What do a trebuchet, a pinball machine, an old-fashioned bicycle, a salmon, a hope chest and a foosball table have in common?
A chance to be in the second season of the HGTV show Canada's Handyman Challenge
With a variety of amazing creations – each made from just one sheet of plywood – Handyman hopefuls descended on the Terminal City Iron Works compound in Vancouver recently to impress the show's judges with their efforts.
Wood is good
The Vancouver round of auditions was the second stop for Canada's Handyman Challenge; Halifax was the first stop and Toronto, the last. The judges – HGTV stars Paul Lafrance
(Decked Out, Deck Wars), Bryan Baeumler
(Leave it to Bryan, House of Bryan) and Scott McGillivray
(Income Property) – toured to find the best Canadian handymen (and women) to compete in the hit HGTV show.
In each city, the judges had the task of narrowing down the the competitors to the top four from each city. Finalists will then progress to Toronto, where compete and test their handyman talents. The winner will earn the coveted title of Canada's Best as well as $25,000.
When the show airs, Mike Holmes
(Holmes Makes It Right, Holmes Inspections) will join the judging trio to help choose the winner and award the monetary prize.
Last year's winner, Mark Falvai, hails from Qualicum Beach, proving that West Coast contenders make worthy opponents in the competition.
This year, local resident Guy Belair was one of the hopefuls on hand in Vancouver; he made a complex salmon with several layers to show the judges how handy he is (contestants could only use one piece of plywood for their respective projects).
"I'm very excited. A little nervous," Belair said before going in to face Lafrance, Baeumler and McGillivray. "I like to work with my hands. I like the creativity that comes with it."
He came back from his cabin to find his wife had entered him into the auditions, he said, but he was also game for the challenge. If he wins the $25,000, Belair said he will buy the Yamaha four-stroke outboard engine for their boat that he has been eyeing for some time.
When called in to face the judges, Belair presented the judges with some candied salmon (to go with his wooden salmon creation), but the trio seemed to appreciate Belair's talent more than the snack.
Here come da judges
"This is beautiful!" said Baeumler, and noted the complexity of the layers of wood used to complete the project. "It takes someone brilliant to be able to figure this out."
They go through several auditions, with one Handyman hopeful even riding in on the penny farthing-style bicycle (circa 1880s) he created out of plywood, asking each person who they are, what they've created and why. Hopeful contestants chatted while they waited their turn,
During a lunch break, the judges discussed the show and their roles in ensuring a successful season.
"I really want them to 'wow' me," said McGillavry. "It's not one specific quality…we look at the creativity and, because this is a competition, we look at the finished product."
Lafrance agreed, and noted they look at all aspects of the person, from their range of handyman skills to their personality.
"It really comes down to a gut feeling," Lafrance said.
Baeumler concurred, and added many handymen and women might be good at one thing – such as making furniture, but perhaps they may not be good at other things, such as hanging drywall.
"We're looking for the best, well-rounded man or woman with the best effort," Baeumler said. "We want to know if they can talk the talk as well as walk the walk."
With obvious passion for what they do and a good-natured camaraderie, the HGTV judging trio talk about how, with a competition like this, at least three judges are needed.
"In many cases – even though I'm right most of the time – we need that tie breaker," McGillivray said with a smile.
Ignoring McGillivray's 'mostly right' claim, Baeumler noted that Canada's Handyman Challenge is one of a few contests that has actual, tangible results, something that appeals to many.
Tide turning for trades
"There are no ABCs or 123s to renovating or building," said Baeumler said. "It really is 90 per cent art and creativity and 10 per cent science."
Lafrance has noticed something of a sea change in the industry as well, and commented that these days, people are realizing that the trades can be a successful career path.
"Over the years, the trades was always sort of seen as something you fall back on," he said. "But the tide is turning. Stone masons and artisans used to be revered…and now, the artisans are returning and it's changing things around."
The judges joke about how they hate each other (not really) and how they always start with a jaeger bomb (not really…well, maybe) before deciding what challenges the final contestants will have to complete to compete for the Canada's Best title. The challenges are chosen to test a variety of skills, which can range from things such as general carpentry to window installation, and to also see how competitors work under pressure and how their personalities emerge.
All the judges also noted that the handyman title doesn't necessarily have to go to a man.
"We want women to show up! Get down here! I'd love to see 200-300 women come down," Baeumler said.
"There's absolutely no reason a woman can't be handy. It's not the 1950s anymore."
The series is scheduled to premier in the HGTV winter 2013 schedule. For details, visit the HGTV site
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