The episode begins with a trip to a hunting lodge, where the team gathers for this season’s coaches’ challenge. The owner looks like a real man’s man and he has the taxidermy to back it up. The lovely Stephanie is on hand to act as a "Barker’s Beauty", as it were.
I can see you…
The challenge is comprised of three stages: axe throwing, crossbow shooting and log cutting. The winning coach gets $20,000. As in recent seasons, it’s unclear whether that prize is only for the coach or if it is meant to be distributed amongst the fighters. I’ve never been able to find a consistent ruling on it. Usually the fighters are given a separate prize, but they don’t mention it here. Even though this season features Australians and Canadians, the prize is distributed in US bills.
Your currency lacks "flava".
Canada takes first blood with the axe throwing, which looks really hard and really dangerous! Patrick Côté wins by virtue of having his axe land closes to the bull’s-eye, though it looked like it was the only one to land cleanly at all. The crossbow challenge follows a similar pattern, with Kyle Noke getting the win this time. They have to shoot an apple hanging from a string and it gets nicked on several occasions without actually getting pierced until the final shot. It’s all very dramatic, though I have a feeling that it wasn’t as neat and tidy as the show would have you believe. They show the coaches getting three turns each for the axe throwing and crossbow shooting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some "TV magic" involved to make sure neither of them embarrassed themselves.
Tied at one apiece, it comes down to who can saw through a thick log the fastest. I don’t know the first thing about wood cutting. It strikes me as odd that instead of straps or a harness to hold the logs down, they ask one of the fighters from each team to lay on top of them to keep them from moving. That seems impractical. Côté ends up winning the challenge, earning himself a "Côté Côté Côté" soccer chant.
The hunter serves the fighters a delicious feast comprised of animals that he caught. Noticeably absent is "man, the most dangerous game". For lack of a better word, the Aussies come off as precious when they get to enjoy their first taste of maple syrup.
Don’t you just want to pinch his cheeks?
Back to business, we spend a little time getting to know more about semi-finalists Richard Walsh and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Walsh’s straightforward attitude has endeared him to me. He’s provided good sound bites while still taking the competition seriously. Here, he points out how the wrestling in the US is on a whole other level than anything he’s experienced in Australia. You can tell he’s making the most of his training. He also has the benefit of working with elite judoka Dan Kelly (essential to surviving Aubin-Mercier’s grappling) and he gets excellent advice from jiu-jitsu coach Roberto Tussa: If he’s losing the fight, offer up a finish to lure Aubin-Mercier into taking a risk and possibly making a mistake. That’s easier said than done, of course.
Aubin-Mercier is painted as a Rory MacDonald-like quiet killer, though he comes off as more likeable than the at times alien MacDonald. Kajan Johnson and Chad Laprise are responsible for coining his nickname: "The Québecois Kid". The Georges St-Pierre comparisons that permeated throughout the Canadian fight scene are now being broadcast on a national level (and international level for you more intrepid viewers). He brushes off the GSP comparisons, which is smart. For one, he’s a natural lightweight and two, GSP was a much more advanced striker at the same age. Still, with his affable personality and floppy, Micky Dolenz do, it’s hard not to think about the marketing possibilities.
Sheldon Westcott: Olivier is unbelievably talented. If I would have fought him at 4-0 when he’s 4-0 right now, he would have kicked my butt.
Over the course of the season, the Canadians and the Australians have grown to like and respect each other…making this the perfect time to strike with one final prank. Johnson and Luke Harris sneak into the Australian locker room to decorate their portraits with lipstick and markers. It’s completely harmless and inoffensive. These two guys are mature and have been in the business long enough to know not to…hmm…
Brendan O’Reilly (as he is wont to do) chafes at the incident. As far as pranks go, this doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad as messing with someone’s bed or their equipment. I never know where these guys draw the line between friendly ribbing and outright dickishness. Regardless, as in all good hood movies, it’s an innocent that pays the price.
Oh! The moose-manity!
In his investigations, O’Reilly finds that the Canadians are a tough nut to crack. We discover that Elias Theodorou may or may not be keeping a notebook filled with penis sketches. O’Reilly demands to see it, presumably to compare the art style, but Theodorou isn’t budging. None of the Canadians do. O’Reilly doesn’t understand that the prank itself is nothing; it is his frustration that makes it so sweet.
It’s not all bad news for O’Reilly. He and the rest of his team get to experience another TUF first: Snow day! A flurry forces them to miss training, giving them a chance to enjoy the fluffy wonder of winter. They practice "snow surfing" (because, you know, Australia) and Tyler Manawaroa breaks out an incredible shooting star press!
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
DEFINITELY DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
I give Walsh a lot of credit for being the first to get off here. He’s landing straights and leg kicks whenever he wants. Aubin-Mercier definitely loses the first minute or so, though I’m always influenced by a guy getting punched and seeing his hair fly around. Makes the hits look twice as hard. Walsh is able to defend an initial shot, but falls prey to a trip. Aubin-Mercier gets the waist lock of death and is relentless in fighting for back control. Walsh looks lost on how to defend. He’s wrestled to the ground and finished with a rear naked choke at around the 2:45 mark of the first round.
Other than the ref saying his name wrong, everything went perfect for Aubin-Mercier. He says Walsh hurt his knee at the beginning of the round so he was determined to make him suffer. Adrian Pang gives Walsh the tough love, pointing out how his hands were against the fence when they should have been protecting his neck. Out of the competition, Walsh ditches the "playoff beard".
Next week: Sheldon Westcott v. Vik Grujic. If Westcott advances, this will mark the first time in any TUF season (featuring two weight classes) where all four finalists are from the same team. My money is on Grujic, if only because Westcott has been dealing with so many nagging aches and pains. Then again, that didn’t stop him in his first fight and it wouldn’t surprise me if he brought the same aggression to this semi-final bout. Grujic also ended his last fight in impressive fashion. Could we be in store for another decisive finish?
Someone got their hair did.