Sunday, December 18, 2005

Amazing Race ends in Toronto area

Last Tuesday I was hit with a bout of homesickness. The Amazing Race 8 ended with a two-hour episode set mainly in Canada. The teams flew from Montana to Montreal for the first half of the episode. The second half was spent mostly in Toronto.

They didn't go anywhere that I recognized from our single trip to Montreal (back in 2003, when I went to get my U.S. visa) but Toronto was a different story. They flew into the Toronto Island airport, went to the CN Tower, drove back down to the harbour area, and then left Toronto for the Queenston area near Niagara Falls. The race ended at Lewiston, NY, just opposite Queenston.

I lived in the harbour area, on Queen's Quay (pronounced "queen's key", not "queen's qway", as one player called it) for the last 7 months I lived in Toronto. I only ever went up the CN Tower once, back in grade 11 or 12, but I was a regular at Toronto Argonauts games held at the Skydome (now the Rogers Centre, or some such) which is next door to the tower. I used to walk past the tower regularly. My apartment was right next to the approach to the Toronto Island airport (for planes coming in from the east).

What's interesting about seeing The Amazing Race when you know the area is that you can tell just how they edit things for interest sake. On the commercials for this episode they showed the team that eventually won the race running into the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The stadium was set up for Canadian football. One of the family members exclaims, "I love this game!" Now, I figured (as did any Americans watching) that he meant football in general. I was pretty sure by the commercials that they were in Canada even before I saw the episode, due to the placement of the goal posts, so I thought it would be fun to find out he really did mean Canadian football. Well, no he didn't. He didn't mean American football, either. It turns out that during the episode two of the three teams had to play curling, another sport popular in Canada. (I've never played it but I love watching it, due to a combination of being a Canadian citizen, being born in Scotland where the sport was invented, and from being a gamer — the sport has a fair bit of strategy to it). One of the Linz family members fell in love with curling. It's curling, not football, to which he exclaims, "I love this sport!"

The clue box for this leg was "at centre field" on the Olympic Stadium football field. When they zoomed in, sure enough, it was on the 50 yard line! One problem... Canadian football fields are 110 yards long (not including end zones), not 100. The box should have been on the centre line, sometimes marked with a C in the middle. Someone operating the cameras must have decided they wanted the box on the 50 yard line so that American viewers would understand the location of the box.

Toronto was the mystery destination. After landing in Toronto they had to go up to the CN Tower to search for a clue. The show insisted on calling it by its French name, La Tour CN (you can see they call it that on their web site, at
show/ep13/index2.shtml). The funny thing is, noone in Toronto calls it "La Tour CN". It's "the CN Tower". At least a couple of people thought they'd have to speak French in Toronto. This is funny considering that English is spoken the most in Toronto, followed by Cantonese and Mandarin, then Italian, then I think it's Portuguese. French is something like 8th.

Anyway, the clue they were searching for was down in the dockland area near a go cart track. I didn't even know there was a go cart track there! That must be fairly new (in the last 4 years, anyway). When the teams got there they had to choose between climbing the mast of a tall ship in Toronto harbour or search for a single person out of 100 people at the Bata Shoe Museum. I was yelling at the screen telling them to go with the ship. They had to sail across part of the harbour in a sailboat, but they would stay at the south end of the city. The Bata Shoe Museum is up on Bloor Street. Depending on the day of the race, the trip to the museum alone could take them 20 minutes or more from where they got the clue on a good day.

This was another place where judicious editing was done. The next leg was as Queenston, in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. The best way to get there is via the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way, a six-lane — sometimes eight-lane — highway to Niagara Falls. You get there via the Gardiner Expressway, which is right down near the harbour. Again, depending on the route and time of day, the round trip from the harbour to the museum and back to the Gardiner could easily add 40 minutes to the trip time for the team that chose the museum challenge. In the race, the Linz family and the Bransen family were neck-and-neck at that point. They were pretty close to neck-and-neck at the final. That means that in spite of the extra 40 minute trip time, the slow and frustrating challenge in the shoe museum (match a pair of shoes to one of 100 women walking barefoot in the museum) was actually the faster of the two challenges to complete.

