Steffen and Mikhail talk their time on Race to Survive and whether they'd do a redemption season

RACE TO SURVIVE: NEW ZEALAND -- "Packrafts, Portages and Pain" Episode 202 -- Pictured: (l-r) Steffen Jean-Pierre, Mikhail Martin -- (Photo by: Tim Williams/USA Network)
RACE TO SURVIVE: NEW ZEALAND -- "Packrafts, Portages and Pain" Episode 202 -- Pictured: (l-r) Steffen Jean-Pierre, Mikhail Martin -- (Photo by: Tim Williams/USA Network) /

We’re headed into episode 6 of Race to Survive: New Zealand and so far self-eliminations outnumber a last place finish when it comes to who’s been sent home in the competition. Last episode, “Deep, Dark, Holes,” saw Coree Woltering and Jeff Watterson depart due to Coree sustaining a game changing head injury. But, before this team, there was Steffen Jean-Pierre and Mikhail Martin, the climbers from New York.

The pair left the season in episode 3, “Grit Trumps Calories,” after Mikhail fell hard enough during a decline down a steep, rocky hill to injure his knee. I caught up with the contestants to talk about their time on Race to Survive, the moment their journey ended, and whether they’d return for another season of the competition if given the chance.

For this team, the reality of how tough this journey was going to be started immediately. Remember, episode 1, “Water and Ice” began with a bog. Their legs were getting caught in mud. Mikhail described it as holes but Steffen referred to them as landmines because “you would take a step and it looks like a nice, solid piece of ground but it would just completely fall and then you’re knee deep in mud.”

But the toughest terrain they dealt with in the first leg of the race happened to be the final zone which incorporated class 3 white water rapids and a grueling pass through a rocky water bed while carrying their raft.

"We had to find our way to kind of drag our heavy raft around and we tried everything. We tried lifting it over our heads. Steffen tried pulling it at one point. I tried pushing it at one point. I think we did a mix of everything. I jumped in and paddled as far as I could but, because the river was so shallow, if both of us sat in it, the raft wouldn't go anywhere because it’d just sink to the bottom and get caught up on rocks. So that was treacherous. You're walking in half water, half rock, you're tripping, it's hot. I would say that was definitely the hardest part of the first leg of the race. "

Mikhail Martin

With the race being strenuous, and the duo skipping the first two food caches in the competition, by the time Steffen and Mikhail made it to Survival Camp, their calorie stores were depleted. That made their time at the camp crucial but, as we saw in episode 3, the strategy they and the rest of the teams had got washed away with the rain. Though the pair didn’t put all of the blame on the weather, it was the area as well.

"We thought, you know, we're camped right by a river. It seemed like a place where there would be wildlife, but there really wasn't anything. We tried fishing, nobody caught anything of all the teams. Then, obviously, the rain made hunkering down a lot more difficult because we had to deal with the cold and all our gear was rained out. It made the whole experience just a bit more challenging. "

Steffen Jean-Pierre

Mikhail shared a moment that didn’t make it to air. Hungry and unable to fish due to the river raging because of the storm, there’d been a glimmer of hope for food in the form of a rabbit running across the field. It was morning, he’d spotted the rabbit while peeking under their tarp but by the time he was about to get out of his sleeping back to go after it, barefoot I might add, the rabbit was gone. He said, “That was the last time we saw any food, any potential food.”

For Steffen and Mikhail, the second leg of the race was an opportunity to first, get food, and then get back into the competition in real force. They were “super excited” but then reality set in as they expended more calories after going nine days without food and having to climb an even steeper mountainside than in the first leg.

"Once we got to the top during that second race, you're at the top of a mountain, but [what] you don't realize there's once again another set of bogs up there, there's more small pools, you step in it, the ground underneath you crumbles. And I think it was actually a little worse than in the very beginning because now there's like more rocks and, and other things in the terrain, prickly bushes. "

Mikhail Martin

From there the race only got harder, testing their mettle as they progressed toward the food cache they'd set their minds on. Then, Mikhail took an unfortunate fall and injured his knee when they were so close to the mandatory checkpoint. It forced the climbers to make a choice they’d hoped they wouldn’t have to make but the possibility of a self-elimination was something the pair had discussed.

"Well, I think our discussion was we're not tapping out for anything, you know, that was our mindset. We really were not planning to, we were gonna give up when our bodies told us we had to. And I think Mikhail getting injured and seeing the possibility of further injury by continuing the race, I think we had to kind of sit down and think about the reality of what we're doing like we have to make sure that we're able to get home to our families. That was our promise to them, to our partners that we come home. "

Steffen Jean-Pierre

That’s not to say that it wasn’t a hard decision to make. For the most part, we’re seeing Race to Survive as it’s happening, flitting in and out of check-ins with the contestants. But there are also factors that watching from home can’t fully put into context. Like the distance the racers are traveling and what it’s like to traverse the terrain they encounter in each zone. Which is something Mikhail spoke to as well.

"Going into this race, we agreed like we're not gonna just give up. There would have to be something very extreme for us to give up. Once you get into that terrain, it looks super beautiful and it's super beautiful terrain, but it's super treacherous terrain. And this is a place that the big rocks–usually they stay still–here, they roll and they roll very fast, it's something we really had to be careful about.

Once we got to a point where my knee was really limiting my ability to move and [for] us to move as a team, looking at the map and looking at the terrain ahead of us, you know, there are rocks falling. I tried climbing out of a river bank and I don't even really remember it. Maybe it was just like my body trying to just forget the moment but Steffen said, “Hey, did you see that rock almost hit you?” And it was a huge rock and that could have really caused a lot of harm to myself.

Just knowing that we wouldn't be able to navigate safely or at least with some confidence, that's when I pulled Steffen to the side and I just said, “Hey, I think, you know, we may be getting to that point where we have to tap out.

Mikhail Martin

Having to leave Race to Survive the way they did has Steffen and Mikhail motivated to do a redemption season of the competition if the time ever comes. Steffen mentioned that he “stays ready,” with Mikhail acknowledging that his friend works out everyday and that he himself is training for a 70 mile ultramarathon. He said, “I’m getting my legs ready to go. All those hills that I didn’t love, they’re now my best friend.”

In the meantime, the pair are watching the season. They, like the rest of us, have teams they’re rooting for the most. They’re both supporting Team Moms–Rhandi and Ashley–with Steffen referring to the two women as a “special pair” having gotten to meet and race with them. He’s also rooting for Bronsen and Ryan who he considers to be good guys with Mikhail agreeing, “They’re pretty cool,” but Mikhail is Team Smokejumpers–Tyrie and Ethan–as well.

We’ll have to see where these teams land in episode 6 which premieres Monday, June 24 at 11 p.m. ET on USA Network. Though Coree and Jeff had to self-eliminate due to an injury that doesn’t mean any of them are safe from going home. As for Steffen and Mikhail, after they braved New Zealand’s toughest terrain they got to see its less treacherous, but still beautiful, areas after having rib-eyes for their first meal, of course. The food in New Zealand according to them? One word: Amazing.

Coree and Jeff talk life after Race to Survive: New Zealand. dark. Next. Coree and Jeff talk life after Race to Survive: New Zealand