Eco-Challenge (Part 1): Ready, Set, Go!
81 teams race non-stop for 300 miles across treacherous terrain in Fiji. Only 10 of those teams will finish. This is the most difficult and grueling race in the world. This is a modern day expedition with a stopwatch. This is Eco-Challenge.
The race starts off with the competitors swimming upstream through a narrow canyon and then navigating and hiking their way to CP 1 (checkpoint 1). CP1 is a small village where all teams are required to build native bamboo boats called bilibilis and paddle them for approximately 20 miles down a river to CP2. After checking in at CP2, teams will then enter the darkness of the jungle and “The Lost World.”. As we start off the 4 night series, we are introduced to several of the participating teams. At the end of the first episode, the teams are spread out along the route from the start of the race and somewhere in The Lost World after CP2.
Team GoLite was the winning team of the last two Eco-Challenge races (including a come-from-behind victory in New Zealand last year). Ian (the captain) is looking for a three-peat, which has never been done. Everyone is looking to take away his crown. The end the first evening has Team GoLite in the lead pack.
Nathan Fa'avae leads the Kiwis team. Nathan cost his team the victory last year on his home turf by trying to go the entire race without sleeping. This year he is out for revenge and ends the first night with his team with a handful of others in the front of the pack in The Lost World.
Team Earthlink includes Robyn Benincasa and Isaac Wilson, both former teammates of Ian on Team GoLite. They would love to prove to Ian Adamson that he should never have dropped them 2 years ago after an Eco victory. Robyn rocks and reminds me what a true female competitor is. I’d love to see her go head to head with self-proclaimed “athlete”, Heidi Strobel from Survivor 6. Team Earthlink emerged as one of the early leaders, but newbie navigator Jason Middleton makes an early error and the team misses a key turnoff losing valuable time just one hour into the race. Jason's teammates begin to lose confidence in their navigator, but they do manage to catch up to the other leaders. Unfortunately, due to a navigating error, both Team Earthlink and the Aussies (with whom they had formed a loose and short-term “alliance”) took a wrong turn and end up at the top of a waterfall with no where to go but over the side. The Aussie navigator, Novak, jumps over the side without hesitation to prevent other team members from speculating the dangers for too long. However, Robyn is not so anxious to jump over the side of the waterfall and contemplates that option versus the only other one which would be to call for back-up, which would disqualify her team from the race.
Team Mad River is a rookie Eco team made up of four reality TV stars. When we were first introduced to them I swear I caught a glimpse of Fluff. But no, wait! It’s actually really Ethan Zohn from Survivor, Africa. He explains the added pressure of finishing the Eco-Challenge that his team faces to prove that they are serious competitors. Mad River remains in good spirits as their navigator (Tim from Road Rules 2) struggles to get them through the race. Side note: Ethan looks awesome in yellow. They seem to be having a good time, and try to use humor to ease their pain of losing their way. However, our narrator (David Duchovny of The X Files) notes that getting lost can turn a 300 mile journey into a 1000 mile nightmare. So stay tuned if you can manage to stay awake despite Duchovy's voice lulling us all into an early slumber.
Smirnoff Ice Playmates is a team made up of an experienced Alaskan mountain man and three Playboy centerfolds. The women are determined to prove the stereotypes of Playmates wrong. Just 30 minutes into the race, Danelle Folta slips and hears a crack of her ankle. This injury is slowing her progress much to the dismay of their navigator, Roman. This could be a race disqualifying injury.
Another rookie team, Team Kodak, includes Star Wars' Hayden Christensen and his brother and sister. Team Kodak quickly fall into last place and a tired Hayden Christensen recalls that just a week earlier, he was making a movie. Competing with his brother and sister, he is getting a taste of the jungle. Mark Burnett reminds us that nature in the raw is one of the greatest levelers and is an equal opportunity destroyer. Hayden has a hard time handling the ticks. His sister laughs as she brushes the ticks off him and he checks down the front of his pants which reminds me a lot of a scene in Stand By Me. His siblings seem much tougher than Mr. Skywalker. Through all of this footage there is never any mention of team member #4…and I start to wonder if there even is one.
Team AXN Brasil is back in the race again this year. The team consists of 3 women and 1 man. This year, however, they break from tradition of having a male navigator and Nora Audra takes the job. The Brazilians arrive at CP1 among the leaders and in their haste for a quick turnaround, Nora slices her finger open with a knife while cutting some rope and does not seek medical attention for it. Foreshadowing, or an attempt to trick us, we are reminded by the narrator that a simple cut could turn into a serious infection.
Novice Team Lupus Foundation is a rookie team with a military background who have chosen to take a military approach to the race. They reach CP2, but make what could be a critical mistake when Scott, their ultra-stubbor, self-appointed team leader insists to other teammates that there is no tiki with navigational information on it. The rest of the team all suspected that there was, and now they may be missing an important piece of information for their journey. This military-style leadership approach has failed for other teams in the past, and so far it doesn’t look like it’s a big winner in the Fiji race.
Team Explorer became the first team in Fiji to require a dramatic rescue when they radio for help after a team member suffers a race-ending ankle injury in The Lost World. The injury isn’t life-threatening but the rescue itself is. A helicopter is dispatched to help, but there is nowhere for it to land, so the chopper is forced to hover just feet above the jungle canopy as a medic is lowered to the ground. Tnjured team member and the medic both get lifted into the helicopter using a mechanical winch. After a few tense moments, the rescue is completed without mishap and the team becomes disqualified. This team is lucky as they were able to report their whereabouts accurately and have help come to them. That isn’t always the case in Eco-Challenge.
Read the summary of Part 2 of this 4-night documentary!
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