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Ousted Winnipeg mother-son duo speak out on 'Amazing Race Canada' experience

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TORONTO - It took a trek to the Yukon to halt the gold rush for hockey stars Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson on "The Amazing Race Canada," while a plucky mother-son duo met their end in a hail of misfired bullets.

After four consecutive first-place finishes, the steely Olympic hockey players relented their dominant chokehold on the race, allowing Montreal couple Alain Chanoine and Audrey Tousignant-Maurice to ascend to a surprise first-place finish.

At the other end of the spectrum, Winnipeg's Cormac and Nicole Foster were ousted when the latter struggled mightily with the rifle-shooting portion of an exhausting biathlon challenge. In a credit to her determination, the single mother persisted long past the point that their elimination had become a virtual certainty.

"I've always taught Cormac never to give up," she said, tears streaming down her face. "And I could not give up in that moment."

As the Fosters fell to the gun, the all-powerful Natalie and Meaghan finally found themselves centred in the crosshairs of the other seven teams.

At issue was their distribution of the second Express Pass. Although the gold medallists had burned their own Express Pass while breezing to victory in the third leg, they had a second golden ticket to bestow upon a team of their choosing.

So as the episode opened with a 12,000-kilometre flight from Macau, China to Whitehorse, other teams were trying to put themselves in Natalie and Meaghan's skates and suss out what the impenetrable Olympians had in mind.

"When we get to the airport, they're going to go: 'Rex and Bob, we love you so much, here you go,'" mused former ballet star Rex Harrington, sarcasm (as usual) dripping from his tongue.

"I doubt it," replied partner Bob Hope.

"Natalie and Meaghan are probably going to choose the weakest link," speculated Audrey separately, aligning with typical "Amazing Race" psychology.

"We're in the back now so we might be getting the Express Pass," agreed partner Alain. "I wish I was so much of a threat that they wouldn't want to give it to me, but that's not the case right now."

Twins Pierre and Michel Forget were the team that had worked most transparently to curry the Olympians' favour, figuring that their shared athletic background — the Forgets once pursued careers in competitive freestyle skiing — would give them an edge.

Of course, these cutthroat brothers already have an edge so serrated it's drawn negative attention from other teams.

"If we do not have the Express Pass today, they're going to be in big trouble. Big trouble," warned Michel ominously.

Well, to the chagrin of the other six teams competing, Natalie and Meaghan did award the Express Pass to the athletic Quebec twins — thus rewarding a team that has stood as stiff competition, while stipulating that the brothers would then only use future U-Turns in a way that was mutually advantageous.

It was a decision that left their competitors bemused and angry, particularly since the Forgets had already earned the field's scorn through some cheap misdirection tactics and general freeform antagonism.

"They're playing dirty and nasty," Bob said of the twins, before shifting his disgust to the Olympians. "I can't believe it. They're dumb."

"Things are just blowing up all around us," Natalie correctly assessed, seeming a touch thrilled by the competition's first sliver of conflict.

"Drama in the race!"

The Detour still might have offered a welcome respite from the spotlight for the plainspoken hockey players.

This week's two options: "make your bed," which required teams to prepare a campsite and fire up to the meticulous standard of an exacting inspector; or "ride a sled," a challenge that centred on harnessing dogs and then directing them on a three-lap joyride around a frozen pond.

Neither path really stymied any team. Sibling duo Sukhi and Jinder Atwal — collectively dubbed a "mosquito" by Bob for their irritating persistence and surprise survival of a non-elimination round last week — briefly submitted to their usual mania, begging for help in correctly harnessing the dogs.

"They've got to figure out how to do these challenges on their own," said Vancouver bartender Ryan Steele, who along with co-worker Rob Goddard raced to an encouraging second straight second-place finish.

"'How did you do it?! How did you do it?!' Why don't you just figure it out like we all did?"

But the spirited Atwals did figure it out — also acing a Speed Bump en route to a much-improved fourth-place result — and none of the other teams struggled to any serious extent, either. (Natalie and Meaghan amusingly found results by lowering the timbres of their voices while barking instructions to the dogs.)

Over at the campsite, teams similarly thrived, for the most part. So imbued with confidence were forest-reared buddies Mickey Henry and Pete Schmalz that they didn't seem to take the challenge particularly seriously.

