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COVID-19 and WorldSkills

13 February 2019

Turf Wars

It’s a winning formula familiar to anyone who has watched reality television as teams of young people are pushed to the limits of their ability to win the big prize.

Tension rises as the competition reaches the final hours, not just for the young Competitors, but also the spellbound audience, whose numbers grow by the minute.

Except this isn’t X Factor or even Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. Rather it’s a Landscape Gardening Competition, or at least as reimagined by Skills/Compétences Canada.

Faced with falling numbers for this particular skill in the national competition, organizers decided to reinvent it as a series for YouTube, using the format of a reality TV show.

The five-part programme was hosted by celebrity landscape designer and gardener Carson Arthur, who has a large following in North America thanks to his show on the cable channel HGTV.

Bradley G. Thomas, the  manager of  marketing and social media at Skills Canada, explain, "The idea was inspired by our CEO, seeing sports reality television such as Strongman competitions and a documentary on spelling bees in the US.”

The competition was filmed at the 2017 Skills Canada competition in Winnipeg, and after editing, released on their YouTube channel as Turf Wars.

Each episode highlights the skill required to construct a complete garden in just a few days, but also brings into focus the tension and pressures on the Competitors.

Anyone who has a witnessed a landscape gardening contest, either at national level or at a WorldSkills Competition, will know it is one of the most visual skills, and generally attracts plenty of attention, particularly as teams scramble to meet the deadline in the final hours.

But the reality TV format has been successfully applied to other activities whose audience grabbing potential might not be immediately obvious - for example the UK’s Great British Bake Off, whose worldwide audience runs to the millions and turns its competitors into celebrities.

The winners of Turf Wars might not yet have the star power of Bake Off’s Nadia Hussein, who was invited to bake a cake for the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, but they do have a bright future thanks to their talents, and as Mr Thomas says: "We wanted to showcase this skill area and show that it is a viable career option in Canada.”