Canada’s Ultimate Challenge players talk about being Black on reality TV

Canada’s Ultimate Challenge players talk about being Black on reality TV

Reality television is an entertainment staple, captivating audiences with drama, humour and relatable characters. Pick your favourite player and root for them to come out on top. But amidst the viral moments and cultural cachet, a crucial element often goes unnoticed: representation. 

For viewers, seeing people who look like them on TV can be incredibly empowering, fostering a sense of belonging and pride. “As soon as there’s a Black person that looks like me on a show, I see myself in that person,” says Sandrick Brisard-Cadet, a Laval, Quebec-based competitor on Canada’s Ultimate Challenge.  

Canada’s Ultimate Challenge, CBC’s original reality TV series, is now streaming free on CBC Gem. Hosted by Brandon Gonez, this reality show takes 20 competitors and divides them into five teams of four as they compete in challenges that test their physical, mental and social skills.  

Players Chassidy Sule, Shasily Matowe, Sandrick Brisard-Cadet, Ayoleka “Leka” Sodade and Quinton MacLean were proud to be chosen to represent the Black community on the show. 

Real people repping diversity in the Black community

There’s diversity within the Black community and Quinton, an Oakville-based Twitch streamer and fitness coach believes reality shows can showcase those differences. “We come from so many different backgrounds, so many different neighbourhoods, so many different types of hardships growing up where I feel like people have an idea of what a Black man or Black woman is — on shows or just in general,” he says, “and reality TV is an opportunity to see how different everybody can be. The more representation we have, the more opportunity we have to show what we have to offer.”  

Chassidy, an office administrator and competitive bodybuilder from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia gets hooked by watching the real personalities. “Everyone is just themselves and I just find it entertaining.” 

“I really am a fan of reality TV. I love, love, love watching it,” says Leka, a Nigerian-born former competitive basketball player from Windsor, Ontario now living in the U.S. Growing up in Canada, she watched any reality show she could with people of colour. “There’s not that many people of colour on Canadian reality TV shows,” says Leka. When Black voices are absent from reality TV, it sends a message that their stories aren’t important or worthy of being told. A more diverse cast can lead to more engaging and relatable content that is also more reflective of society as a whole. 

Black representation increased when she moved to the U.S. “but it wasn’t really often. There would be only one or two girls that I could connect with.”

Quinton remembers shows with only one Black contestant but things are starting to change. “With Canada’s Ultimate Challenge, I was really happy to see that it wasn’t just me. We had Chassidy, Sandrick, Leka and Shasily.”  The tides may be turning, but there is still room for improvement.

Some of the challenges on this show may put Black players at a disadvantage, says Sandrick. “When you grow up as a Black kid, your parents don’t bring you camping or canoeing or swimming or that kind of stuff. I feel like because of my background, I wasn’t at the same starting line as other people.”

Watch | Sandrick talks about swimming in the Rideau Canal

Sandrick swims in the Rideau Canal | Canada’s Ultimate Challenge

Canada’s Ultimate Challenge player Sandrick talks about his swim in the Rideau Canal

Black players feel more pressure to represent their community in a positive way

Through casting more Black people on reality TV,  these players hope to portray a fuller picture of the Black community, helping marginalized groups feel accepted and comfortable being themselves. 

However, players were hyper-aware of how they would represent the Black community on screen. “With reality television, because nothing is scripted, you kind of have to think about how you would like to portray yourself, says Chassidy. “Being a Black woman or man, there are a lot of stereotypes and you try not to overthink or change or modify who you are as a person, but at the same time, you don’t want to demonstrate the stereotype,” said Chassidy.  

“I just found myself overthinking and overanalyzing how I may react or respond to specific situations or conversations,” says Shasily, a fitness trainer and dancer from Edmonton, Alberta. “I have no issue with ever being myself but as a Black woman, it is something that will naturally sit in the back of your mind because you don’t want to come across like this stereotype.” She felt the need to exercise restraint on Canada’s Ultimate Challenge, especially with the drama and conflict of her famously dysfunctional Team Green. 

Watch | Sandra and Ninko get tense

Tension between Team Green players Sandra and Ninko | Canada’s Ultimate Challenge

After several losses, team players explode with frustration.

“It was something that was really challenging to navigate,” she says. “And usually I’m the type of person who has no problem speaking up, but there were some moments where I felt like, ‘You know what? This is not a hill that I’m trying to die on.'” 

Sandrick also felt the pressure to represent Black people in a positive way, “I feel like I can’t have bad behaviour ’cause it’s going to fall back into ‘the Black man that did something bad.'” Mainstream media can play a role in shaping societal attitudes and perceptions. When Black individuals are portrayed in a positive light on screen, it can help combat perceptions and stereotypes and inspire others in the real world. 

“I really hope that Canada continues to give opportunities to people who look like myself on these big platforms because we do have a lot to share and a lot of other people to inspire that are watching these shows that look like us,” says Leka.

Several people are walking.
Canada’s Ultimate Challenge competitors on the move in Signal Hill. (Jag photography)

Chassidy, Sandrick, Quinton, Leka and Shasily say they were glad to represent the Black community on Canada’s Ultimate Challenge. “I wanted to represent Black people, make them proud of who they are and of what they’re seeing on TV,” says Sandrick.

Watch Canada’s Ultimate Challenge free on CBC Gem.

Think you have what it takes? Apply for Season 3 of Canada’s Ultimate Challenge now!

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.
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