around the world, they can’t wait to head back to their roots.
“We go back all the time,” said Haley, 32, in a conference call from Charleston. “Our family is still there. We’re extremely low-key. We hang out with our parents and grandparents.”
“We’ll be there this summer,” Kaylynn, 30, added. “We love being on the May River. If there are any boat people out there – we want to go!”
Life has slowed down considerably for the Williams sisters since their “Amazing Race” episodes were filmed in 2018. The 12-episode season 32 first aired on Oct. 14, 2020, and concluded Dec. 20.
Their journey began in Los Angeles, where they and 11 other two-person teams took off on an adventure that was set to span 30,000 miles. Along the way, teams searched for clues, completed tasks, and navigated through crowded cities, remote countrysides and many landscapes in between. The last team standing won $1 million.
“We watched ‘The Amazing Race’ as a family when we were younger,” Kaylynn recalled. “We never thought we’d be on the show 10 years later.”
No strangers to traveling, Haley and Kaylynn worked as event promoters for Audi Sports, a motorsports team, for about five years before embarking on “The Amazing Race.”
“We’d go from racetrack to racetrack so we were on the road a week at a time,” Haley said. “We went to Florida, California, New York, Canada. It really prepared us for ‘The Amazing Race.’ We were traveling a lot and busting our butts.”
Of course, after three grueling weeks on “The Amazing Race,” the Williamses have a whole new understanding of that term.
“We get asked a lot if we got to explore on our own,” Kaylynn said. “You don’t. You go from the challenge to a hotel for two days. You can’t converse with other teams. You can’t leave the hotel.”
“And you have to hand wash your own laundry in the sink,” Haley added.
The 26-pound backpacks with which they began the race quickly grew lighter.
“When we first put them on, we fell backward,” Haley said. “So we shed some pounds every single leg. Kaylynn gave away her hair straightener, which was a big deal.”
Socks and underwear were the next to go, save for one pair each, which got washed every night in the sink.
But that wasn’t the most unexpected part of their adventure.
“We were going to all these different places around the world and we didn’t know the language, but it was surprising to see how much the locals would help us,” Kaylynn said.
At the top of their list of favorite locales is Manaus, Brazil, the third leg of the race, where they completed a detour to prepare a meal. They came in third place.
“It was the best we’d done the entire race. We were in the top five,” Kaylynn said. “Manaus is such a beautiful place. The sunset on the Amazon is amazing.”
Haley said her favorite was Kazakhstan, despite the challenges they faced. “I always thought it was a desert and hot,” she said. “But it was a winter wonderland with mountains and snow.”
Their least favorite experience was in Paraguay, where their taxi driver got lost for two hours. “It was scary,” said Haley. “At one point, our taxi driver took us to a house to ask for directions. We had six guys come up to the car, catcalling us. We had lost our security team, so it was a nightmarish day.”
“But we’d like to go back to Paraguay someday – under different terms,” Kaylynn added.
In Almaty, Kazakhstan, the sisters survived two speed bumps – additional tasks assigned to teams who arrive last to certain check-in points – and two eliminations.
Sadly, they were eliminated a week later, in the show that aired Nov. 25.
“We ran our own race,” Kaylynn said proudly. “We weren’t part of an alliance.”
Haley agreed. “We didn’t stop until we figured [challenges] out,” she said. “We’re brighter and smarter than we thought. We had a lot of worries but we pushed through all of them.”
While they have no regrets, they dream of returning to some of the same locations one day.
“We want to go back to those places for different things: Paris for the food, Germany for the bar scene, Kazakhstan for the culture,” said Haley.
The sisters were surprised by the bonds they formed with the other competitors.
“We got so close with the other teams,” Haley said. “Now we’re in a group chat on social media and we talk every day. We’ve already planned two reunions.”
She said the teams as well as the production crew created a family atmosphere. In fact, they celebrated one team’s wedding in 2019 and plan to attend another’s wedding in New Orleans later this year.
Haley and Kaylynn still have the travel bug and can’t wait to hit the road again.
“I’d love to go to Costa Rica,” Kaylynn said. “Charleston has been gloomy. I want to eat plantains with monkeys and lay on the beach.”
Sounds good to Haley. “I think somewhere sunny, on a boat or beachside,” she said.
Until then, they’re headed back home to Bluffton this summer. And that’s amazing enough – for now.
Laura Gray is a Florida native who writes about the Lowcountry.