Okay, teams start in Yellowknife, Jon does his intro (nice place Yellowknife, it truly is), and we get to meet the teams. Some teams seem like they're trying to hard in their intro vids but overall I'm positive about this year's cast. Some of those folks have great laughs. And like the teams, I think we watchers are a bit lulled into the first task. Find the sign post, translate the Cree (yeah, see the update below) into English. Seems a bit tricky, maybe some stress but this doesn't seem so bad does. I mean how hard could it be? Ha!
I wondered if Joel and Ashley knew much Cree cause you know, sometimes we Cree know a lot and sometimes we don't (Like me) cause you know, residential schools and assimilation policies. Then again, there are many, many dialects of Cree and the Cree from Enoch (near Edmonton) are similar but different than the Cree in the NWT. But Ashley thinks she has to just pronounce the words in Cree clearly and does so to the nice clue giver. She smiles and shakes her head, thinking what the rest of are thinking: read the clue. Translate, not pronounce. UPDATE: Ashley politely reminded me on twitter that it was the Weledah language, not Cree. "If it was Cree," she wrote, "we would have rocked it." Note to self: Read the clue!
Anyway, teams are running through the woods, find the proper words and one by one, translate the Weledah into English. Not exactly but close enough. Next clue, fly outta Yellowknife (What! Already?) And head to Jasper. Only the first four teams are heading to the airport and we all believe, including the teams, that this is the big thing we have stress about this episode. And boy does Jillian stress out. Doesn't help that Emmett seems to be making the rounds of the airport road but if you're losing it just after the first challenge, it's gonna be a long race.
Something happens to my TV and I'm out for a bit, coming back as the first 4 teams arrive in Jasper. Next clue is a roadblock. something to do with hanging about. Sorry no notes. And this is where the race really kicks it up a notch. And when I say kick it up a notch, they're not just dialling up to 11, they're pumping that sucker through a distortion pedal and running that sound through the biggest PA system you can find.
Right out of the gate in Episode 1 you have one of most challenging and picturesque Amazing Race Roadblocks. Racers in groups of three have to ride up the Jasper Gondola (yeah it's called something but that's what I'm going with), stop halfway, then climb out the top, down the side and then along the bottom like my kid in the playground with the monkey bars. On the other side, there's another ladder you have to climb up to get the clue. If you fall, you die. No, not really. We don't live in a dystopian society. One day, maybe but not yet. There's a bungee cord attached to you so if you fall, you bungee and you have to go to the back of the line at the bottom of the gondola and wait for other teams to go up and down so they can do that task. It's an hour up and an hour down, so if you fall, you've lost two hours, maybe more if there are way more teams ahead. I looked at this task and for one of the first times in my life, I was actually happy I was not on the race. That would have been really tough to do. But that feeling past quickly then realized, the task would have been mine, not Gord's. Although it's a Roadblock so you can never know. Chances are we both would have fallen, but hey, one never knows cause I can do some monkey bars at the playground with my kid.
Anyway, Ashley, Stephane, and Emmett are the first up. Stephane is old like Gord and I (actually he's couple years younger than me and four younger than Gord), but he's afraid of heights. Not like Gord but really afraid of heights. But out he goes (Or was it Ashley first?). Oh well, my continuity is off, but Stephane gives it a good try. Too bad his kid is older and not young like mine cause he would have know that the key to monkey bars like this is to move quickly before you arms get tired. And he's gone... aiieeeee. And if Ashley was first, she gets a bit out and she's gone...aieeeeee. Both of them back to the end of the line.
Emmett seems keen to do this and he's younger and fitter, and faster. So he gets across on his first try. Next clue, row down the Athabasca River to find the next clue box. Off they go. Other teams arrive and again I'm a bit confused with the continuity so forgive me . Steph is out and she's smart, using her feet on the monkey bars to help her get across. But she struggles with the transition to the ladder. She gets her feet on it, but seems unable to move her upper body across. As a former NCAA athlete, she's strong but not strong enough. She falls, but no, a foot is stuck and she is hanging upside on a tram on the side of mountain in Jasper National Park. Ouch, that had to hurt. And man, it could have been serious, dislocate a joint, tear a tendon. And what the heck is the name of the Stallone mountain climbing movie? Oh yeah, Cliffhanger. And that's what get as they we cut to commercial. An actual cliffhanger. Wow! I'm not leaving the couch, I can pee at the next commercial break!
