Q&A: Amazing Race Canada winners Mickey Henry and Pete Schmalz on their ‘life-changing’ victory
The Golden Girls finally had to settle for silver.
Heretofore unheralded Ontario buddies Mickey Henry and Pete Schmalz pulled out a shocking victory in The Amazing Race Canada finale on Sunday, preventing Olympic hockey stars Meaghan Mikkelson and Natalie Spooner from the top-of-podium finish that seemed their destiny during a memorably dominant run.
The coup came in Ottawa, where a series of physical challenges gave the forest boys an unexpected head start during a breath-haltingly captivating finale. That start turned into a finish with an impressive performance in a memory challenge, which meant the unthinkable: Mickey and Pete ended their excellent adventure as the winners of The Amazing Race Canada.
“Oh my God,” marvelled Pete, pantsless after the pair had for some reason stripped in celebration. “Absolutely life-changing, man. Mick and I are both in huge debt. We’ll be able to pay that off.”
“I’m not going back to the oil rigs,” chimed in Mickey.
“Whole new ball game,” concurred Pete. “My life is just heading in a completely different direction now.”
Natalie and Meaghan, meanwhile, crossed the finish line understandably failing to hold back tears (even as ever-steely Meaghan convincingly argued: “I don’t cry, though”).
The loss was stunning. It was almost like the New England Patriots blowing the Super Bowl after their perfect 2007 season. The hockey stars had won seven of the race’s 11 legs. The next-best team won two legs. Mickey and Pete didn’t win any — until now, of course.
‘We were just both on the same wavelength the entire time. This guy right here is my bro, man. For life’
Even as they met defeat — for what at least felt like the first time — Natalie and Meaghan were rightly toasted by host Jon Montgomery for “crushing” the second season of Amazing Race Canada.
“It’s a little upsetting not to win but the experiences we got out of this — I don’t think anyone can take that from us,” said Natalie, her partner seemingly still too disappointed to say much. “It was such a crazy experience.”
Bell MediaOlympic gold medallists Meaghan Mikkelson (right) and Natalie Spooner.
Well, for winning an 11-team race that spanned more than 44,000 kilometres, 814 air fares, 2135 hotel rooms and an unknowable number of plugs for Air Canada, Mickey and Pete won $250,000, two Chevy pickups, gas “for life” and a year of free flights.
During the episode, Mickey made it clear that he and Pete — childhood friends from Parry Sound, Ont. — were not used to overseeing such princely sums of money. He said he would apply his (then-theoretical) winnings to the operation of the environmentally friendly wakeboard park he owns, while Pete would eradicate his student debt.
“Winning this race would be a total game-changer in both our lives,” said a smiling Mickey. “Me and Pete are both, like, from super humble beginnings. We kind of live paycheque to paycheque.”
Similarly, Meaghan and Natalie explained that women’s hockey stars are not generally compensated like their male counterparts.
“If we won this race it would help out so much in our training and just being able to live until the next Olympics,” she said.
Yet in Sunday’s finale, trouble started early for the hockey stars. The final three teams — the other being Vancouver bartenders Ryan Steele and Rob Goddard, again not really a factor here — hopped from New Brunswick to Ottawa, then piled into kayaks to zip along the banks of the river to the entryway of the Rideau Canal.
Mickey and Pete, who basically live on the water, thrived. Meaghan and Natalie, who live on water in a different way, lagged.
“This is so frustrating,” vented Meaghan. “We are much better on frozen water.”
With Ryan and Rob in third due to yet another bout of on-road confusion, the teams maintained their sequence through a brief challenge at the Library of Parliament and the episode’s first Road Block, a toy-finding scavenger sprint through the Diefenbunker Museum.
The next Road Block proved more daunting: a harness-assisted 60-foot aerial climb to the atrium peak of the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Because Natalie completed the toy task, Meaghan had no choice but to brave the ropes. And the task was made significantly more difficult due to the lingering pain caused by an injury to the Regina native’s hand, a souvenir from the Sochi Olympics.
Over the entire race, the twosome had tried to steer Meaghan away from physical Road Blocks. Now, they were faced with no choice. Already she said her hand was “swollen up like a balloon” from the rafting, but doggedly and wincingly she climbed.
“Mikk is very strong and very competitive,” Natalie attested. “If you beat her once you will never beat her again.”
“Seeing Meaghan up on those ropes and seeing how hard she’s struggling just reminds me of how close we’ve grown over this race,” she added. “She’s willing to put herself through all this pain just so we can make it to the end and win this race together.”
Eventually, Mickey and Pete, then Meaghan and Natalie and finally Rob and Ryan arrived at the series’ customary final memory challenge.