I just checked the pictures at The Amazing Race web site. The tall ship is near the Toronto Island airport. You can see a plane hanger in the background. That meant that they had to sail a boat from the east side of the harbour to the west, climb the ship, and then sail back. Yeah, okay, I can see how the team at the museum could keep up. The Weaver family got to the dockland clue box just as the Bransens were leaving. They chose the ship challenge. They were way behind in the final, suggesting that there was some considerable time difference in their sale across the harbour.. That doesn't show up in the show. The editing made it look like the Weavers weren't that far behind the Linzs heading for the tall ship.

(Toronto traffic being what it is, it could easily have been 30 to 60 minutes one way from the harbour to the shoe museum. Traffic was light from what I could see, and the racers apparently flew into Toronto in the morning, so I'm guessing they got there on a Sunday.)

If you haven't guessed by now, this was a fun episode for me. The racers were all worried they'd have to speak French in Montreal, but everyone they met spoke English. This was the same thing that Alana and I discovered when we went to Montreal (35 years living in Canada and that was only the first time I'd visited Montreal, and my previous experience in Quebec had not been a positive one, language wise). One team stopped a Montrealer asking if the big building nearby was the Stade Olympique (the French name, displayed on their clues). They pronounced it "Stayed Olympeek". The Montrealer, corrected them, saying, "Stade (pronounced "stad") Olympique? Yes." It was a very Canadian moment, a Montrealer with an anglophone accent correcting an American on the pronunciation of a French-Canadian name. The shots of Toronto brought back some homesickness, but it also brought some "Oh, I've been there!" excitement that comes from seeing your neighbourhood on television, and American television at that! Torontonians play a game called "spot the building" when they watch a movie filmed in Toronto. I did the same thing with this episode.

I couldn't get over the fact that the teams found easy parking in Toronto. They must have a crew on hand to make sure parking places are secure, otherwise the team that went to the shoe museum might still be looking for a parking space. The shots of Montreal showed a different quality of light to those in other places during the race, including Toronto. This was something that I noticed when I was up there, that there really is less light hitting Canada. (Last year my mother noted how much brighter it is here in Louisiana. It makes sense, otherwise why would it be so much hotter?)

The final Canadian leg took the racers down the QEW to highway 405, which takes them to Queenston, site of a War of 1812 battle and a really lovely place to visit. If you don't like the tacky tourist trap that is Niagara Falls, the nature trails, historical sites, and classier shops of Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake are for you. The teams mirrored much of the route Alana and I took into Toronto when we went for my visa, only we crossed at the Queenston-Lewiston bridge. The teams had to take a speed boat around the whirlpool along the Niagara River (down river from the Falls), and then take the boat to the New York side of the river. Alana and I have been above the whirlpool, so that part looked very familiar. Alana was wondering aloud how they managed to get into the U.S. without clearing customs, though.

(Here's a little travel tip for anyone driving into Canada from the U.S. at Niagara Falls, or vice versa. Do not cross at Niagara Falls! It's far too busy. Go north to Lewiston on the U.S. side, or Queenston on the Canadian side, and cross there. You're only about 10 or 15 miles from Niagara Falls, but the crossing is a lot faster. Besides, you'll want to see the stuff around Queenston anyway.)

When the signs for Niagara, Queenston, and the 405 popped up, it was all I could do to refrain from dragging Alana out to the car and driving up there.

That didn't happen, of course. Beside the distance, and us having to work the next day, there was another reason. The Amazing Race was apparently shot during the summer. Southern Ontario is covered in snow right now, and gets dark incredibly early. While Alana would love to see snow that lasts for more than a few hours, I'm in no big rush to drive on salt-covered roads any time soon.

I can wait until Canada thaws out.

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