Ashley Callingbull on Making It to the End of The Amazing Race Canada

The FLARE columnist and former Mrs. Universe talks about being the show’s first Cree competitor and what it really takes to play the game

ashley callingbull amazing race

(Photo: CTV)

First of all, congrats on making it to the final episode. Did you ever expect to make it that far?
I didn’t know what to expect, because the Race is very all over the place. You could be last and wind up first, or first and go to last. You have to expect the unexpected all the time. We just fought as hard as we could to stay in. Always the goal was just, “don’t get eliminated.”

Well, it brought you far. What made you want to compete in The Amazing Race Canada?
I used to watch The Amazing Race and I started watching The Amazing Race Canada and always wanted to apply, but every time that they were filming, I was filming that TV series Blackstone that I’m in. And now that we finished season five, I was like, “Oh, perfect timing!” So I made a video [application]. Through the years, me and my dad said if we ever were to do The Amazing Race Canada, that we would run the race together.

What have you been doing since the Race?
Trying to keep quite about the Race! That’s been really difficult. Plus a lot of charity work that I usually do: working with youth, travelling around Canada and the States, doing motivational speeches and workshops. And I also crowned a new Mrs. Universe!

With the title of Mrs. Universe, do you think viewers and your competitors had certain expectations of how you would be on the show?
Yes, I feel that the viewers really expected me to be a certain way on the show. They expected me to be friendly the whole time, expected me to help people, but that’s just not how the Race works. Because I am a role model to so many people, I felt like I had to try harder almost. A lot of people were expecting me to make it to the end and I had a lot of First Nations supporters and that was what pushed me even harder. We didn’t want let anyone down. We wanted to represent our people properly and proudly.

Do you think these preconceptions helped or hindered you overall?
Being a role model, I felt like I had to be positive and, you know, do things right without swearing. A lot of people lose their composure and I just didn’t want do that. I wanted to stay calm and that’s why my dad was a great partner because he just encouraged me the whole way.

What was the one moment from the Race that stands out to you even now?
When were in Vietnam, we were last place because the cab driver took the wrong turn and then we ended up winning that leg. That was probably one of the hardest ones because we were in really hot conditions in Vietnam, and people were fainting and I thought, “This is where we have to push ourselves to the point where, we think you’ve got nothing left, but we do.” We realized that we needed to only focus on ourselves and not focus on helping other teams, and then we just tried to maintain that since that episode and it worked. It was a pivotal moment.

What was the biggest challenge for you during the Race?
The biggest challenge was not having a phone. We had to use actual maps; we weren’t allowed to communicate with our family or friends; we weren’t allowed to make any calls. It was really hard to be disconnected from the ones I love. But they kept us disconnected from the world, so we could be focused on racing.

Were there any moments that were hard to relive when you watched it all play on TV after?
When we were doing the Hamilton episode, we just couldn’t catch up to anybody. Our cab driver, again, took us the wrong way and once he did that, we just stayed last the whole day. Because Hamilton is near where I live, I felt like I had an advantage, but I didn’t because our time was just so set back. We thought we were going home. And watching the episode I was pretty sad. It was really hard to see my dad upset, and I myself upset, and knowing exactly how I felt in that moment. I’m a very competitive person so, when I thought we were going home it kind of killed me, and then as soon as [host] Jon [Montgomery] said it’s a “keep on racing” episode, which means you keep racing to the next location, I felt like, ‘We got the second chance. Let’s not waste it.’

On the show, you were criticized for lying to the mother-daughter team Frankie and Amy to mix them up and ultimately they were eliminated. What’s you reaction to that criticism?
I expected criticism, but everyone else had been lying throughout the whole Race and making deals that they break. A lot of other people on the show have been criticized for their actions as well so I just expected internet trolls to attack me. But the thing that was really childish was when Frankie and Amy themselves went online and started calling me names, then I thought that’s a really sore loser move. You can’t be mad at me for playing the game strategically. It’s what people do to play the game: people steal cabs, people lie, people break promises and it’s normal. So the people that are attacking me, I’m surprised because, haven’t they watched the show?

Do you feel that women are more likely to be criticized for being competitive whereas with men that’s more accepted?
That’s how it feels. For example, Jillian [from the ex-couple team who placed second] is an amazing woman, but on the show she’s in race mode and she always screaming at Emmett, always freaking out, but that’s just part of how competitive she is. For Emmett, if he ever did anything wrong , no one really gave him slack for it. But for Jillian, they gave her a lot of hate for it. It’s usually the girls that get more of a harsh criticism.

ashley callingbull amazing race

(Photo: CTV)

Is there something new you learned about your dad through the experience?
I learned a lot more about my dad than I could imagine. He’s way more athletic than I thought. Knowing my dad, knowing he’s a mechanic and a little nerdy, but when I saw him in the Race, he became someone different and he got way more comfortable. He wasn’t as shy as he used to be. I couldn’t believe all the things he could do, I felt like “Wow, my dad can do anything!” He’s a superhero.

Is there something new you learned about yourself?
I thought I was fearless before. I feel way more fearless now, more than ever. There was a point in the Race where I felt like I had no more left to give because things were so difficult. Out of nowhere I have find the strength within myself. Because of the Race, I’ve done so many things I never thought I would do in my life. Now I want to do so many more new things. I’m way more adventurous than I was before.

Now, you didn’t manage the ultimate win, but part of your goal was to represent First Nations people. In what ways did you achieve that?
I feel like we represented First Nations people proudly. We were very proud to share our culture and talk about our values. We wanted to be good role models for our people, and to bring attention to our people on a mainstream level. We were the first Cree, the first Natives ever, to be on The Amazing Race Canada, and we were like ‘Wow, we’re making history, whether we win or not.’ Once we were on the Race, people couldn’t believe the things that me and my dad have overcome in our lives and what we overcame on the show. We just wanted to show everyone that our people are resilient.

Does losing to the first all-female team to ever win the Race, make it any easier to accept?
I’m not surprised that they won, because they were a threat from the beginning. They are very athletic and very smart. I’m happy for them, and happy that an all-female team finally won! Because it’s just been men so far, so that’s empowering. It’s also great to see that they’re representing the gay community.

Now, the big question: Would you do it all again?
Hell yeah! I’m hoping that they do an all-star edition. Me and my dad would gladly go back. It was probably one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life.

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