This summer, I’ll mostly be covering The Amazing Race: Canada via podcast, in a new RHAP-Up show that will cover both TAR:Canada and the upcoming season of TAR:Australia. But before TAR:CDN kicks off tomorrow night, I thought you all might like to get some preliminary thoughts about the cast.
Just like last year’s cast preview blog, I’ll stretch to make dubious comparisons between the current Canada cast and past racers from the American mothership. Though, honestly, if Canada keeps up its current trend of casting such an incredibly diverse and dynamic group, we might be comparing American racers to Canadian ones in the not-too-distant future. In Amazing Race casting, as in hockey, comedy, candy bars, and weird potato chip flavors, Canada is kicking our ass. Maybe Canada’s not America’s hat. Maybe we’re Canada’s pants.
But I digress. Let’s get to the cast!So You Think You Can Race?[/caption]
Rex Harrington and Bob Hope (engaged couple from Ashburn, Ontario)
US Counterparts: Josh and Brent (Season 21) + Joe and Bill (Seasons 1/11)
Dance enthusiasts are no doubt already familiar with Rex, who was a popular guest judge on “So You Think You Can Dance: Canada” and currently works for the National Ballet of Canada. And as Hal and Joanne demonstrated last season, being a celebrity can definitely be an advantage – it’s not just a useful way to boost your stock with helpful bystanders; it’s an asset when it comes to bonding with your fellow Racers.
As a ballet dancer, Rex is no stranger to physical exertion, and any challenge requiring agility and coordination will be right up his alley. But Bob says that Rex isn’t great with details, which is arguably a more important key to Amazing Race victory. They seem to think Bob’s analytical, overplanning nature will balance out Rex’s more laid-back, free-spirited style. It’s immediately clear that Rex and Bob are far more than just a pair of humble gentlemen farmers out for their first big adventure, and it’s equally clear that their age is not going to slow them down.
Are they contenders? I’m not so sure, but I do think they’ll be fun to watch. They say they intend to be this season’s Jet and Dave. If they are naturally affable and goofy, that could work for them. If they have to work for it, I think it’ll not only get irritating fast, it’ll probably distract them from the Race at hand. (And that’s true for ALL of the teams who identify with Jet and Dave. As you’ll see, there are more than a few.)
Mickey Henry and Pete Schmalz (best friends from Parry Sound, Ontario)
US Counterparts: BJ and Tyler (Season 9) + Brandon and Adam (Season 23)
If anybody’s going to be the Jet and Dave of this season, I’d put money on this pair of lifelong friends from the wilds of Ontario. They have the hetero bro-mance vibe, they talk like surfers, and ridiculous things seem to fall out of their mouths pretty naturally. And despite the fact that they’re pretty damn funny, there’s no sense of artifice or rehearsed schtickiness with these guys.
Their greatest strength appears to be their attitude – where other teams will hit an emotional wall, they say, they’ll stay super chill no matter what’s going on. However, if they wind up taking a situation less seriously than it deserves, that strength could quickly turn out to be a weakness. And coming from the middle of nowhere can definitely be a liability when it comes time to navigate a big city.
Still, I think things are looking good overall for Team Long Hair Don’t Care: Canada Edition. If nothing else, we’ll want them to go far just so we can get more of their wacky antics.
Also, Pete has a tattoo of Mickey on his butt. If that doesn’t indicate a solid friendship, I don’t know what does.
Pierre and Michel Forget (brothers from Terrebonne, Quebec)
US Counterparts: Bates and Anthony (Season 22) + Andy and Tommy (Season 19)
It’s about time TAR:Canada cast a French-Canadian team. As former competitive skiers, Pierre and Michel are no strangers to travel OR to competition. Michel quit competing in order to work for the family’s meatpacking business so that his brother could afford to continue. Pierre nearly made the Olympic team a couple of times, but now he, too, is in the meat biz.
As with all twin teams, the danger is great that the Forget brothers will have all the same strengths and all the same weaknesses. We saw that play out in TAR:All-Stars as well as Season 1 of TAR:Canada. But Pierre seems to think that they’ve got plenty of differences. He says he’s the straight-laced twin and Michel is the loose cannon.
Like pretty much every other team this season, they want to be the Jet and Dave, but these brothers remind me more of Jody and Cory – intense, competitive, and unusually close. I like their chances.
