Tuesday 22 October 2013

Holly and Brett from The Amazing Race Canada: the inside story

It has been almost two months now since  married Montreal pediatrians Brett Burstein and Holly Agostino were eliminated in the seventh leg of CTV’s The Amazing Race Canada. Depicted by the show as villains from the get go,  the couple sat down with The Suburban  at the Montreal Children’s  Hospital during a break from Brett’s shift in the emergency room and Holly doing rounds to share their thoughts and provide some insight into some of the behind the scenes mysteries viewers are not privy to.

Here I am with the "Amazing" couple.

CTV’s first-ever season of  The Amazing Race Canada was a ratings success, attracting more  3.6 million viewers for the final episode in which the father and son team of Tim Sr. and Tim Jr.  took home the $250,000 grand prize.   Brett, 33, and Holly, 32, met 10 years ago at McGill Medical School. He is from Toronto, but came here to do his undergraduate work and never left; she  was raised in West Island Pointe Claire.

The couple laugh at how the camera portrayed them right up until their elimination in  Iqaluit, Nunavut: bickering, hiding maps in an airport store and Holly suffering numerous meltdowns. “We were unfairly portrayed,” said Brett. “The storyline was written before we even showed up. We were definitely  brought there to be rooted against.” 

Added Holly: “It definitely was tough to watch,” said Holly. “We watched each episode live and 20 family and friends around the TV with us.   Going through the race, I know that I had many moments where I was really on the verge of fully losing it, but in the end we still succeeded.  So, I had left the race really feeling that, you know, we had done our best and we had done a good job.  So, to see it edited, you know, I mean I did have those breakdowns.  It’s true, but there was a lot of effort that went into it before that happened, so yeah, it’s a bit tough to watch, but I mean, overall we’re still, you know, very happy with the show and happy we had the chance to participate.”

Added Brett: I think one thing that maybe people don’t know through the editing process is how important for us the race was to do, to be able to contribute  charitably back to our hospital that has already given us so much,” said Brett. “ If we won the Amazing Race Canada, it would not have even cut  our educational debt in half.We were committed to giving 25 percent of the prize to the hospital.  We love where we work and we love that they sort of supported us the whole time.”

One of the more memorable challenges saw the teams trying to find  toys in  six-feet-deep lentil bins.  “ I can’t do it,”   Holly said in the episode. “I have no more strength in my legs. I’m spent Brett . . . I’m going on one hour sleep. I can’t dig in this pit anymore.”

With more than two hours and 20 minutes having passed since Holly and Brett arrived at the lentil challenge, they made the decision to incur a two-hour penalty and not complete the challenge.   “ For me, I know that emotionally the game actually almost became easier after the lentil bin,” said Holly.

Working with the hospital’s Foundation, Brett and Holly started a blog called  Amazingcause.com which also allowed people to make donations. In the end, $21,000 was collected.

So what is it like behind the scenes of the show?  They applied to become competitors last February and were only notified they made it two weeks before departure after first submitting a video, doing a screen test and undergoing medical and psychological evaluations. Since nobody was to know where they were going, the cover story was a five week trip to China. A week prior to filming,  they were literally cut off from the world as  training camp began. They were not allowed to use any kind of phones.  The teams could not mix socially. When they stayed at hotels, the rooms were stripped of phones, televisions, radios and even things to read. A guard was posted outside their door and they could have one hour a day of exercise in solitude. They could not even use a washing machine, instead ringing clothing out in the hotel sink. “It really was like being in prison,” Holly laughed. “But when we were filming, people figured out this was The Amazing Race Canada. Our cover story was the show was called The Marathon, but through social media our pictures were all over the place before the program even aired.”

Each team had a camera and sound operator following them, lugging 50 pounds of equipment. “We always had to make sure they kept up to us,” Holly said. “And when we arrived at the airport, if there were not four available seats on the plane we could not go.”

Once home, the couple had to keep quiet about the outcome or face a $1 million fine.

After being eliminated from the race, Brett and Holly remained with the group and actually did a dry run of the final leg in Toronto to assist production with the timing of the episode.

The couple presently reside downtown near the hospital. Holly attended Northview Elementary School  and Lindsay Place High, moving on to John Abbott College and then McGill. Her dad Andrew is a high school teacher on the South Shore while mom Louise works with special needs children. She has a sister, Erin, 28,  an actress who appeared on the CBC sitcome 18 to Life.

Brett says when he was 11 years old he decided that one day he wanted  to become a pediatric cardiologist. He did in fact complete his PhD in cardiology, but says his passion remains in the emergency room. Holly focuses her attention on adolescent medicine.

Growing up in the Toronto neighbourhood of North York, seven years ago Brett and his younger brother participated in a Birthright Israel trip. “It was an incredible  experience I will never forget,” he said.   

Brett and Holly said quite directly that they have remained good friends with all of the teams, except exercise gurus Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod. “We visited the Tims in Halifax,”  said Brett. “Most of them have come to Montreal already and stayed with us.”

Oddly enough, the couple do not find themselves being  recognized  a lot in Montreal. “In Toronto, yes,” said Brett. “And when we went to see the Tims in Halifax, we were all mobbed.”

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