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"Look, it just isn't smart to date a teammate, especially during the tournament."
Mako to Bolin on the subject of dating Korra.

"The Spirit of Competition" is the fifth episode of Book One: Air of The Legend of Korra and the fifth of the overall series. It debuted on May 5, 2012, on Nickelodeon.


The Pro-bending Tournament is about to begin, and, thanks to Hiroshi Sato's financial aid, the Fire Ferrets are competing. However, Korra and her teammates struggle to work together after romantic rivalries shake their foundation and threaten to end their championship bid.


The Fire Ferrets are practicing together before the start of the tournament in the Pro-bending Arena's gym by barraging each other with their respective elements to test their reaction times. Their skills matched, they are all knocked down by one another simultaneously, much to their amusement. The team utters their pleasure in being able to practice again together, causing Bolin to point out that Korra joined their team before she entered the task force. They huddle together for a pre-tournament inspirational talk from Mako. Just as they exclaim that they are ready to win the tournament, Asami contradicts them, pointing out that they would need the new team uniforms with the Future Industries logo in order to be completely ready. Mako greets her lovingly, the two rubbing their noses together. Korra cringes at this in disgust, but regains her composure before anyone notices, and gives a friendly wave off to the couple as they leave for their lunch date. Being the only two remaining in the gym, Bolin emphasizes to Korra that they are currently alone together in an attempt to get closer romantically to her. However, she quickly leaves with the excuse of airbending practice with Tenzin, much to his disappointment.

Brothers discussing Korra

The brothers discuss Korra as "girlfriend material".

That night, while giving Pabu a bath, Bolin casually asks Mako what he thinks of Korra as a girlfriend. Responding that she is great, Mako tells his brother that he thinks Asami makes more sense as a girlfriend for him at the moment. When Bolin points out that he was asking on his own behalf, Mako rapidly attempts to rectify his statement, claiming that he knew that, and proceeds to say that he does not think Korra was great girlfriend material, but more like a good "pal". Shocked by that statement, Bolin exclaims that he and Korra are perfect for each other and gives multiple reasons to back up that claim. When he ends saying that he will ask Korra out despite what Mako thinks, his brother tells him that dating a teammate just is not smart, especially not during a tournament, since they would all need to focus on the matches at hand. Seemingly agreeing with his brother's statements, Bolin mutters to Pabu that he was talking about real love, something he did not think Mako understood.

Korra and Pema

Pema advises Korra in matters of the heart.

Meanwhile, at Air Temple Island, Korra, Jinora, and Ikki are feeding the ring-tailed winged lemurs, when Jinora suddenly inquires about Korra's romantic progress with the "tall, dreamy firebender-boy" as they had been spending a lot of time together lately. Trying to act casual, Korra brushes the question aside, claiming that she is not interested in Mako at all, hiding behind the excuse that he is dating the "prissy, beautiful, elegant, rich girl". However, her tone of voice and body language reveal that she does care about him, and she asks the children for their opinion on what to do next in the hypothetical case that she would care about Mako. Jinora gladly offers some of her book-gathered wisdom about a heroine who burned down an entire country and committed suicide by jumping into a volcano after her love remained unanswered. Jinora proclaims the story to be "so romantic", a feeling shared by neither Korra nor Ikki. Ikki immediately utters that she knows a better way to win a boy's heart, namely to brew a love potion of rainbows and sunsets. When Korra answers that the "volcano is starting to make more sense to [her] now", the threesome is startled by Pema's laughter. Slightly embarrassed, Korra turns around, inquiring how long Pema has been standing there. When she states "long enough", the pregnant woman proceeds to share her own relationship experience, telling the story of how she was in love with Tenzin while he was still in a relationship with another woman. Stating that it was unbearable to see her soul mate spend his life with the wrong woman, she had confessed her love to him, leading to the start of their own relationship and family. Korra ponders about Pema's story for a few seconds, a smile donning her face.

Pro-bending match

The Fire Ferrets dominate the match against the Red Sands Rabaroos.

