Many, many things about the first episode of The Amazing Race: Canada were lifted straight out of the playbook of its big sister from the states. But it was obvious almost immediately that what we’re in for this summer is not a mere imitation of an American reality show, but a love letter to Canada stretched around the framework of an American reality show. The Race isn’t going to leave Canada for its inaugural Canadian season, which might cause unpleasant flashbacks among those of us who remember season 8 of TAR: U.S., but it’s pretty clear from the first episode that there’s going to be no shortage of incredible sights and awe-inspiring tasks. Canada is a pretty big place, and certainly the U.S. Race hasn’t scratched its surface (it’s only been there twice, and TAR: Australia visited it once as well).
Teams began their Amazing Canadian Race by visiting the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory, where they had to stick their hands in terrariums containing creatures of varying degrees of repulsiveness in order to receive their next clues. Yes, clues plural. Tim Senior and Tim Junior completely failed to take note of the contents of their terrarium, in the sense that they missed both the giant tarantula and the fact that they needed to take both clues. (And yes, it was clear from other teams reading the instructions that they were specifically told they both needed to stick their hands in there and grab a clue.) This came back to haunt them later, but thanks to having run an otherwise mistake-free race, it didn’t knock them out. Another team wasn’t so lucky—but we’ll get to that. The terrarium clues directed teams to Pearson International Airport (that’s YYZ to you Rush fans) and from there it was off to the West Coast to hunt lake monsters and jump off bridges.
As in the first leg of the most recent season of TAR: U.S., two Express Passes were part of the prize package for the first-place team on this leg, and teams on the first flight—Hal and Joanne, Darren and Kristen, the sisters, and the doctors—declared an alliance and made a pact to give the extra Express Pass to whichever of those teams finished second. Since Darren and Kristen did indeed land on the mat first, they’ve got a Pass to pass on. Whether this will cause a minor kerfuffle like it did Stateside is yet to be determined, but here’s hoping nobody ruptures their Achilles tendon along the way.
In another callback to last season’s Race south of the border, the first leg of the Canadian race kicked off with back-to-back Roadblocks and required each team member to complete one. Sisters Vanessa and Celina set a new Amazing Race speed record by proving almost immediately that they really are, as promised, more than a pair of pretty faces when each wound up taking the Roadblock that played directly to her number-one phobia. Vanessa faced down a panic attack to complete the underwater Roadblock while Celina confronted her fear of heights. “I faced my biggest fear,” Vanessa said as she cheered big sis on, “so now you have to face yours.” The show’s best moments have often come when Racers face their fears, but it’s so rare to see both halves of a team actively taking them on right away. In electing to take the water task, Vanessa set the tone for a fiercely run leg and demonstrated that these girls are a force to be reckoned with. Even the frivolous girly team is better in Canada!
Although the Bellevue Trestle task was a little scary to more than one racer, nobody was stopped cold by any of the tasks. Darren and Kristen, Holly and Brett, and Team Body Break all ran a pretty much perfect leg from start to finish. Once I got over the Pavlovian conditioning that makes me want to go into the other room and grab a snack every time I see Hal and Joanne on the screen (doesn’t that mean 90 seconds before my show comes back on?), they proved to be pretty entertaining, especially when Joanne cursed up a storm on the bridge before yelling the Body Break catch phrase and jumping off. Brett secured his role as Designated Snarky Narrator for the season, although Jet and Dave’s commentary gave him a run for his money. (Particular highlights: Jet crediting Body Break for inspiring him to become a bodybuilder, and Dave telling Hal, “my cousin has been you for Halloween!”) None of the teams have proved particularly unlikeable yet, although Darren and Kristen’s first-place finish was not particularly climactic or interesting. They’re clearly a strong team, but so far they have not displayed strong personalities.
In the back of the pack, Treena and Tennille battled it out with Jamie and Pierre to avoid finishing last, but at the end of the day, the “Twinzz” fell victim to an Amazing Race mistake so classic that other teams actually called it out in their audition tapes, before they were even cast for the show: always, always read the clue. And then read it again. Both the Twinzz and the Tims missed the part of their clue that said they needed to remove two clues from the terrariums at the butterfly garden, but Treena and Tennille also seemed to skim over the clue at the lake that supplied a map, which put them near last place when it came time to pay their 30-minute penalty. That knocked them out of the competition even as they beat the cowboys in a foot race.
Altogether, TAR: Canada wasn’t a totally flawless execution of the Race formula (they’re allowed to use OnStar? Whaaaaat?), but the sweeping vistas, entertaining teams, and awesome tasks were very much in line with what we want out of our best races. The show enjoyed the highest-ever ratings for a premiere of a Canadian series, and I have no doubt it will hold on to a good chunk of that audience in future weeks. The Amazing Race is a show that usually only gets better as the season progresses, so when it’s off to a good start, that indicates great things to come.
Until next time, Race fans, keep fit and have fun!