The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ousted 'Amazing Race Canada' duo touched by response from gay kids

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TORONTO - A surprise trek to the far East did nothing to displace the direction of "The Amazing Race Canada," with the dominant Olympians Meaghan Mikkelson and Natalie Spooner skating to yet another first-place finish in an episode that became a clash between two teams lost in the supermarket.

Ultimately, spunky Toronto married duo Laura Takahashi and Jackie Skinner were the third team to be eliminated during a dizzying tour of Hong Kong, a trip that marked "The Amazing Race Canada"'s first international sojourn.

Word of that journey was greeted with wonderstruck squeals from nearly all of the nine remaining duos (excitable siblings Sukhi and Jinder Atwal seemed to climb highest on the decibel scale), and so too was news of the unlikely survival of ballet virtuoso Rex Harrington and his fiance Bob Hope.

They narrowly avoided elimination in last week's second episode, when Halifax parents Jen and Shawn King were elbowed out of the race by the latter's dislocated shoulder. The reprieve was unlikely and, perhaps, undeserved, given that Harrington and Hope had quit on back-to-back challenges in that episode and thus accrued enough penalty time to impress Tiger Williams.

"We're in loser last," said a chastened Harrington at the beginning of this week's episode, raising a mimed "L" to his forehead.

"Our goal is really to have redemption and move on."

Humbled though the couple apparently was, they still announced their continued existence to the other teams — who wouldn't have yet known who got eliminated — by materializing at the airport, trilling "we're baaaack" and punctuating the bulletin with a series of (obviously) well-executed pique turns from Harrington.

Their renewed confidence was proven justified, given that all the teams then embarked upon the same 10,000-kilometre flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong and stared down a newly levelled playing field.

After a whisk through several local landmarks — Lantau Peak! Ngong Ping Village! The Tian Tan Buddha! — the teams climbed some stairs, received a blessing from a group of monks and headed to the Golden Dragon sculpture. There, they made a Detour decision that would essentially determine which duos would survive, so stark was the difference in difficulty between the two tasks.

The first challenge required teams to locate the Michelin-certified restaurant Bo Innovation and its stoic owner, "MasterChef Canada" judge Alvin Leung, who would then shoo them off to the Wan Chai Wet Market armed with a 10-ingredient shopping list. The second challenge required teams to put on silky white uniforms and learn a "complicated" kung fu routine.

All but two teams chose the latter, while Mikkelson and Spooner sped past the whole ordeal by using the Express Pass they won on their first leg. The hockey stars have thus won all three legs of the race so far.

Harrington and Hope were the only duo to briefly waffle, with Harrington — who wanted the martial-arts challenge — ultimately getting his way with a sturdy trump card.

"I am Rex Harrington. I have a star on the Walk of Fame. I have an Order of Canada from my dance career," said Harrington, who along with his partner had a much better week with a seventh-place finish. "I should be able to do this."

They weren't the only team to express confidence. Dating Montreal couple Alain Chanoine and Audrey Tousignant-Maurice similarly figured the kung fu challenge would be a breeze.

"I'm an actor, stunt performer, I have a black belt in karate," Alain said. "If we work together, we'll be No. 1."

In reality, the challenge boiled down to manoeuvring in graceful unison while swinging long, slender sticks, which teams mastered with varying degrees of violent panache. Most took a subdued approach, though Winnipeg mother-son duo Cormac and Nicole Foster actually theorized they could conquer the challenge faster if they yelled a lot.

They were then the first team to successfully finish it.

"The yelling helped," Nicole concluded.

"Yes it did," replied her son.

But really, no team struggled to any serious degree other than Chanoine and an increasingly distressed Tousignant-Maurice, who shed tears of frustration over the eight required attempts.

She might have relaxed if she knew about the overwhelming ordeal unspooling across town.

As it turns out, questing through a massive foreign market with a long list of (English) ingredients — which included such obscurities as a tin of Jakeman's Canadian maple syrup, a bottle of Shaoxing wine and a package of vanilla beans — is vexing and time-consuming.

Only Laura and Jackie and the Atwals attempted it. Even enlisting the assistance (and patience) of an English-speaking local didn't bail out Laura and Jackie, whose first submission to Leung was tersely rejected because they bought plump Sichuan chili peppers instead of Sichuan peppercorns.

"He is definitely the Demon Chef," muttered Laura with a smile.

Both teams eventually nailed it, and did so without any ugly (onscreen) arguments. But by then they were fighting for last place.

That's because the final obstacles posed little challenge. The final — which required teams to overact under the supervision of a local director and a few photo-snapping locals — was a mere formality, while the obligatory foreign-food-is-weird gross-out segment provided good TV if not an actual challenge.

At the apparently century-old diner She Wong Lam, competitors were to remove a snake's gall bladder (which looked like a chewed wad of bubblegum), extract the bile and suck back the forest-green ooze from a shot glass. They were then to eat a bowl of snake-meat soup.

After some wide-eyed glances and steadying gulps, no one was seriously stalled by the task and many saw an opportunity for a quip. Sukhi questioned whether the soup was gluten-free while Meaghan whispered, "Hello, my little friend," as she withdrew the gall bladder.

Jackie did initially look nauseated by the prospect.

"I'm vegetarian," she said. "Anything that comes out of a snake, I don't think I should eat."

Then, of course, she accomplished the task with little fuss, which characterized the couple's short stint on the show.

Laura and Jackie met as co-workers at a camp 15 years ago, became good friends, started a romantic relationship together, then got married. Before the show started they attested to their inseparability, which apparently felt heightened after the race.

"It's just really brought us closer and closer together," Laura said after they were eliminated.

"I'm extremely, extremely lucky. You're the most beautiful girl in the world," said Jackie.

In their three episodes, the pair was never really shown fighting. In their final one, choosing a fight might have saved them. Still, they were characteristically upbeat when they discussed their run with The Canadian Press on Wednesday morning.


CP: There was a real imbalance between the difficulty of the two Detour options. How much do you guys regret not doing the martial arts challenge?

Laura: It's not really regret, but it's more of a learning experience. ... Our learning point there would be to properly assess both sides of the Detour before making our decision. If they had presented us with a shopping list before we chose the Detour, we might have steered away from it.

Jackie: Halfway through, we were starting to read the clues for the other challenge, and ... we were talking about if we should go and switch. But at the end of the day, we're not good at kung fu either. So it's like, we went with the one that we thought that we obviously knew the most about. You live and die by the Detour so that was kind our time to go.


CP: It really seemed as though the two of you got along swimmingly. Is that pretty accurate?

Jackie: Very accurate. They didn't show any (fights) because we really didn't disagree or argue. Of course there were a few times where we got a little flustered. But we really, at those moments, if Laura was getting a little frustrated or vice versa, we'd both take a minute and know that the other one would step in.


CP: You told me before the race that you wanted to show Canada what a young gay married couple looks like. Are you happy with how you presented your relationship?

Jackie: Absolutely. The support across Canada that we're getting and all the social media stuff and the texts and emails and everything, I believe that we reached that goal of what we were trying to accomplish and trying to show. So far, it's been nothing but positivity. It's really cool too when we have younger gay kids and stuff reaching out — that is exactly why we wanted to go on the show.

Laura: It's just so, so heartwarming. Going into last night's episode, you're filled with a little bit of dread knowing that your end of race is coming. But at the same time, for everybody to be lifting us up and telling us how proud they are of us, it's really so encouraging. It makes us want to just do it all over again.

— Follow @CP_Patch on Twitter.

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