"We usually do it in the dark when we're drunk, so this should be easy," reasoned Pete with a characteristic absence of intensity. "(We'll) have a couple beers maybe, get some babes."

The pair was feeling so blissfully in-their-element that they even engaged in some light flirtation.

"Hey Nicole, do you want to stay in our tent tonight?" offered Pete cheerfully.

"That's my mom," responded Cormac, not cheerfully.

"Kidding, Cormac," Pete replied.

"Totally not," Mickey added helpfully.

"Hot mom," Pete marvelled in a talking head later, in case their intentions weren't clear.

Pete and Mickey met the episode's Road Block with similar self-assurance. The biathlon-themed challenge required one member from each team to hop on a fat-tire snow bike and cycle a gruelling one-kilometre loop through the woods before settling into a firing range and sniping five targets from 50 metres away.

The sadistic hook? Should the gunner miss any of the targets, he or she would then have to cycle the one-kilometre circuit again before receiving another five bullets. This would continue until all five targets are knocked down.

Pete's brashness was well-earned, as Mickey explained: "Pete's been shooting rifles since he was four so I'm like, 'Pete, this is all you.'"

Pete then went 0-for-5 on his first attempt from the range and would require seven more attempts before moving on. Indeed, the rate of success at this challenge seemed in certain circumstances almost inversely proportional to one's shooting experience.

Sukhi characteristically set eyes to rolling with a frantic series of questions about how to hold a gun, then proceeded to hit four out of five targets on her first try.

Natalie also had an 80 per cent success rate on her inaugural attempt (surprise, surprise), while Alain was the only one to ace the field on his first try, thus sending the actor and his animated partner to their first leg victory — earning a sun vacation and $3,000 in the process.

"Remind me never to let you buy a gun," quipped Audrey on their way out.

For those who did struggle, however, it was easy for the challenge to spiral out of control, since precision aiming only becomes harder when one is breathlessly cycling laps in between shots.

"Who designs these tests? Satan?" demanded Rex, whose team narrowly avoided elimination then happily crowed: "The old folks are in it still!"

No one endured the torment that Nicole did, however. It was 13 attempts before she managed to hit even one of the targets. And it was on her 22nd try, her vision muddled by tears and the rest of the pack long gone, that she finally managed to snipe the final objective.

When they started the race, Cormac was 19 — the same age as Nicole when she gave birth to him. As she doggedly cycled nearly two-dozen kilometres to complete a race she had already lost, she was motivated by a genetic aversion to quitting she hoped to pass on to her son.

"My mom was a single mom," she said. "She taught me what it was to work hard. She taught me you always finish what you start.

"I don't care what the outcome is to this. I'm going to stay here and shoot this till it's done."

That she did, and although she missed out on the next leg of the race — which coincidentally will take teams to the Fosters' home of Winnipeg — she did earn the admiration of her oldest child.

"I'm very proud of her," he said simply.

On Wednesday, the mother-son duo reflected on their "Amazing Race Canada" experience with The Canadian Press:

CP: You ultimately cycled 22 kilometres, which is more than a half-marathon. What was going through your mind as you went around and around?

Nicole: I've always taught Cormac to finish what he starts ... and I just kept thinking, this is my opportunity to actually show that in action. Because we can say a lot of things as parents. There was a point I said to him, "Cormac, what happens if it gets dark?" And he's like, "Well, I guess we'll turn on the lights." We just knew we weren't going to stop what we were doing.

CP: So with the benefit of hindsight, you wouldn't go back and take the penalty?

Nicole: Nope. We said we were on that race to race, not to take penalties. And so we would have done the same thing.

Cormac: It would have hurt us to take a penalty, 'cause that would have felt like we quit, and we're not quitters.

CP: I know Nicole that you have a four-year-old (son) as well. You didn't talk about it much during the race, but how hard was it being away from him?

Nicole: It was really hard. No contact for that long, there was moments on the race where I found myself being distracted. And when I thought, "What's going on? Why am I not focusing here?" And it was I was thinking about him.

It really came out in Macau during that dance. It took us some to get and it shouldn't have taken me any time to get that dance. When I stopped and thought about it, I said to Cormac, "I'm not focusing. My mind is on Ethan and what he's doing and what he might be thinking about his mother abandoning him." So yeah. It was tough.

— Follow @CP_Patch on Twitter.

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