The long race, amazing finish for Calgary contestants
On the trail of Amazing Race Canada to its manic conclusion in Banff
It’s late afternoon on the picturesque fifth hole of the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course and John Brunton is near giddy with excitement.
The elaborately mustachioed executive producer of Amazing Race Canada is driving a golf cart towards the crew and most of the eliminated competitors from the show’s sixth season to the spot where the winning team will eventually be crowned this year’s champs. It’s not over yet, of course. But by this point, it is becoming increasingly clear that Rockyview General Hospital nurse Courtney Berglind and Calgary firefighter Adam Kovacs will likely score a major upset and pass front-runners Taylor and Courtney Callens, the highly organized, calm-underpressure team of sibling Mounties from British Columbia.
Brunton is a veteran when it comes to this sort of thing, having executive-produced not only six seasons of Amazing Race Canada but also reality competition programs such as Canadian Idol and Top Chef Canada. Still, he seems legitimately jazzed about this surprising turn of events. So excited, in fact, that crew members report seeing him nearly hit a tree while driving the cart haphazardly towards the finish line.
“What a great ending!” he yells, after steering the golf cart back on track. “We thought it was a fait accompli!”
By now, fans of Amazing Race Canada know that engaged first responders Berglind and Kovacs were the unexpected winners of Season 6.
In Tuesday ’s season finale, which took place mostly in Calgary and Banff, the pair surprised everyone by pulling ahead of the Callens, who were stymied by a strangely intense souvenir hunt along Banff Avenue. The Callens had won five legs of the adventure series this season. When the episode began, Berglind and Kovacs hadn’t won any. But they had managed to avoid elimination week after week. By the final episode, they were the underdogs in a three-way competition with the Callens and musclebound Fort McMurray youth mentors and coaches Dylan Elias and Kwame Osei.
On May 19, the teams complete this leg in Banff and I was invited along to witness the fast-paced, behind-the-scenes action. The first hint that Berglind and Kovaks were nearing the end was the helicopter whirling above the golf course. I join members of the crew who have retreated to a wooded area on the course to keep out of sight of the cameras. Eventually, we see the triumphant ending. When they come into view, Berglind is being carried piggy backstyle by Kovacs. But they cross the finish line together and make their way to beaming host Jon Montgomery on the champions’ mat. Their former competitors are all there cheering them on.
Hours later, after the teams and crew have eaten dinner, recorded their final thoughts and have returned to the clubhouse for an interview with Postmedia, the sleep-deprived champs still seem bewildered by their win. But they are looking forward to having unsuspecting family and friends watch them in action.
“For the whole race, it’s been so up-and-down,” says Berglind, 28. “We kind of raced at the bottom of the pack for most of the race. I think every episode that we watch, maybe other than one or two, our family is going to think we’re going home.”
“I wouldn’t say it has sunk in yet,” adds Kovacs, 29. “It feels like my contacts are cloudy or something. I just feel like I’m being led around.”
By winning, Berglind and Kovacs take home not only $250,000, but also matching Chevrolet Traverse Redlines and earn a trip around the world. Not a bad haul for a couple set to be married in November.
Tuesday ’s episode began in Fredericton, where the Callens were the first to fly out of the city to Calgary to their first roadblock/challenge. It took place in the Calgary International Airport’s air traffic control tower. One member of each team had to memorize an automatic terminal information system transmission about meteorological conditions, a 30-second clip chock-full of technical terms. Courtney Callen breezed through it with surprising ease. But it proved difficult for both Berglind and, in particular, Osei.
“It was just a word I couldn’t pronounce properly that I had never heard before,” says a dejected Osei, later that day in a post-race interview with Postmedia. “I think it’s going to haunt me for a while. I feel like had I gotten that we would be the winners right now. I feel like I let our team down. It’s something that’s going to take me a while to get over.”
From Calgary, the teams were flown by helicopter to the top of a mountain in Kananaskis, where they received marching orders directing them to Sunshine Village for a two-part adventure involving skijoring, which combines dogsledding and skiing, and gliding down the mountain on a GT Racer over a frigid pond of slush water.
This is where I was supposed to start the day. But in a classic moment of Amazing Race misdirection, my driver and I ended up at the day’s production headquarters at Banff Centre, where a group of perplexed producers informed us we were in the wrong place. We followed the front-runner Callens up the gondola and arrived just in time to see Taylor sailing over the slush pond with a spectacular somersault and faceplant that left him with a nasty, reddish bruise on his face.
“How’d that look?” Taylor asks later that day, when discovering I had witnessed his epic spill. “I’ve got makeup on to cover that.”
I wouldn’t say it has sunk in yet. It feels like my contacts are cloudy or something. I just feel like I’m being led around.
Amazing Race Season 6 winners Courtney Berglind and Adam Kovacs discuss their big win on Wednesday.