A year before competing on The Amazing Race, Emily Bushnell and Molly Sinert were complete strangers living in different states. But when they both took DNA tests for different reasons, they made an astonishing discovery: they were identical twins who were separated at birth.
Less than a year after they met for the first time at age 36, the sisters were racing around the world as a team on the CBS reality competition. In the season 34 finale of the show, which aired Wednesday, they placed second behind Big Brother 23 contestants Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss after a close final leg.
Though they didn't win the $1 million grand prize, the twins' Race experience provided a truly amazing opportunity to bond on a globe-trotting adventure, and they're taking home something even more priceless — a budding relationship with a long-lost sister.
"We've just grown individually, having each other in our lives," Sinert tells PEOPLE. "I'm her biggest cheerleader, she's my biggest cheerleader, and we're much better for it."
Competing as a team in the high-pressure competition was "very easy and effortless," Bushnell says. "Everything just fell into place."
Sinert was initially skeptical of having "twin-tuition" with someone she just met, but now believes it was always "underlying."
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"If I had gone on the Race with a stranger, I don't think it would have gone that smoothly," she tells PEOPLE before turning to her sister and adding, "I mean, you technically were kind of a stranger, but not really. We share 100% DNA!"
Bushnell and Sinert were born in South Korea in 1985. They were sent to separate foster homes as infants before being adopted by two different American families.
Sinert was the only child of Merill and Marla Sinert in Winter Park, Fla. Bushnell, who was adopted by Sandy Schwartz Klein and Christopher Bushnell of Yardley, Penn., grew up with three older brothers.
The twins used every chance they had to get to know each other better on the Race — even off camera during the Pit Stops, when they played card games, did crossword puzzles and shared spontaneous silly moments that sometimes left them in stitches.
"We had no life experiences together, so this was just day after day trying to understand how each other grew up and who we are as people," Sinert tells PEOPLE.
The Race not only "accelerated" their relationship, but also allowed them to discuss further exploring their adoptions, Sinert says.
The twins say they've received support from the adoptee community as a whole, especially within the Korean community. They've also made connections with people who Sinert says "are fighting the good fight for adoptees," such as Sam Futerman and Anaïs Bordier, the Korean twins featured in a 2015 documentary titled Twinsters.
Bushnell says it has been "helpful and therapeutic" for both her and her sister to "connect" with others who were adopted because it's helped them discover resources they never knew existed. Even after the Race, the twins are still learning about each other and themselves — and how their respective adoptions impacted their lives.
"I wish we had more support when we were younger, to understand all of this," Sinert tells PEOPLE. "But [we're] very fortunate to have connected with some great people. And just hearing other adoptees' stories is really wonderful as well."
The sisters dream of one day starting a foundation that can be a single source for adoptees seeking out resources for themselves. "That's a big dream," Sinert says, "but we've conquered The Amazing Race, so who knows what else we can do!"
In the meantime, the twins are looking forward to further developing their bond. They have only seen each other twice since the Race ended, but are working together to assure they spend more time together in the future.
"We communicate with each other as often as we can," Bushnell says. "I think now, we're trying to plan for our future, to spend more quality time together."