Canaan says “I don’t think it was abusive in the least”; Mika says “he was trying to push me”

In their post-race interviews, Canaan Smith and Mika Combs–who are still dating–addressed the water slide incident, and Canaan is unapologetic about his actions.

Watching those scenes over and over again, which I did today, I see nothing but Canaan 1) trying to force her to sit down, and she struggles and pushes him back as she cries out, and 2) putting his hands atop hers and moving them, which looked like he was trying to pry her hands off the bar, which is supported by her response that they couldn’t slide together (i.e. if you force me to let go, we’ll go down together, and that’s not allowed). Still, other reasonable people saw something completely different, which I accept even though it baffles me and makes me feel like a crazy person.

Those actions led me to respond angrily, calling what happened an act of domestic violence. That’s strong, I realize, but I saw a terrified woman who was screaming “stop” and “help me,” reacting in fear to her boyfriend’s physical actions. Was she at risk of being thrown down the water slide? Probably not. Was this part of a pattern? Other than his comment about wanting to rip her head off earlier in the season, no. But she was not okay with what he was doing, and he was doing it anyway while belittling her. What have otherwise been a really entertaining ending to an episode–the water wings!–was ugly because that was so disturbing to me.

More important, I think it’s critical to separate Mika’s stupidity and lameness as a team member and racer from what Canaan did. Being fearful of water or heights and going on the race is totally dumb, especially if you think the race will magically help you get over those fears, which Mika apparently did. Of course Mika should have expected to face heights during the race, and Canaan’s frustration was absolutely understandable, but doesn’t excuse what he did. Yelling and being upset, okay. Attempting to physically move her as she cries “stop,” no. And justifying Canaan’s behavior by linking it to what she should have expected is a line of argument that comes dangerously close to “she asked for it.”

Anyway, both have admitted that he did more than talk to her. In an interview with Reality TV World, after discussing the way Mika coincidentally practiced going down a six-foot water slide before the race, Canaan said, “I started out sweet and sensitive — the hands off approach — and then realized that the clock was ticking. So I tried to kind of help her along myself. Neither one was working and I realized that. There was nothing I could do.” As far as I’m concerned, “help her along” means “physically tried to move her.”

For those who doubt Canaan was trying to push Mika down the slide, Mika said that’s what happened when he was sitting behind her, telling TV Guide, “I think he realized how strong I really was when he was trying to push me! I had a death grip on that handle. That’s what fear does to you. You become so strong because you’re so afraid. There was a lifeguard at the top. At one point, Canaan was trying to peel me off the wall and I looked at [the lifeguard] and went, ‘Please help me!’ And he just stared at me. [Laughs] I tried to get help, but nobody helped.”

Responding to TV Guide’s question about whether his behavior was abusive, Canaan said this:

“Abusive my butt! I did what any competitive person would do. I wanted to win the race. I tried every angle for 45 minutes. I tried being sweet, understanding and patient with Mika, and that wasn’t working. I tried being forceful and brash, and that wasn’t working. Going into the race, I knew if we got to the point where we had to jump off a building or anything like that and she was going to hold us up, I would push her. I don’t regret trying to do that. I don’t think it was abusive in the least. I think people need to take another look at what abuse means.”

Amazing Race’s Canaan: I Was Not Abusive Toward Mika on the Waterslide [TV Guide]
[Reality TV World]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.