Other teams try the task. I find it funny that Kelly and Kate make a big deal about being fit but which ever one of them does that task (they look like twin sisters rather than best friends) doesn't even last a second hanging from the tram. Neither does young Brandon who falls immediately. I really like how Lowell handles this task. He tries to get across, almost makes it, but falls. Instead of screaming with fear, he enjoys the moment, while his wife rolls her eyes. He's also full of puns which could be fun. Other teams fall and head to the back of the line.
Meanwhile, Big Brother are paddling with Jillian yelling at Emmett. I hope this isn't the whole story for their race cause I'm tired of the dynamic already. Back at the tram, there's some strategizing going on. As Ashley, Stephane and someone else I can't remember (I'm terrible at remembering these things in the first few episodes) try for a second time, Kate and Kelly are doing the math about quitting. By the time all the teams ahead of them get up and down and up and down, it might be more than the 4 hour penalty. They decide the math calculates correctly. So they to take the chance and the penalty. Other teams don't bite. Scratch that, after some thinking Anthony and Branden think the math will still work in their favour. Both of them are off to the raft with the boys thinking all they have to do is pass K and K.
Quitting a task is always a tough choice but if you're going to quit a task, be the first team to do so. Never be the second or third team to quit a task because then you're automatically behind. Also, you never know what's going to happen. Anything can. And anything does. Ashley, Stephane finish their second try and are also off. But then the rain comes and it's no longer safe to continue to do the task. It's cancelled and teams waiting are told they'll have to wait till the time when the tram goes up and then down before they can go. That's a lot less longer than what the the Windsor Boys and K and K figured out. Bad math, bad math.
K and K don't help matters either. Sure, they find the clue box by the river. Hurray, good for you, run for it, celebrate your success, uh, don't forget to bring your raft onshore before it drifts... too late. Yep, rookie rafting mistake. They have to walk down the side of the river to get their raft. Time's awastin' and the boys are right behind. Like right behind you.
Okay, where are we now? Hey, it's Big Brother and the next clue is another roadblock. Climb down a cliff face into a canyon, find the ranger (Ranger Smith, perhaps?) who will give you an avalanche finder. There are three, or was it four, boxes with clues and you have to find one with the thingy Ranger Smith gave you. Simple but it can be tough if you don't know how they work? And time consuming even if you do? Or if you're stressed out like Jillian. Again, it didn't help that Emmett kept shouting at her, but hey man, he was shouting at her to relax. Really, not helping dude.
Anyway, she finds the clue as does Kristen and they race for the pitstop at Pyramid Lake. Okay, it's not much of a race, Big Brother come in first, despite the bickering and win a trip for two to London. But man, Steph and Kristen are a great team. Second place on the first leg ain't bad, especially since Steph was hanging by her ankle hundreds of feet over a mountainside. Huzzah to her. Huzzah.
My mind was a whirl because it was a great episode, and I almost lost this entire post halfway writing through so I'm going to wrap it up fast. K and K, and the Windsor Boys also do the other Roadblock with the boys saying the could win a footrace to the mat. But you have to at least get close and they don't. They arrive 3th and 4th but Jon tells them to sit and wait for 4 hours in the rain cause you know, penalty.
The teams with dads and their kids, Stephane and Antoine, Ashley and Joel come third and fourth. Nice job both teams. There are a lot of shots of the remaining teams getting lost, trying to follow each other, leaving others behind. It's a bit ironic that Julie, who is supposed to be the eyes of their team, gets lost and confused during the second Roadblock. But even though they are the last team to get that task done, they find the pitstop way ahead of the other three remaining and lost teams out in the field. Maybe it's because they're from Alberta and have been to Jasper before. Then again, Rita and Yvette are from Edmonton and were constantly getting lost out there. And a tip to those two; sure it looks good on a BMO commercial to help another team when they are lost ("Hey we have a map!"), you might want to rethink that strategy.
But in the end, it made no different because the strategy of quitting the tram task did not pay off for the teams that did. Oh, it did for Kelly and Kate but only because Anthony and Brandon quit after them. So the Windsor Boys are out. Probably not what they expected; probably not what a lot of viewers expected because they are young males, who usually do well in the race. Then again, stuff happens, as we recall from last season's first episode.
I know my post is a bit rambly today, mostly cause I'm a bit rambly today. And I know any of my descriptions did not capture how amazing awesome this episode was. As I said it had everything and a lot more. I have seen a lot of TAR and I was completely blown away by this episode. It proves to me that you don't always need to fly somewhere international in the first leg and stay out there in the world. If you plan the route and tasks properly, cast some great teams and have a bit of luck with how the teams react to the pressure, you can stay in Canada for some legs and create an amazing episode. And that's what we all watched.