TORONTO – Olympic gold medallists Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson hiked back to the peak of the pack on “Amazing Race Canada” on Tuesday, then ceded the spotlight to real Canadian heroes during a sombre trip to Normandy, France.
The race itself seemed of secondary significance — to say the least — as the six remaining teams took an emotional tour of Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, a sprawling memorial containing dedications to more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers killed during the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War.
Many duos were overcome with emotion as they toured the grounds, the adrenalized race on unofficial temporary pause.
“People look at Olympic athletes and they think we’re heroes, but what we do doesn’t even come close to what Canadian soldiers have done for us and continue to do for us,” said Meaghan.
Given the mournful mood struck by the episode’s final segment, it might have seemed inappropriate to dismiss another team — and thus Vancouver bartenders Ryan Steele and Rob Goddard were spared by the news that this was the season’s second non-elimination round.
The muscled duo had floundered in France, several times succumbing to confusion and drifting aimlessly around the highways in their (uncommonly unbranded!) rental cars, incapable of locating their next goal.
“If Ryan and Rob had a French travel show, it would be called ‘Getting Lost and Hating Yourself,'” quipped Rob at one point.
Before embarking on the 7,000-kilometre trek from Winnipeg to Normandy, the teams were imbued with enthusiastic optimism over the prospect of yet another international sojourn (the show visited China earlier this season, its first venture outside Canada’s borders).
Riding a travel high, Jinder Atwal goofily ordered a plane ticket “por favor” (“that’s Spanish!” corrected sister Sukhi), while Mickey Henry uncharacteristically tried to temper best bud Pete Schmalz’s vigour by pointing out: “You don’t know any French.”
“Whatever!” chirped Pete.
“I’ve been to France three times — this’ll be my fourth. I don’t think it’s going to help us at all,” predicted Ryan, presciently. “I was too drunk every time I was there.”
That last comment, too, proved coincidentally prescient given that upon landing the teams jetted off to the Calvados Boulard distillery for the episode’s first Road Block.
One member of each team was then to learn the complex process behind diluting the alcohol content in Calvados (a type of distilled cider-derived apple brandy that’s a regional specialty) after watching an expert silent demonstration.
But the clue — which read “Who’s ready to give it 40 per cent?” — confused certain teams.
“I figure I’m going to be making booze or drinking booze,” grinned Pete. “I’m like, ‘Man, I’ll give 40 per cent! I’ll take some shots.'”
In actual fact, the finicky procedure demanded an aptitude for math and science that tested the patience of some racers.
“Oooh, this is difficult,” murmured Meaghan.
“She was a marketing major whereas I was more of a science major, but I’m sure she’ll get it,” whispered Natalie from the margins.
They weren’t the only team to perhaps enlist the wrong member for the task.
“I should have done this,” Mickey lamented to the other racers on the sidelines as he watched Pete struggle. “I’m an accountant who went to school for accounting.”
“Mickey would have been better at this challenge,” agreed Pete in an interview segment later, before providing some insight into his carefree cohort — whose cheerful grin and surfer drawl apparently obscure his intellect.
“Mickey plays dumb. He likes people to think he’s an idiot. I don’t know why. He’s a numbers guy.”
Pete did indeed struggle and the team was the last to escape the Road Block. It took nine attempts and an assist from Ryan to move on to the next task, though their stress would subside during a somewhat placid Detour.
Of the two options presented this week, the simplest (and, frankly, least interesting to watch) was “Tell It,” which required teams to visit a museum in the medieval town of Bayeux and correctly sequence a number of scenes from the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Only Natalie and Meaghan and Quebec twin agitators Pierre and Michel Forget ultimately opted for that half of the Detour, and both teams were promptly on their way.
The other four squads opted for “Show It,” which included a visit to a rustic pasture to groom horses and weave their manes into handsome French braids.
This seemed an almost pleasant diversion for all teams but the habitually chaotic Atwals. As Sukhi skillfully braided, Jinder fretted to distraction over the uneasy horse and its daunting teeth.
“Will he bite, ever? Mange? Arm?” he demanded nervously of the local aide, again deploying his expert French.
“Don’t be afraid of it. Just hold him,” replied Sukhi.
“I am holding him, man,” Jinder countered. “He’s like, biting my hand. It’s OK, horsey. No biting me.”
“Just hold him. You’re a man,” Sukhi snapped back later.
Other teams, of course, noticed the scene unfolding.
“I’m like, yeah — bite away! Bite away!” laughed Montreal’s Alain Chanoine, who along with partner Audrey Tousignant-Maurice also suffered some directional bafflement en route to a fifth-place finish.
The rest of the field seemed to manage the task with less hand-wringing — or hand-nibbling.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, but back in high school if I wanted to take, like, machine shop, I had to take cosmotology,” revealed Mickey, apparently in the mood for disclosure this week.
“This is so fun — I love it,” he said as he toyed with his filly’s ‘do. “She was our French girlfriend,” he added of the horse upon the duo’s departure.
Another breezy challenge awaited, one which required the teams to land-sail along the pristine beach of Asnelles. More an opportunity to frolic on the coast than a true hurdle, the leg’s freewheeling final obstacle contrasted starkly with the cemetery visit that followed.
Several racers broke down in tears as they wandered the grounds and reflected on the Canadians lost in battle. And there was precious little of the usual celebratory whooping to surround host Jon Montgomery at the Pit Stop.
Ryan and Rob approached what they figured was the end of their race with a fatalistic resignation, reflecting upon the legs they ran more smoothly.
“We rocked some legs so good — second place, second place, fourth,” Ryan rued.
“Just not our day,” muttered Rob.
Well, it wasn’t their day to go home, either. Though they’ll have to complete a Speed Bump during next week’s whisk through Paris, the reprieve had the low-key pair vowing to halt their up-and-down ways.
“We just got a second chance,” said a stone-faced Rob, “and we’re not going to waste it.”
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