The former start-up founder 25, and AI engineer 26, spoke exclusively with Us Weekly ahead of the Wednesday, December 7, finale airing – and before they even had a chance to watch the episode – to break down the finale, their experience and what it was like crossing the finish line first.
“It’s surreal,” Claire tells Us of winning the $1 million prize. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s so amazing. What a fantastic opportunity.”
“I remember me and Claire were in the final leg. We finished all of the challenges, and now we’re just running to the pit stop. We run into the room and then we see everyone, all of our cast, Phil [Keoghan, host], all the camera guys standing in the auditorium, like, clapping, cheering our name,” Derek explains. “I turned to Claire and I was like, ‘I still can’t believe this.’ I was expecting us to run up to the mat and Phil was gonna say, ‘Unfortunately, we have to give you a two-hour time penalty because you are a Big Brother team.’ Like, something crazy. I did not believe it. I probably still won’t believe it until I watch the episode.”
While the duo had no concept of time during the race, they estimate, “Molly and Emily were probably 15 to 20 minutes behind us. And then Luis and Michelle were probably 15 to 20 minutes behind them.”
The couple had been dating only about 9 months when they went to compete on the long-running CBS series but felt confident. (Us Weekly exclusively broke the news of their relationship in October 2021 after they connected in the Big Brother jury house.)
“We went into the race and I was like, ‘Me and Claire are going to win this,’” Derek tells Us. “I was like, ‘I cannot imagine us fighting over anything. I can’t imagine a stronger relationship.’ Day one. I was like, we’re gonna break up. We’re gonna break up. This is so hard This is impossible. Like, oh, my God. And then I think after that, it’s just been a climb back up, and I think we’re definitely stronger than even when we started.”
He continues, “I think at the very beginning, I had delusions of grandeur around how good our relationship was because we hadn’t been tested, so I didn’t know. But then we actually got tested, and now I think our relationship actually is where I thought it was.”
Claire echoes his sentiments about how running the race tests relationships. “I do understand why people are like, ‘You go on the race and you’re gonna break up or you’re gonna make it work,’” Claire tells Us. “We just were really required to talk about like, how do we communicate, how do we wanna solve problems? And be very honest and be very real with each other in a way that I think a lot of couples don’t have to be, necessarily, and still be happy. So that just made it so much stronger and it’s like made it so much more like, applicable when we get into like fights or whatever outside of the race too. I do think it was really a test – which I think is very cliche that people say – but I think that it did make us a lot, lot stronger.”
Watch our full exclusive interview with Derek and Claire above!