Laura Takahashi and Jackie Skinner (married couple from Toronto)
US Counterparts: Brandy and Carol (Season 16) + Nary and Jamie (Season 20)
Laura and Jackie exude girl power much the same way Vanessa and Celina did last season. Like the sisters, they caution other teams not to underestimate them just because they’re small. Also like the sisters, they want to win the race to show that women can do anything. They’re well-traveled, outdoorsy, and no strangers to culture shock, though they admit they might buckle under stress.
As business partners AND romantic partners, Laura and Jackie clearly don’t have a problem spending large amounts of time in each other’s faces. The fact that their pet peeves about one another are kind of petty and cute could mean that they’ve either got a harmonious bond with no real quibbles or they just haven’t looked into their differences too seriously. That could spell trouble once they’re under real pressure. It also doesn’t bode well that Jackie does almost all of the talking for the team.
I doubt Jackie and Laura are going to be the first ones out, but they don’t strike me as finals material either. Still, I hope they’ll surprise me, because they seem like they’re going to be fun, and I always like an all-female team with competitive drive.
Ryan Steele and Rob Goddard (bartenders from Vancouver)
US Counterparts: Kevin and Drew (Season 1/11) + Joey and Meghan (Season 22/24)
Shocker time – Ryan and Rob identify most strongly with Jet and Dave. (Jet and Dave are like the Parvati and Russell of TAR:Canada, apparently.)
Although they have great attitudes and are clearly fans of the show, I don’t get the sense that these guys know each other particularly well outside of work. Between Rob’s personal training and Ryan’s YouTube comedy, there’s not a lot of common ground. Their 12-year age difference might be another hint that they don’t have much in common. Rob’s terrified of Ryan’s drag persona, and Ryan hates it “when Rob tries to be funny.”
Between trying to navigate not-entirely-familiar personality quirks and trying really hard to be the comic relief team, it might escape these guys’ notice entirely that they’re supposed to be, y’know, running a race. On the other hand, coworkers like Art/JJ and James/Tyler have been perfectly matched (not to mention great, focused racers). I’m not optimistic, but I’ll reserve complete judgment until I see Rob and Ryan in action.
Jen and Shawn King (married couple from Halifax)
US Counterparts: Travis and Nicole (Season 23) + TK and Rachel (Season 12)
Repping the Maritimes, Jen and Shawn are well-traveled, longtime partners, and in great physical shape. This bodes well for the high school sweethearts, who seem driven enough to be credible threats on the race course and laid-back enough that the high stress might just roll off their backs. They list friends of RHAP Brett and Holly as the team they most resemble, which of course endears them to us, though Brett and Holly are not exactly paragons of stress management on TAR.
What might trip up Jen and Shawn? Well, they strike me as the kind of team who could get way too bogged down by strategy, which might cause them to John and Jessica themselves out of the race. Plus, Shawn points out that Jen has a tendency to get “hangry” and can’t function on an empty stomach. As someone who suffers from hanger myself, I can say that there are few liabilities with quite so much potential to derail something like the Amazing Race. It’s not like they get to raid the Craft Services table at every Roadblock.
I haven’t seen very many teams in the “married parents” demographic that are true contenders, but these guys might well be.
Nicole and Cormac Foster (mother and son from Winnipeg)
US Counterparts: Susan and Patrick (Season 7) + Zac and Laurence (Season 19)
Parent/child teams from Winnipeg have a 100% success rate when it comes to competing on The Amazing Race: Canada, so picking the team they are most like was a sort of no-brainer for Nicole and Cormac. And like the Tims, Nicole and Cormac have a strong bond, and they consider themselves friends as well as family.
No matter how close you are, though, running the race with a parent can often be a little thorny because there’s a preconceived power dynamic. The parent frequently has trouble relinquishing authority, and the child has just as much trouble taking initiative with Mom or Dad breathing down their neck. (See Season 12/18’s Ron and Christina for the most extreme example of this.) As much as Nicole takes great pains to paint herself as the cool mom, I can definitely see these two having that kind of trouble. Cormac is the youngest person ever to run TAR:Canada, and he definitely looks the part. This team might be in over their heads.
Jinder and Sukhi Atwal (brother and sister from Terrace, British Columbia)
US Counterparts: Tammy and Victor (Season 14) + Blake and Paige (Season 2)
When we’ve seen brother/sister teams in the past, more often than not it’s been a big brother and a little sister. Sukhi and Jinder bring a different dynamic – Sukhi is the older sister by six years, and, in their estimation, she’s the more adventurous one. Like Jackie and Laura, the fact that they’re business partners gives them knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses in more than one dimension. But their sibling dynamic tends to dictate the way they interact. Jinder tends to bristle when he gets bossed around, which could lead to conflict on the Race.
