A group of young, fit-looking men and women, sporting running shoes and backpacks with Canadian flag patches, sprinted up the sidewalk outside Ottawa city hall. Camera crews surrounded them. Curious onlookers could only stare.
“We’ve been watching from the window at city hall. What’s going on?” said one city employee, looking around at the large production crew of sound and camera operators, producers and directors.
The media was implored to sign a non-disclosure agreement effective until Wednesday at midnight, but if you spotted the Instagram hashtags, you’d know that reality TV show The Amazing Race Canada made a pit stop in Ottawa this spring.
During Season 5, the crew flew in from Bangkok, Thailand on May 8 to produce the Ottawa leg of the travel competition show. The teams of two had previously visited St. John’s, Fort McMurray, Castlegar, B.C, Beijing and Bangkok before making a stop in the National Capital Region.
The show features teams competing in an arduous race across Canada and the world. Contestants receive clues and challenges to complete each section of their journey, and the first group to cross the finish line wins $500,000 in cash and prizes.
Jantine Van Kregten, Ottawa Tourism’s director of communications, was on hand with her colleagues in May. She said the national exposure is a bonus for the city.
“It’s the most watched show in Canada, so in our 150th year when we have so much to talk about, this is great exposure,” she said.
The day kicked off with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson handing out the first clue at the Ottawa 2017 cauldron on city hall property.
The first pair to accept it were best friends Korey and Ivana.
“Welcome to Ottawa,” Watson said, shaking their hands. “Here’s your next clue.”
After city hall, the group headed to Hogs Back Falls where they found a fleet of red and white Chevrolet 2018 Equinox SUVs. The teams had to park five vehicles to create one of the six letters that spell Canada. From there, they received their next clue.
Popular friend team “Giv’r” used the surround vision technology to park their cars in the letter D. “Let’s get in, this is easy, let’s fire it up,” yelled teammate Ryan to Kenneth, who won the challenge and were the first to make it to the RCMP Musical Ride challenge. There, team members were asked to groom a horse front to back and then go for a ride before getting the next clue.
“One thing we also have to do is clean their butt (with a brush),” said one of the musical ride members to Andrea, who is business partners with her teammate Ebonie. “Do one side or the other, whichever you’re comfortable with.”
After finishing the task, Andrea laughed, saying, “Honestly, I didn’t mind it.”
The mad dash continued around the city — with detours at the tulips beds at Commissioners Park along Dow’s Lake where contestants raced to build tulip carts, and at the Canada Council Art Bank where teams scoured through 17,000 pieces to find specific artworks.
When teams finished challenges, they jumped into vans with assigned drivers and camera crew to get from location to location, attempting to evade competitors who may try to follow.
In addition to the regular detours and U-turns that are a key part of the show, there were some unexpected twists and turns throughout the day. Some teams got lost and bridges were closed due to the extreme flooding along the Ottawa River, which host Jon Montgomery acknowledged at one point during the show.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that people’s homes are actually under water,” said Montgomery, a former Olympian who has hosted the show since Season 1. “And it’s beautiful to know that there’s a community around them doing sandbagging and all of the government workers here in Ottawa and Gatineau are pulling together to try to save some homes in Gatineau.”
The day wrapped up at the Museum of History in Gatineau, where the teams were asked to write a citizenship test. The first to finish reaffirmed their Canadian citizenship with a Chief Citizenship Judge.
When teammates Adam and Andrea ran up to Montgomery at the outside upper terrace of the museum, they had no idea they were in first place — again.
“Hi guys, you are team No. 1!” Montgomery said with his signature enthusiasm.
“You are repeat winners on Season 5, you two.”
The duo burst with excitement, yelling, “Oh my God, Oh my God.”
Asked what makes this show so popular, Montgomery said it’s partly because Canadians are prolific travellers who can relate to tricky terrain and weather.
“These elements have created a whole nation of travellers and explorers and I think the premise of the show resonates with the spirit of adventure that Canadians possess — plus we always want to see ourselves on Canadian versions of popular U.S. franchises.”