After Shiro Shinobi expresses his excitement for the start of the Pro-bending Tournament, the Fire Ferrets face off against the Red Sands Rabaroos in the opening match. The Fire Ferrets manage to defeat their opponents with ease, displaying a high level of collaboration and much improvement since the first time they fought together. After the match, Mako states that they were really "connecting out there", an opportunity Korra seizes to talk to Mako about her feelings for him. She casually answers that she feels like the two of them have also been connecting very well out of the ring. Sensing Mako is not entirely catching her drift, Korra lays her feelings out on the table, blurting out that she really likes Mako and that she feels like they were meant for each other. However, he gently says that he does not see her romantically the same way and that he is with Asami. Embarrassed, Korra states that he should just forget that she said anything and moves away from him. That moment, Asami enters, congratulating the team on their amazing victory and giving Mako a kiss on the cheek, saddening Korra even more. As she moves to leave the locker room, she is halted by Bolin, who invites her to go on a "sort of date situation" with him. She initially declines, stating she does not feel really date-worthy, something he immediately refutes by claiming that she is the "smartest, funniest, toughest, buffest, talentedest, incrediblest girl in the world". Flattered, Korra accepts his offer, seeking to have some fun. The two leave on their date, much to Mako's annoyance, who glares after them.

Korra and Bolin laughing

Korra and Bolin have fun on their date.

The two take Naga toward Narook's Seaweed Noodlery, where they heartily enjoy their authentic Water Tribe noodle dinner. Bolin uses the fact that they both adore Water Tribe food as another reason that they would be so great together as a couple. However, Korra misses the intent of the comment as she notices how Tahno, the White Falls Wolfbats' waterbender, glares at them from another table. Asking about his identity, Bolin tells her who he is and advises her not to make eye contact with him, something she blatantly ignores. Tahno reacts to Korra's challenging attitude, and he comes over to the two. Bolin warns Korra not to mess with him as he is "a nasty dude", but as soon as Tahno and his gang of followers reach their table, he starts to provoke Korra. Annoyed by his suggestion that he could give her some "private lessons" on how to bend like a pro, she stands up, threatening to fight him. Bolin whispers her a warning to ignore Tahno's provocation, since fighting out of the arena would disqualify the team from the tournament. Following Bolin's warning, she whistles for Naga instead, who promptly sticks her head through the restaurant's window, growling fiercely at Tahno, severely scaring him, forcing him to cower back. Trying to maintain some of his composure, Tahno and the rest of his posse leave, much to Bolin's amusement and admiration. After Tahno's interference, the two continue their date by having a drink and a good laugh in a bar, and going to Harmony Tower where they could spot out several sites of Republic City.

Mako and Korra argue

Mako and Korra confront each other about their feelings.

When Korra makes her way back to the Pro-bending Arena for their quarterfinal match, she finds Mako awaiting her on the stairs at the entrance. He asks her what kind of game she is playing with Bolin, as he is convinced that she is only going out with his brother to get back at him. Korra honestly refutes that accusation by pointing out that they are only having fun, while wondering why Mako would care anyway. Mako says that he is only watching out for his little brother and does not want his feelings to get hurt for dating a teammate. Something starts to dawn on Korra and she calls his reaction out to be sprouting from his jealousy, claiming that Mako does have feelings for her. Attempting to get him to admit to his true feelings, their argument quickly gets out of hand with them shouting at each other before storming off inside the arena.

The argument has an effect in their next match against the Boar-q-pines as the team does not connect well anymore with each other, not feeling the pace of the game nor the rhythm of the movements of the teammates, and they quickly lose the first round. Noticing this, Bolin tries to motivate his teammates and steps up his attacks, narrowly notching the second round. After the third round ends in a tie, Bolin, seeing Mako is not focused, overrules Mako's decision to be the fighter in the tiebreaker and takes his place instead, thus choosing earth as the element with which to fight. In a quick but fierce match, he successfully defeats Chang, the Boar-q-pines' earthbender, clinching the match for the Fire Ferrets, and securing a place for the Fire Ferrets in the semifinal.

Bolin crushed

A heartbroken Bolin watches Korra and Mako kiss.

After the match, Korra was standing by herself on a dock just outside the Pro-bending Arena, where Mako finds her. He addresses her, stating they need to talk. When he starts to tell her how infuriating she can be sometimes, Korra halts him midway, telling him to save his breath as she felt that he had already made it clear to her how he felt about her. However, he refutes her, saying that he had not and proceeds to say that he thinks Korra is pretty amazing. When Korra asks point-blank if he does like her, Mako answers positive, but also adds that he is confused as he likes Asami as well, and describes the entire situation as "complicated". Korra, however, takes this opportunity and launches forward, passionately kissing him. First taken aback, Mako settles in the kiss and returns it. When they break, they both look rather pleased, however, the feeling quickly subsides as they notice that Bolin had been standing there with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, watching the entire scene. Heartbroken, Bolin bursts out in tears and runs off. Mako, blaming Korra for the entire ordeal, becomes angry with her and chases after Bolin.