The Atwal siblings are a product of a very traditional upbringing, which might present trouble when they’re faced with new and different cultures and environments. However, they do seem enthusiastic and fun-loving, and Sukhi has long been a rule-breaker (and she said she frequently enlisted her baby bro’s help with her various shenanigans over the years). Her ability to think outside the box may serve this team well. She does express a fear of fast-moving cars, which is an unfortunate thing to be afraid of in a race.
Overall, I think I like these two, but more as people than as racers.
Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson (hockey teammates from Scarborough, Ontario, and Spooner, British Columbia)
US Counterparts: Beth and Mona (Season 22) + Bates and Anthony (Season 22)
Natalie and Meaghan are the kind of female/female team I wish TAR:US would try to cast more often – strong, funny, and in it to win it. But I suspect casting believes the US versions of Natalie and Meaghan might take up a spot they could be giving to pro sports cheerleaders or Hawaiian Tropic girls or something. Thankfully, Canada isn’t quite so obsessed with the need to have a team whose chief asset is their flirtiness, which frees them up to cast a team of women whose chief asset is hardcore athleticism. And we are much better off because of it.
Coming off of a gold medal win in Sochi – and in Canada’s national sport, no less – Natalie and Meaghan are bound to have a lot of fans, both out on the race course and watching at home this summer. And they are as tough as any team out here – probably tougher.
Like pretty much every team this season, the hockey girls highlight an odd-couple dynamic: Meaghan’s a detail-oriented control freak, Natalie’s laid back and hates being bossed. This could lead to bickering, but if there’s one thing this team knows how to do, it’s be a team. I can’t see a universe in which they don’t make the finals.
Alain Chanoine and Audrey Tousignant-Maurice (dating couple from Montreal)
US Counterparts: Dave and Rachel (Season 20) + Max and Katie (Season 22)
With adjectives like “feisty,” “competitive,” and “stubborn” littering their website bio, it’s pretty clear what demographic Alain and Audrey are meant to represent. Not to mention the fact that they’re a pair of extremely good-looking, athletic, type A individuals who swear they will do whatever it takes to win. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our villains.
Of course, what casting wants isn’t always how the team ends up being – last season’s intended bickersons, Brett and Holly, had plenty of drama swirling around them but almost none of it was directed at each other or instigated by them. I’m prepared for Alain and Audrey to exceed the doctors’ level of bickering and/or villainy – but probably not by much. More often than not, the designated villain team channels their aggression outward and uses it as a driving force rather than a means of combustion, especially if they know each other well, which does appear to be the case here.
Bottom line: I don’t know if I like them for the finals, but I can definitely see Alain and Audrey making it fairly far.
Shahla Kara and Nabeela Barday (best friends from Markham, Ontario)
US Counterparts: Ally and Ashley (Season 23) + Nat and Kat (Season 17)
Shahla and Nabeela’s hook is that they’re not going to do anything that compromises their religious beliefs. (They’re both Muslim.) That could wind up being a problem or it could be totally irrelevant. Historically, TAR teams who’ve said their religion could come into play (Avi and Joe, Bilal and Sa’eed, Mo and Mos from TAR:Australia) have wound up getting eliminated before it ever comes up, so if Shahla and Nabeela make it more than a few legs in, we’re navigating uncharted territory. It’s anyone’s guess whether a challenge will come up that’ll come into direct conflict with their beliefs.
But that presupposes they’ll make it far into the race. And when you consider the rest of the package, that becomes a pretty big if. They are definitely an interesting contrast with the other all-women teams on this season, and all the other teams period, actually. Though they have a strong bond and are well-traveled, they certainly don’t seem quite as down to earth as Jackie and Laura or Meaghan and Natalie.
My predictions: The team I want to win is the same team I think is GOING to win, which doesn’t happen very often. I have to give the edge to Meaghan and Natalie. They seem the most driven and competitive, and hey, they’ve already got one big competition victory under their belts for 2014. I think there’s a good chance they’ll keep that winning streak alive and skate through the race course to victory.
See you all later this week for our inaugural TAR:International RHAP-Up podcast!