The Amazing Race, the CBS show in which two-person teams race around the world, has been a household name since 2001. In 2023, Chicago natives Greg Franklin ’20, a Manhattan-based software developer (and computer science major), and his brother, John Franklin, a product manager for a tech company in the Bay Area, took home the trophy (and $1 million!). Greg is the youngest contestant ever to win the U.S. version of the show. Season 35 of the intercontinental contest brought the brothers to seven countries, including Thailand, India and Sweden. We caught up with Greg to discuss his experience on the show, now that he’s caught his breath.

Two young men in yellow shirts with their arms raised in victory

Greg (left) and John, both computer scientists, were nicknamed The Machines.

What made you decide to try out for The Amazing Race in the first place? How did the actual experience compare to your expectations?

It was my brother’s idea. He’s been watching the show with his girlfriend for years and got me into it, too. We’d watch it and just think, “I could do that.” It’s one thing to say it from your couch, but there’s no way to know for sure until you’re in the situation. It wasn’t as easy as it looks on TV. The first few legs were pretty hard. I think, as the race went on, though, we started to gain more control over what we were doing and, with that, more confidence.

You and John were nicknamed The Machines, in part because you’re both computer scientists and in part because of your incredible speed and execution. What was the toughest challenge you encountered?

Aside from the frustration of things that were outside our control, like riding around in the tuk tuks [Thailand’s rickshaws, which are common transportation], I think the last challenge, the glassblowing one, was probably the hardest for me. By that point everything was just so intense and heightened—we were melting along with the glass!

What was it like to go through this experience with your brother, John, as your teammate? You seemed to work together very well.

Yeah, I think so. We had our moments of friction, but I think we were very good at making decisions under pressure. We wouldn’t get caught up wasting time arguing; instead, we’d debrief after that leg of the race was over. We also got a new perspective on one another and each of our strengths. John is very logical, and that was his advantage. I’m more social than he is, and I think that helped us get around, too.

What was the most surprising aspect of the race?

The travel was unbelievable. It was definitely a whirlwind way to see the world! As far as the competition itself, I think coming back from the low that was the glassblowing challenge was definitely one of the biggest surprises. Up to that point, we had kind of been front-runners for a while—not to say we were sitting comfortably!—but that last leg was really tough; we had to do it over and over and over. So coming out ahead after that felt especially victorious.

Photo: Sonja Flemming