Bolin and Mako argue

Bolin calls Mako a traitor for "stealing" Korra from him.

The next morning, Mako goes to Narook's Seaweed Noodlery, to see if Bolin is there. He asks Naruk, an employee of the restaurant if he has seen Bolin, he points to the table by the window. He sees Bolin slumped over a table sleeping between stacks of empty noodle bowls with Pabu sleeping in one of them. Which makes it obvious that he has spent the night. As Mako tries to comfort him and places a hand on his shoulder, the ill-stricken Bolin shrugs it off and hysterically cries out exclaiming that Mako is no longer his brother, but rather a "brother-betrayer". Wallowing in his sadness, he states that Pabu is his only remaining trustee and the only one who still loves him. Mako reminds him that the upcoming match is one of the most important matches in their career, however, Bolin keeps refusing to come with him, calling him out to be a traitor. Fed up, the older brother simply carries Bolin over his shoulder and exits the restaurant, blaming Bolin for the entire ordeal as he had told him that dating a teammate was a bad idea.

Buzzard Wasps cornering Fire Ferrets

The Future Industries Fire Ferrets are quickly sent back to zone three.

Later that night, Korra finds the two brothers already dressed for the match in the locker room, though Bolin is hunched over in sadness and Mako is completely ignoring her. Shiro Shinobi predicts the semifinal to be a "pulse-pounding" match, as he could not think of two teams more evenly matched when it came to age, size, and strength than the Fire Ferrets and the Bau Ling Buzzard Wasps. However, his statement is quickly proven wrong as the Fire Ferrets are quickly pushed back into the third zone due to poor group communication, lack of teamwork, and internal struggles, but they only manage to avoid a total knockout due to the time running out. After losing the second round, during which Mako accidentally hit Bolin in the back with a fire blast, causing the earthbender to lose his focus and being knocked off the platform, and Korra performing a foul on the opposing firebender and bending at the referee in anger, earning herself a yellow fan, Mako and Bolin give up hope. Before the third round, Korra attempts to bring back some of the former team unity and motivate her teammates for one last effort, fearing that they would regret it later if they would not give it their all now. However, the brothers are quickly knocked back a zone, and after Bolin takes an earth coin to the shoulder and ends up injured, they are both knocked out of the ring, leaving Korra to fend for herself.

Buzzard Wasps knockout

Korra knocks out the entire opposing team.

As Bolin struggles to get out of the water, he is lent a helping hand by Mako. On the way up in the elevator, the two brothers apologize to each other for their divide over the Avatar, and watch Korra continue to keep their slim hopes alive, dodging every element the Buzzard Wasps throw at her. With ten seconds remaining, Korra finally starts gaining some ground by strategically aligning the three Buzzard Wasps in a single file using some swift attacks, before hurling one final torrent at them, which sends the entire rival team out of the ring, winning the match for the Fire Ferrets with a spectacular knockout.

When Korra rejoins her teammates in the locker room, Bolin praises her for the knockout, claiming it to be the coolest thing he ever saw, and Mako thanks her for not giving up on them. The team subsequently forgives each other's mistakes, and agree to remain on friendly terms. Though Korra acknowledges that things were confusing between the three of them, she utters her hope that they could all still be friends, something of which her teammates reassure her. As they reconcile, the White Falls Wolfbats enter the locker room for their match, with Tahno taunting the Fire Ferrets. Korra confidently tells him they will defeat them in the finals if they would get that far, a statement that did not impress Tahno in the least.

Korra healing Bolin

Korra heals Bolin's arm injury while apologizing to him.

While the Wolfbats fight it out in the ring, Asami enters the room to congratulate them, and Korra thanks her and her father for their sponsorship and the ensuing chance to play in the tournament at all. As Bolin writhes in pain, asking for medical attention, Korra comes to his aid. As she touches his injury, he screams out in pain again, jokingly stating that Korra has hurt him enough already. Korra laughs it off and mentions that she had been taught the art of healing by Katara, and proceeds to take care of his injury. Reluctant at first, Bolin settles in the soothing feeling Korra's healing powers bring with them, and he listens to her apology for hurting his feelings. As they just cleared the air between them, Shiro announces the end of the match, declaring the Wolfbats to be the winners with a brutal first-round knockout. Korra and the rest of the team are shocked by the quick knockout and the sight of the opposing team members who are all seriously injured and are lifted from the ring by paramedics.


