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New CBC series will see 24 Canadians compete in cross-Canada obstacle competition

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Canada’s Ultimate Challenge hosts Craig McMorris and Nikki Reyes are shown at Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park in New Brunswick on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The muddy floor of the Bay of Fundy on the southern coast of New Brunswick became the unlikely scene of an obstacle course competition Wednesday -- but it's just one of the iconic Canadian locations to be featured on Canada's Ultimate Challenge. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Bissett

The muddy floor of the Bay of Fundy during low tide at Hopewell Rocks on the southern coast of New Brunswick became the unlikely scene of an obstacle course competition Wednesday, as shooting prepared to wrap on CBC's upcoming TV series Canada's Ultimate Challenge.

Known for the highest tides in the world, the Bay of Fundy draws tourists from around the world and provides a chance, at low tide, to walk on the ocean floor.  But near the water's edge that floor can be muddy — almost knee deep in mud. 

Without revealing what viewers will see when the series airs, suffice it to say none of the shirts, shorts and boots worn by the contestants were spared from the muck. 

The course, about 50 metres in size, was laid out near the huge flower-pot rocks —carved by the tides and natural erosion — that tower above the beach when the water recedes. 

But it's just one of the iconic Canadian locations to be featured on the new competition format program is set to premiere on CBC and CBC Gem in winter 2023. 

Professional snowboarder and sports analyst Craig McMorris and sports broadcaster Nikki Reyes host the eight, one-hour-long episodes.  

"There have been a lot of twists in creating these challenges, and it has been phenomenal to see the transformation of these iconic places and then seeing athletes trying to conquer them," Reyes said Wednesday. 

Reyes said the competitions aren't just about speed and strength. "There have been some challenges where it has been pure mental strength, concentration and communication," she said.

Twenty-four contestants from across the country will compete in solo, tandem and team challenges and face possible elimination as they vie for the substantial prize — although producers are keeping that and details about the challenges under wraps for now.  

Six star athletes have been chosen to coach the teams. They include sprinting legend Donovan Bailey, six-time Olympic medalist in cycling and speed skating Clara Hughes; three-time Olympian in speed skating Gilmore Junio; former captain of Canada's Olympic bronze medal-winning rugby sevens team Jen Kish, NFL Super Bowl Champion Luke Wilson, and Waneek Horn-Miller - co-captain of the Canadian water polo Olympic team in Sydney. Each coach is paired with a team of four players to provide advice and strategy.

"It's really interesting to see the coaches outside their element as an athlete. We've seen them perform at the highest level on the biggest stages, but getting to know them personally and getting to see them work with these athletes and bring a different side of themselves that we were never privy to before has been really interesting," Reyes said.   

McMorris said a lot of work went into choosing the contestants.  

"Our cast of 24 players is incredibly diverse. One of the things I am most proud of this program for is every Canadian should watch this and feel represented. It's extremely important in today's times. Here on Canada's Ultimate Challenge we try to do a good job of that," he said.  

And McMorris said the challenges are just as unique.  

"These challenges are designed to push people to their absolute limit," he said. 

"The challenges are set up not to just prove who is the fastest, or who's the strongest, or who can swim the furthest. It's not what it is. There is always another angle there. That's where it relies on the coaches. I've seen some major coaching snafus and I've seen some really good coaching," McMorris said.  

For Mark Lysakowski, executive producer with Insight Productions, travelling the country for about 33 days and capturing the action has been difficult in the heat of the summer and on the tail end of a pandemic.  

"We have a cast and crew of about 100 that travel everywhere we go. Plus we hire another 30-50 locals depending on where we are. We are moving a small army every time we get on a plane or bus. It is a feat of organizing and producing and arranging," he said as crews lugged cameras and other equipment across the wet sand.  

Lysakowski said weather has co-operated right across the country.

"We have 14 cameras, 40 to 50 GoPros, one permanent drone all the time, and some helicopters. We need three or four buses and other vehicles per episode just to move people around," he said.  

Each time they fly to a new location 130 cases of technical gear plus personal luggage needs to be loaded onto airplanes.   

Lysakowski said all the locations were scouted in advance, so there haven't been a lot of surprises, although a water-related challenge in Sudbury, Ont., required more boats than expected. "We always need more boats," he joked. 

Aside from Sudbury, Ont., and Hopewell Rocks, N.B., there will be challenges in Whitehorse, Yukon, Squamish and Kelowna, B.C., Hinton, Alta., Thousand Islands, Ont., and Quebec, Que., culminating with the finale on the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and P.E.I.  

While exact dates have not been announced, the show will premiere early in 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2022.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press