At the National Gallery of Canada, they were to arrange images from the show’s second season into the correct chronological sequence. All the teams did remarkably well here, only feeling fuzzy about a couple details.
And, looking back, what did happen on the race? Meaghan and Natalie dominated, of course. Over 12 legs, they finished first seven times. In the other five legs, they finished second twice and third twice. Only once did they fail to “podium,” finishing fifth.
Given that they’re decorated professional athletes, their multi-disciplinary physical prowess wasn’t surprising. But they were also consistently more fleet-witted and competently clear-headed than the rest of their competition. And on the few times they were actually challenged, a competitiveness emerged that more than one racer termed “scary.”
Unaccustomed to losing though they mutually must have been, the hockey stars summoned a healthy philosophical perspective when interviewed after the race.
“I think the fun part of this race has been being together,” said Meaghan, “We’ve gotten to know each other so well. We were good friends before this but I think we’ve taken friendship to a whole new level. I’m very proud of how many legs we won and how strong we’ve been. And as a Canadian travelling around to all these places, there’s a sense of pride you feel.”
“As athletes, this is the country we represent and it’s amazing.”
Ever the classy competitor, she even saved a kind word for the victors.
“What I love most about Mickey and Pete is they’re just nice, sweet guys.”
Beyond their unflaggingly upbeat disposition, however, the long-locked winners deserve real credit for the gradual but insistent improvement of their game.
Initially it was just their sun-faded cheeriness that stood out — they’re lower key than a booming baritone, so laid back they’re horizontal — but they slowly (and maybe even reluctantly) revealed there was more going on under their knit caps. Though they never won a leg, they finished in the Top 3 for the last seven straight, and occasionally missed out by mere moments.
They coasted with such little friction through the show it almost seemed like they were running a different race entirely. But they won Sunday because they remembered the whole journey — and faster than the other two teams could.
“Best friends for life,” Pete enthused with his hazy grin.
“Totally, dude,” replied Mickey. “I love you.”
“Mick is the only human on the planet I could have run this race with,” Pete added. “Even when it looked like we were out, we just stayed positive. We were just both on the same wavelength the entire time. This guy right here is my bro, man. For life.”
“We just couldn’t be any happier right now. Our lives have changed forever.”
On Wednesday, the best buds caught up with The Canadian Press to reflect on their victory.
Q On a couple occasions during the race, you guys implied you didn’t have much of a shot. Did you come in not expecting to win?
Mickey Oh God yeah. After we got to the start line and saw all the other teams, we were like: “Aw snap, these are all amazing teams.” We just wanted to see how far we could make it. When we made it to the end we felt like we already won just because we made it that long.
Q Pete, last night on the “After the Race” special you said that prior to winning the trucks you and Mickey were driving the “worst cars you can imagine.” Can you go into more detail?
Pete I have a ’92 Grand Marquis. She has a few rattles and weird noises coming out of her, but she’s a beaut.
Mickey I’m actually driving my old man’s ’98 Buick LeSabre. They’re both old grandma cars. This might up our game.
Q Considering how carefree you both seemed, when were you most stressed out during the race?
Mickey The most stressful was we were (lost) an hour north of Paris and we realized we had an hour to get back to Paris and we just lost all our money and we had no idea how we were going to get back.
Q Did you make any lasting friendships on the race?
Pete Definitely Jackie and Laura. We kind of bonded with them in Hong Kong. Yeah, we’re besties. We hang out with them all the time. They’re big sweethearts. But we’re friends with all the teams.
Q You were facing off with Natalie and Meaghan every week. What was that like?
Mickey Dude, it’s intimidating. They’re so smart and beautiful and good at everything.
Pete Honestly, we knew going into the last leg to beat them we had to have a flawless leg. If you screw up a tiny little bit they would have beaten us. And luckily we managed to get ahead of them and stay ahead of them the entire time.
Mickey They’re definitely the cream of the crop of Canada.
Q Mickey, did Amazing Race boost business at your wakeboard park?
Mickey Yeah, it was bananas all summer.
Q How did you guys get through the past few months without telling anyone you’d won?
Pete Honestly we didn’t find it that bad. Once the initial “we can’t tell you” — once that’s over with, it’s not too bad. You get better and better at lying to people. Everyone tries to trick you and tries to get you drunk.
Mickey But I don’t think anyone really expected us to win.
Q I get the impression you’re not sure what you want to do with the money, beyond paying off debt and travelling. Is that true?
Pete For sure man, we don’t really have a solid plan. We’ve got some ideas in mind. Spots we want to check out. Definitely we’ll be going together and having a hoot doing whatever we do.