Bridal Sign Up

 Cindy Chiang and Ernie Halvorsen

 The groom sported Bavarian flag socks.

 The cake from Reuter’s Bakery.

The bride’s Jorge Pérez de la Habana gown. 

Cindy and Ernie sharing a kiss at the Chicago Cultural Center. 

Stacked suitcases for cards. 

In It to Win It

Cindy Chiang and Ernie Halvorsen March 10, 2012 

Two reality TV stars tie the knot with an around-the-world-themed reception.

 

After a grueling, globe-spanning competition on season 19 of CBS’ The Amazing Race, engaged Chicago couple Cindy Chiang and Ernie Halvorsen beat out every other team to win the $1 million prize. By that time, they’d visited too many countries to count, so it makes sense that the couple’s March 10 wedding was all about journeys.

Even before they became reality TV royalty, the pair’s relationship had been an adventure. They met at Überstein, a German bar in Wrigleyville, where they both ended up after a Cubs game in 2008. Cindy recruited Ernie—who was with his father that afternoon—to take a photo of her group of girlfriends, and after the shot was snapped, she was too nervous to talk to the blue-eyed impromptu photographer. She chatted up his dad instead: “How would you feel about your son dating an Asian girl?” Cindy asked. 

“I remembered her freckles; they kept me interested,” says Ernie, a Jefferson Park native and Western Illinois University graduate who was working at the time as a project manager for a printing company that had temporarily relocated him to Germany. The two began a long-distance relationship over email, and prior to their third meeting—a romantic weekend in Toronto—the Beechwood, Ohio-born Cindy sent Ernie a sort of ‘life guidebook’ full of questions devised to get to know him more deeply. “If you respect your father, why?” was one. “Who are your best friends?” was another. The two laughed and cried over his answers that weekend, and so did their friends and family when portions of the book were later read during their vows at The Rookery. “We wanted our ceremony to feel personal, not dry,” says Ernie. Cindy’s brother-in-law (a high school science teacher who is a YouTube sensation for his teaching videos set to the music of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé) officiated, and Cindy got a chuckle from the crowd when she uncharacteristically stumbled over a few words.

At their candlelit wedding reception at the Chicago Cultural Center, the seating chart was an old-fashioned train departure board. The menu design was inspired by telegrams, and the guest book was a stack of postcards that people would sign, then drop into a vintage mailbox. When they met with planner Melissa Samek of Clementine Custom Events several months before the wedding, Cindy and Ernie knew they wanted to focus on travel, and Samek worked with them to bring the elements together. “You know how they say opposites attract?” Samek asks. “Cindy was super organized, and Ernie was the hands-on creative thinker—he did the invitations himself. It made them the most ideal couple ever.”

The newlyweds honeymooned in Fiji (TV fame has its perks; the trip was provided by Travelocity), and now they’re back to being a “normal” Chicago couple. They’re hoping to be cast on a future “best of” season of The Amazing Race and say they’re in the best shape of their lives thanks to frequent CrossFit workouts together. When they talk about their plans to use their winnings to start a business that will help educate children in developing markets, you can feel the crackle of team spirit between them. “I think another reason we won the show was that we really didn’t want to lose,” says Ernie. “It just wasn’t an option.”