Entertainment

'Amazing Race Canada': Behind the scenes as reality show hits Ho Chi Minh City

By Jim Slotek, Special to Postmedia Network

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – There is something new under the hot, Southeast Asian sun — for The Amazing Race Canada, at least.

For the first time, there were actual crowds cheering on the contestants as they made their way to the Pit-stop finish line in the farewell leg of TARC’s tour of Vietnam (airing Tuesday night on CTV and CTV GO).

Not that there wouldn’t be plenty of pedestrian traffic anyway in the commercial boulevard adjacent to City Hall, in the place the locals still call “Saigon.”
But on this night, the Amazing Race logo captures the attention of tourists and locals alike. There’s a version of the show in 13 countries, including, it turns out, The Amazing Race Vietnam (some of whose production crew lent their services to TARC).

A few of us are approached by a young Australian couple, and the fellow asks, “Which Amazing Race is this?”

“What country do you think that is on the logo?” I ask.

“I don’t know – Uruguay?”

One guy from Malaysia poses with his son for a picture with host Jon Montgomery (though he too is not sure which Amazing Race this is). “They recognized the matt and the colours of the show,” Montgomery says. “The Amazing Race is a brand that is much more popular than I am, that’s for sure.

“The colours are distinct, the formula is distinct — two racers, backpacks, a cameraman and a sound guy. My mother-in-law was in the Netherlands, and she saw the Amazing Race’s U.S. version come through. And she went up to one of the cameramen and was like, ‘Is this the Amazing Race? My son in law is the host of the Canadian version!’”

If the attention paid to the exhausted racers was a change of pace, so were the surroundings. Last week’s episode in bucolic Cai Be left some racers and crew alike in medical distress in the near 40 degree heat and humidity. The toll was hardest on Stephane Tetreault, who succumbed to the heat and was eliminated with his son Antoine.

Ho Chi Minh City turned out to be equally hot, but utterly urban. There’s a Tom Cruise/Cocktail type challenge in a swank rooftop bar called Glow. There’s a Vietnamese-language karaoke challenge in a club called Kingdom Karaoke, a packed hot-spot in a city full of them.

And in a metropolis with literally a million motorcycles, there’s a Road Block involving assembling a bike at the Phat Thanh Vinh garage (which you’d think would be in the wheelhouse of Joel Ground, the auto mechanic who’s teamed with his step-daughter, Mrs. Universe and aboriginal activist Ashley Callingbull).

And though they managed to avoid actually ingesting some of Cai Be’s local delicacies (including rat and toad in the “wet market”), there is an eating challenge in the big city (at an insect-specialty restaurant called A SOI) that leaves at least one contestant unable to hold it down.

Still, all in all, the switch in locales is almost Third World to First World in a day.

“I wish we had time to go shopping here. It’s beautiful, with all the fashion stores,” said Amy Gassler, the younger half of the unmistakably colourful mother-daughter team of Frankie and Amy. The conversion of the Vietnamese currency, the dong, to the dollar, has been an ongoing comedy routine. “There’ve been a lot of dong jokes,” Frankie says with a cackle.

“When I first scouted Ho Chi Minh city, I was shocked,” says TARC executive producer John Brunton. “This was not what I was expecting — the prosperous nature of this place, the fact that the economy’s growing faster than the Chinese, the complications of the politics, the affection for the West, the incredible investment from South Korea. It’s way more exciting and prosperous than I anticipated.

Of Glow, he said, “we scouted numerous bars like that all over the city. And the karaoke culture here. I don’t know what you can compare it to in Canada. Curling maybe.”

The Amazing Race Canada Season 4 airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on CTV and CTV GO.

Twitter: @jimslotek

JSlotek@postmedia.com