  • Additional voices:
    • Dee Bradley Baker
    • Janet Varney
    • Jeff Bennett
    • Maria Bamford
    • Tom Kenny

Production notes[]


Main article: Transcript:The Spirit of Competition
Main article: Transcript:The Spirit of Competition (commentary)

Series continuity[]

Character revelations[]

  • Korra was taught healing by Katara.
  • Mako is infatuated with Korra and is trying to hide it from his brother, Bolin. He is also keeping it a secret from his girlfriend, Asami.
  • Bolin frequents Narook's Seaweed Noodlery, which is made evident when Mako looks for his brother at this place after Bolin ran away heartbroken. Narook seemed to treat Bolin and Mako as regulars.


  • When the Fire Ferrets advance into the Rabaroos' territory in the first round, Bolin is the middle player of the Ferrets. However, when the match resumes, Korra and Bolin have switched places.
  • When the Red Sands Rabaroos are huddled together after their loss to the Fire Ferrets, Adi, the firebender, and Umi, the waterbender, have changed outfits.
  • After the first match, Korra puts her helmet on the small table next to the door where it topples to the right. When the helmet is shown again, it stands upright.
  • When Korra and Bolin are eating at the restaurant, Tahno comes over to speak with Korra. Korra's hands are not on the chopsticks, however, when the scene changes to a different angle, she grunts and her hands are on top of the chopsticks. When it goes back to the original view, her hands once again are not on them.
  • Shaozu's eyes are blue when the Wolfbats initially confront Korra and Bolin, though after Naga growls at them, they revert to their normal light brown color.
  • According to the official rules of pro-bending, the match between the Fire Ferrets and Buzzard Wasps should have been stopped temporarily in round three when Bolin injured his shoulder.[1]
  • In the last pro-bending match of the episode, the earth disk first sent at Korra in round three was a head shot, but it was not called.
  • When the Mo Ce Mongoose Lizards were knocked off the playing field, the waterbending player is seen being helped out of the water while two of his teammates are being carried off on stretchers. The close-up of one of the players on the stretchers reveals him to be a waterbending player as well.
  • J. K. Simmons is credited despite Tenzin not appearing in the episode.
  • When the Fire Ferrets gathered together for an inspirational speech, the shot is from a frog perspective. Korra's hair should have hung straight down, but it was still draped over her shoulders as usual.


  • The man who attempted to greet Mako outside the Pro-bending Arena and trailed off after being ignored was voiced by co-executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos in an uncredited role. Dos Santos had seen the drawing of the character standing there and made a small joke about how it seemed like he would be "excited to see Mako before getting shut down".[2]
    • The creators have referred to the man by a popular fan name, "MOF", an acronym for "Mako's Only Fan".[3]
  • The waterbending move Korra executes in order to score a hat trick against the Buzzard Wasps is similar to the waterbending move she performs in the opening sequence.
  • The sponsor for one of the matches is "Flamey-O Instant Noodles".
  • This is the first episode in which Tenzin does not appear.
  • Bolin asking Korra out on a dinner "date situation" was inspired by similarly awkward pick-up lines from a college friend of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.[3]
  • Korra and Tahno's confrontation was based around one of the initial concepts for the series where Korra actually would have beaten someone up at a restaurant.[3]
  • The triangular formation in which the Fire Ferrets train foreshadows the love triangle between the three members.[4]
  • The way Korra kisses Mako after discussing their relationship is similar to the way Aang kissed Katara in "The Ember Island Players".
  • Korra and Mako's bickering and tension throughout the episode deliberately harkened back to the romantic relationships depicted in 1940s era films, namely the ones starring actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.[3]
  • The worms-eye view of Bolin, Mako, and Korra gathering their heads together for a team huddle to discuss their upcoming tournament match bears similarities to Azula, Mai, Ty Lee, and Zuko doing the same to discuss their upcoming kuai ball match in "The Beach".
  • This episode initially included dialogue in which Asami offers Korra some skin products and remarks how she is looking forward to spending some "girl time" with Korra.[5]
  • Konietzko and recording engineer Justin Brinsfield performed Korra and Bolin's exceedingly loud and long burps, the two of them creating and recording said noises by drinking a large amount of soda near to the point of getting sick.[3]
  • During the episode's production, DiMartino and Konietzko received a note from the network admonishing them for Bolin's inebriated behavior in the noodle restaurant. The creators' response was to forward them instances in the Nickelodeon show Spongebob Squarepants where the titular character engaged in similar conduct; ultimately, Bolin's scene was kept in the episode.[3]