National News

Hockey players win another 'Amazing Race' leg

By Nick Patch, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Olympians Meaghan Mikkelson and Natalie Spooner breezed to a fourth straight first-place finish as "The Amazing Race Canada" continued its Far East sojourn, while fortune found perpetually panicked siblings Sukhi and Jinder Atwal — but not before some desperate floundering in a glitzy casino.

The Atwals finished firmly last in Tuesday's instalment of the CTV reality race while also earning the disdain of teammates by crassly begging for help, but earned a reprieve because — cue the orchestral swell! — this was the race's first non-elimination round.

"It's time to step it up," pledged a relieved Jinder in a post-race onscreen interview, apparently so imbued with newfound confidence he even ventured into some prideful trash talk.

"We're coming like lions and we're going to take people out, one by one."

Well, it might finally be time for the remaining eight teams to begin strategizing against the dominant hockey gold medallists, who added a free trip to Japan to the considerable spoils they've accumulated through four consecutive flawless legs.

But in Tuesday's episode, most teams were still angling for the frontrunners' favour. See, Mikkelson and Spooner may have burned their own Express Pass — which allows teams to skip past one challenge, penalty-free — in the season's third episode, but they still possess a second golden ticket they can bestow upon another lucky duo.

And with varying degrees of subtlety, other pairs were fishing for the all-important pass. The ain't-too-proud-to-beg Atwals were first up, with Jinder simply blurting out "can we have the Express Pass?" with a knowingly absurd tone at the airport.

By comparison, Quebec twins Pierre and Michel Forget played the long game. Figuring that their shared history as competitive freestyle skiers would endear them to the inscrutable Olympians, Pierre schemed: "We do believe we should have a little camaraderie going on."

As it turns out, he was right. But before they could bond, one member of each team had to navigate the episode's first Road Block: a 233-metre bungee jump from the 61-storey Macau Tower.

All the teams accomplished this imposing feat with admirable aplomb, though Mickey Henry of blissfully faded duo Mickey and Pete was the only one to do so in his animal-print underwear, reasoning: "(They said) 'empty your pockets,' so right away I whip my pants off — 'cause you know, that's the fastest way to empty your pockets."

The teams were then let loose in the winding, narrow streets of Macau in search of the episode's first Detour. Even finding the clue box proved a challenge, tucked as it was in one of the bustling area's seemingly many almond-biscuit shops.

Here, the Forgets and the perennially pack-leading Mikkelson and Spooner teamed up to help each other out, and the hockey players did attest to being guided by a natural athletes' affinity. Eventually, the Forgets asked directly for the Pass, and the hockey players replied that they were "seriously, seriously considering it."

If only they knew that the brothers — who co-run a meat-packing company — were issuing an ominous ultimatum in their own private interview.

"If Meaghan and Natalie doesn't give us the Express Pass by the end of this leg tomorrow, they will be U-Turned," vowed Pierre.

Doing that would require someone actually possessing even a fleeting lead over Mikkelson and Spooner, of course — and this week's Detour offered the best chance so far at doing so.

The customary two choices presented to the teams were as follows: "Stomp It," which required teams to suit up in traditional Portuguese costumes in sprawling Senado Square and perform a complicated Macanese folk dance with a local troupe; or "Stamp It," which tasked teams with probing the labyrinth of winding streets surrounding the square to locate six shrines, each with a distinctive stamp.

Most teams instantly opted for the dancing option, and here Mikkelson and Spooner finally appeared mortal. Spooner was the more sure-footed of the two, with Mikkelson insisting with rising irritation that she needed more time to watch the other dancers before being pressured into more failed attempts.

"Oh, I suck at dancing," she lamented at one point.

The other teams definitely noticed.

"These Olympians may have a flaw and it could be dancing," mused Vancouver bartender Rob Goddard, who along with co-worker Ryan Steele surged to a second-place finish this week.

Humbled though the hockey players might have been, ultimately this block was only a blip and the duo nailed the routine on their third attempt — thus making them the first team to successfully scurry on to the next challenge.

That's pretty remarkable, especially given that decorated former ballet star Rex Harrington and his fiancee Bob Hope needed four tries to get it right, a fact that wasn't lost on the dancer — whose wit is sharp as his balance.

"All I'm thinking is everyone in the National Ballet is going to be watching me going: 'I can't believe you can't pick (this) up,'" said Harrington, whose improving team nevertheless finished an encouraging third.

Meanwhile, the week's bottom-three teams — dating Montrealers Alain Chanoine and Audrey Tousignant-Maurice, Mickey and Pete and the Atwals — each chose the other detour.

It seemed perhaps a strange decision for the Atwals given the particular difficulty they had locating even the clue box, with Jinder providing a helpful lesson in dramatic irony by declaring the red-and-yellow pillar's sneaky elusiveness while standing directly in front of it.

"I feel like we're missing something," he said, unknowingly inches away from his goal. "Let's just pray for wisdom or something."

Teaming up with one of the other struggling teams made strategic sense, and the frenzied Atwals thought they had a match in the sedate Mickey and Pete.

The feeling, however, wasn't mutual.

"Sukhi and Jinder, they're just like, high-strung," said the placid Pete.

"Super high-strung," murmured Mickey in agreement. "They're like a tornado of chaos. They're definitely harshing our mellow a little bit."

Eventually all eight remaining teams made it to the episode's next vexing riddle, which required them to venture to the Grand Lapa Hotel, pick up the rules of Fan-Tan on the fly and act as dealer to a real, active table.

All the teams struggled to pick up the game's intricate rules by observation alone, and it was here that the Atwals' hysteria reached its fever pitch.

The siblings from Terrace, B.C. — both charming and clever, if predisposed to a state of constant alarm — haven't finished better than sixth in any leg of the race and, as the final team to arrive at the casino, clearly figured their luck was nearly up.

So Sukhi set her ego aside and approached each team for clues on the game's rules, even campaigning Chanoine and Tousignant-Maurice — similarly perched on the cusp of elimination — for a helping hand.

Unsurprisingly, the pleas fell on unsympathetic ears.

"'Can you tell me what it is? Do you know what it is? Do you know what you're doing?'" squealed Hope, mimicking Sukhi's frantic tone in an interview later. "I'm not going to help Sukhi and Jinder EVER!"

"Sukhi, I've never seen her like this," marvelled Steele in his own interview segment. "She's just, like, desperate — like we have the last water on Earth."

The Atwals did eventually finish that challenge before being thrown a life preserver by host Jon Montgomery. In next week's episode — which promises a hike to the Yukon — they'll have to complete an extra Speed Bump.

Things might finally be getting rocky for those sure-footed hockey stars too, with the preview foreshadowing a "controversial" Express Pass decision from the pair that seems to finally galvanize their competitors against them.

Even before the golden girls won their fourth leg, other teams hinted at some frontrunner fatigue.

"Gotta catch the elusive Meaghan and Natalie," said Cormac Foster early in the episode.

"I know," agreed his visibly irritated mother, Nicole. "The Olympics are over."

— Follow @CP_Patch on Twitter.

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