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Canada's Next Top Mishap

Why is Canadian trash TV so stinkingly bad?

By Elaine Corden 2 Jun 2006 |

Elaine Corden writes about pop culture for the Tyee. Her work has appeared on CBC Radio, and in The Georgia Straight, The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Magazine, Time Out, Victoria Times-Colonist, Monday Magazine, FFWD, The Hour, North Shore News, Shared Vision and some papers in Florida, Texas and Oregon she forgets the names of. Until recently, she authored the music column "Band Geek" for WestEnder, where she also acted as Arts Editor. She maintains the pop-culture obsessed blog Trifective, and is currently working on her first novel.

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Sylvie: booted for un-Canadian 'tude.

Oh cringe upon cringe. It's bad enough that Tyra "Shake Ya Body" Banks and her band of fashion industry "celebrities" had us tuning in every week to catch her cavalcade of self-esteem-deprived, fair-of-face, troglodyte, starry-eyed hopefuls compete to be America's Next Top Model, but now we've got Canada's Next Top Model? Lord, give us strength, and a ten-foot-high fence along our border.

The runway/runaway American hit -- which sees competitors vie throughout 14 weeks to win a shot on the cover of TV Guide, a swift-return-to-obscurity prize and coveted modelling contract -- just wrapped up its sixth wildly successful season. Canada's Next Top Model, licensed and franchised from the original, is just kicking off. And oh, sweet mother of Timbits, if it isn't just flag-burningly awful.

The show, which airs on CityTV Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m., begins in painful earnest. We see Jay Manuel, the silver-haired winged monkey of Miss Tyra, confess in a poorly-lit background that, even though he's made his name saying "fierce" a lot on ANTM, he is, in fact, a native Torontonian.

Look Ma! A Canehdjun just done made it Amerrrreeeka!

The land of Degrassi

This segues nicely into the introduction of Tricia Helfer (all together now: Tricia who?), Alberta native, winner of 1992's Ford Supermodel of the World contest, apparent top model and (though this is scarcely mentioned) player on the recently re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. There is a nice montage of Helfer on the runway, on the cover of Maxim, and in various other places we might presumably find a "supermodel." Miss Tyra Banks tears herself away from her own vaingloriousness for just long enough to say "Hey Tricia!" to some far-flung camera and thus the tenuous, cross-border link is made from America to the land of Degrassi High.

In the next scene, we see ten young women who have been mysterious selected by some pre-production mechanism. For the next eight weeks, they will compete to become Canada's "top model." The instantly forgettable ladies, suspiciously ethnically balanced for our cultural-mosaic pleasure, introduce themselves to the camera, in the process announcing that they will be competing in modelling hotspot "Victoria, B.C." At this point, it's worth mentioning that five of the ten girls hail from somewhere in B.C., two from Alberta, and three from rural Ontario. Scoured the country, did we CNTM? It also seems worth mentioning that, despite at least seven clunky product placements before the first commercial break, the show still appears to be made on a budget slightly inferior to my weekly pocket money in 1984.

Sometime in the show, the girls are flown to some remote spa in the Gulf Islands, and, with gratuitous shots of B.C.'s breathtaking scenery, coupled with even more gratuitous shots of tourism B.C. staffers, topped off with a contestant's well-timed expression "Beautiful B.C.!" from the plane, we can safely assume that B.C. tourism minister Olga "Shake Ya Body" Illich will be a guest judge somewhere down the line.

Commercial Break: Olay Body Wash, L.A. Weight Loss, the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I am making a wish right now.


Photo shoot. The girls are made up to look like iconic women in music. Sylvie is made to look like Deborah Harry. Tenika is made to look like Diana Ross. Asian-Canadian Sisi is Yoko Ono. Heather is "edgy '70s punk" (which icon she is exactly, is unclear) the rest of the girls' rock alter-egos are never revealed to us, but apparently sexy attire and makeup set to Tammy Faye levels are co-terminus with iconic women in music, and besides, no one wants to dress up like Nana Mouskouri.

Judgification time. Bring on the botoxed head of Jeanne Beker, plus two other Canadian fashion types I've never heard of! Their analysis? Andrea needs more self-confidence and so does Dawn. Sisi makes weird faces at the camera. Brandi makes no face at the camera. Alanna offers nothing. Tenika took her shirt off in front of the crew. (She's a witch! Burn her!) Natalie commits the crime of having wider hips than Jay Manuel. Sylvie takes good photos but has an attitude.

Later Sylvie. We're nice people up here in Canada.

The whole thing -- bland contestants, wilderness locale, low-budget sets and graphics, has a certain je ne sais fierceness that amounts to mind-numbing, nation-embarrassing television. CNTM lacks all the elements that make ANTM so addictively watchable: sweet and civil Tricia has nothing on the hilariously self-important Tyra; Victoria, B.C. and a cabin in the wilderness are no New York City; ten contestants from three provinces does not amount to a "nationwide search."

Botox and Brazilians

Whither the cavalcade of national stereotypes we see on ANTM? The black diva, the black illiterate, the vicious back-stabbing bisexual, the dumb blonde, the girl with the jealous boyfriend, the crazy Christian zealot, the anorexic, the-girl-who-must-overcome-adversity (my favourites being Lupus Mercedes from season two and Hurricane Katrina survivor Wendy, who had water dumped over her natty hair before she was sent packing early in season six). Pshaw the herpes-faced lesbian Michelle, the "chubby" size four Yohanna or slutty Walgreen's employee Shandi? Whither this paragon of the American dream, which showed that yes, women have "tons" of options? Could the show where Tricia Helfer chastises a model for going topless possibly be connected to the American powerhouse that featured a half-hour segment in which contestants received full Brazilian waxes?

Ripping off a cheap, tawdry American reality show does not look good on us in Upper Canada, but it has become part of the four pillars of Canadian television: shows on Bravo and Showcase that assume if you say the word "sex" enough times, the show will eventually be described as "sexy"; coming-of-age on the Prairies tales (I am looking at you, CBC); off-beat and funny comedies; and now, the latest, clones of American hit series.

How bad is our television landscape when we can't even get trash right? Do we have to focus just on our strengths and leave the glitzy, crack-cocaine that is reality TV to the people who do it best? Oh Canada, I stand ashamed of thee. And CNTM? You are no longer in the running to be on my television.

Elaine Corden is a Vancouver writer. She writes the Trifective blog.

Related stories in The Tyee: this week, Shannon Rupp mused about Brangelina and the celebrity conspiracy, and recently about whether TV is evil, and Vanessa Richmond wrote about teen girls who want to be celebrity stylists as a result of ANTM.  [Tyee]

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