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Fayette County native leads her 'Amazing Race' team through African environs

| Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, 12:36 a.m.

Fellow contestants on "The Amazing Race" have called Western Pennsylvania's Kristi Leskinen and her partner, Jen Hudak, the team to beat.

Wednesday night's episode — which featured the six remaining racing pairs, who had to do a partner swap for the first half — took competitors from their last stop in Prague to the African nation of Zimbabwe. Leskinen — a retired pro skier from Hopwood, Fayette County — and fellow skier Hudak of Utah came in first in last week's episode; in the two-hour episode this week, the team settled for second place.

In the first half of the show, the teams arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe, then took a train out to the African wilderness where elephants, lions, zebras and other savanna wildlife roam. Leskinen and Hudak, giddy on the way to the wilderness, also knew the stakes were higher, as a result of several weeks of elimination.

"Now, there's less and less room for error," Leskinen told the cameras.

The contestants started by racing to be the first to set up their tents. Then, when show host Phil Keoghan told the racers they would be swapping partners for the first adventure, paddling a small boat through water, contestants appeared floored and fearful. Pair Cody Nickson and Jessica Graf, champions of the show "Big Brother," immediately claimed Leskinen and Hudak, called Team Extreme; Nickson paired with Hudak, and Graf paired with Leskinen. Team Big Brother members said the skiers really knew what they were doing, and serious competitors.

Challenges on the first half of the episode included searching the grasslands for clues about poachers who have been killing wildlife, driving through mud and water in SUVs, and digging up big water jugs. Hudak and Nickson won this portion of the race, but Leskinen and Graf came in last. Still, new adventures awaited in the second half, when racers reunited with their usual partners and returned to the city.

"Fortunately, we're back in the race and we're still here," Leskinen said.

Once back in the city, contestants completed challenges including rolling tires through the streets to a hardware store, and delivering packages to people in a tall building. The highlight culminated with a quirky dance and singing challenge; contestants had to learn lyrics in Zimbabwe's language and an ethnic dance. Team Extreme had to try several times until the local judges approved their performance. This slowed Leskinen and Hudak down significantly, but they still managed to finish in second place.

Hudak joked that she loved performing as a skier.

"However, I was very good at skiing," she said. "I'm definitely less good at singing."

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