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Amazing $1 million win for brainy siblings

By Diane Curtis
Staff Writer

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When it comes to relating “What I Did on My Vacation” tales at the law firm water cooler, Quinn Emanuel attorney Tammy Jih and O’Melveny & Myers partner Victor Jih win hands down.

The brainy brother-sister duo, who both graduated from Stanford as undergrads and Harvard Law School, spent 4 1/2 weeks on planes, trains, electric bicycles and other modes of transportation racking up 40,000 miles in nine countries as one of the intrepid teams on CBS’ reality travel and challenge show, “The Amazing Race.” In the end, they beat all comers and walked away with $1 million.

They tried gymnastics in Bucharest, pulled a locked coffin downhill in Romania, stacked wood in Russia, hauled camel feed in India, drove a snowplow and ran in an underwear-only winter race in Siberia, sang karaoke outside Bangkok, ate grasshoppers, larvae, scorpions and starfish in Beijing and prepped a pig for a luau in Maui. They bested the other finalists and won the big prize with a come-from-behind accounting by Victor of everything they had done during the race.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” says Tammy, 27, who took her 36-year-old brother’s dedication to watching the show to the next step: applying to be on it. “I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m sure I’ll be a lawyer for a long time. When am I going to be able to have an adventure like The Amazing Race?’” They weren’t selected for the 13th edition of the show but were called for the 14th, which started in October. From then until last month, when the season finale aired, they couldn’t tell anyone what happened.

“I went into it because it’s taking a risk and doing something that’s off the beaten path,” says Victor, a general litigator in Los Angeles who focuses on entertainment and intellectual property law. Lawyers, and partners especially, he adds, can sometimes be too insulated from the rest of the world. The show, he said, emphasized the importance of “engaging with the outside world” and not losing touch with how people think and react differently.

The Jihs give some credit to their legal training for strengths displayed on the show, such as anticipating problems, strategizing, ability to deal with new situations, communicating by being thorough and precise and staying calm in demanding, stressful situations with little sleep. “I’m used to exhaustion from being a trial lawyer,” says Tammy, a third-year associate in the San Francisco office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver Hedges.

Their strategizing began even before the show began. Victor tried rock climbing and using a gun at a shooting range for the first time. He started to learn Spanish. Tammy practiced paddle surfing and learned to swim. They both learned to drive a stick shift on orders of the show. “The race is designed to test things you’re not good at,” says Tammy. “I knew I was going to be out of my comfort zone.”

They strategized during the race, too, and came to learn things about themselves and each other that helped move them along to the final challenge.

A lifetime of sibling history was evident in the first few legs of the trip: Tammy was used to deferring to her older brother, and for a while it was difficult for Victor to take a path other than his own. But when he made a couple of mistakes, such as stubbornly heading up a large hill in a Romanian forest while Tammy was telling him they were on the wrong track, the dynamics started to change, and they built on each other’s strengths.

“We balance each other out,” says Tammy. “He was relentless and extraordinarily competitive. He always wanted to be first, not just at one leg but at everything — the first person to get tickets, the first person to get a taxicab. I think I balanced this out. My goal at every leg was not to be last.” Those in last place at the end of each week’s show are sent home.

Victor concurs. Tammy “really invested in relationships with other teams. She was effective in not having other teams gunning for us. (Teams that win certain challenges can require another team to backtrack.)

“She brought a different perspective. At the beginning, I was focused on wanting to win every task. She focused on not wanting to be last.” In the end, he says, they decided on a melding of the two strategies.

“I’m still completely humbled by the fact I got a chance to do it,” says Victor. Both say they’re very grateful to their firms and clients for making it possible for them to take advantage of the opportunity for such an adventure. And the prize money, mostly used to pay off student loans, was the icing on the cake. The money also enabled Victor, a high school debate coach, to put more funds into his Victory Briefs company, which provides educational resources, including scholarships, to high school speech and debate groups.

Despite such excitement and adventure, both say they’re happy to be back at work. “You can’t live your life in The Amazing Race,” says Victor. “It makes you appreciate normal life.”

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