I was on Family Feud Canada. Here’s what it’s like behind the scenes of a game show

I was on Family Feud Canada. Here’s what it’s like behind the scenes of a game show

I’ve always wanted to be on TV. This past summer, I got my wish when I was cast in my favourite game show

The author (right) and an opponent face off on Family Feud Canada

In May, my cousin Ashley stumbled upon a Facebook post by the CBC calling for families from Atlantic Canada, and PEI in particular, to audition for Family Feud Canada’s fourth season. She shared the link in a group chat with me, my sister, Myriam, and our cousins Joël and Adèle.

“Why don’t we try out? Maybe they’re looking for diversity,” she said, diversity in this case being a group of French-Acadian cousins from the township of Abram-Village, PEI, a place so small that it has housed its entire student body inside a community centre ever since Hurricane Fiona stripped the local school of its roof. 

As the writer in a family of overworked medical professionals, I took the reins. “I got this,” I answered. “Will fill the application out tonight.”

I had always wanted to be on TV. At 27, I’m just old enough to remember a time when television was our main source of entertainment, before social media took over. Yet my memories of growing up with TV feel more social than social media ever has. My cousins, sister and I would spend hours watching Family Feud’s American version with our grandparents in their living room after school, all seven of us focused on the same screen. Us kids, all three years apart in age, screamed answers at contestants butchering the Fast Money round, convinced we’d do a better job. 

The people on the screen weren’t actors or performers but everyday people—teachers, accountants, university students. The only real mystery about them was how they had found their way onto prime time in the first place. In the early 2000s, a man from our village named Roger appeared on The Price Is Right and won a kitchenette, but he left it behind on his drive back to Canada because he didn’t want to pay the border tax. He is still known around town as “Roger Price-Is-Right,” yet nobody seems to know how he managed to find his way onto the show.

Determined to find out how it was done, I clicked on the link. It brought me to a two-page form asking for our basic information and an introductory video that would show the producers why our family would do well on TV. A successful application would advance us to the second round of auditions. It became clear that paving our path to the Feud would take longer than one night.

I spent the next week collecting clips from my teammates and putting a short video together. Its premise was that I had escaped PEI for Toronto to try to break into the CBC studio and convince Gerry Dee to let us on the show, while my cousins searched the Island for my whereabouts. In reality, we’re scattered all over the country, with me in Toronto; Myriam in Sherbrooke, Quebec; Ashley in Summerside, PEI; Joël in Digby, Nova Scotia; and Adèle in Neguac, New Brunswick. This blessed our clip with a fun variety of scenes: PEI lighthouses, Front Street, our grandmother’s basement, Yonge-Dundas Square. 

We submitted our application in late May, and two weeks later, we were invited to the second round of auditions, which would take place over Zoom. We were told to prepare a song that described our team and to come ready to share our best family stories. We spent days preparing and consulting our grandmother’s old book of memories, in which she had recorded every adorable or weird thing we did as children. We ended up with so much material that it felt like we were pitching the CBC a docuseries.

We kicked off our audition with a parody of “We Will Rock You,” with each verse poking fun at one of us—Adèle had Covid three times, Ashley hid her tattoos from my grandmother for years, I recently had my car stolen. From our five screens, each lagging by various paces, we sang loudly, banging our fists and clapping to recreate Queen’s timeless beat. I recorded my screen, thinking that, at worst, I’d at least get footage of my cousins singing awkwardly to show our grandmother.

After our song, the producer, a smiling young woman, jumped into a 75-minute round of questions to see if we were fun and polished enough for TV: “What’s your best party trick?” “Are you obsessed with anything?” “What’s something funny about your teammates?” Wearing our best TV smiles, we yelled out our juiciest childhood secrets: I refused to speak to English people until I was 10, Myriam used to put ranch dressing on desserts, Ashley believed in elves and was convinced she was becoming one. The weirder, the better. I hoped so badly that our family quirks would get us on the show that I didn’t think about how these stories might play in front of a national audience. Between explosions of laughter, one of my teammates—I won’t say who—blurted out that they had been constipated as a kid. It was fine. None of it felt real.

And yet, in July, I received an email inviting us to the live show on Monday, August 29. I called my cousins on FaceTime and they screamed with excitement. We immediately told our significant others, parents and grandmother, Erma, who still watches the show daily. She couldn’t believe it, and I immediately wondered if it was a good idea to tell her—she isn’t always great at keeping secrets. Despite the burning urge to post on social media, we kept our news quiet. We figured it would be wise to wait for the episode’s outcome before asking people to watch it. 

The show’s logistics team booked our flights and summoned my sister and cousins to Toronto on Sunday, the day before filming. My cousins hadn’t spent much time in the city, so I gave them, Myriam and my parents, who had also made the trek from PEI, the 24-hour Toronto tour: a ride up the CN tower, a Blue Jays game and dinner at Kost. My cousins came bearing gifts from grandma: $20 each to pay for meals, which barely covered a round of cocktails. Gazing at skyscrapers from the window of her hotel room at Le Saint Germain, Adèle said, “Toronto is so big, I bet you could almost fit PEI’s entire population inside the city.” (PEI has 160,000 residents.)

We reported to the CBC studio at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. The show films four episodes in one day, and teams play until they either lose or reach a maximum of three games. The first episode began at 11 a.m., but teams had to undergo rehearsals before showtime. Clutching our coffees, we did a run-through of a mock episode, practising every element of our on-air performance—how to walk up to the podium and introduce our team, how to smile and clap when we lost a round, how to high-five our teammates when they got a right answer, and even how to banter. Our producer, Jake, had selected a dozen stories from our initial interviews to feed to host Gerry Dee and coached us on how to make them punchy, appropriate and TV-ready. The story about Joël participating in a pig scramble, a now-extinct Acadian festival that involved capturing baby pigs and stuffing them into a burlap bag, didn’t make the cut.

After the practice round, producers escorted us to our green room–style tents, which lined the wall of a massive warehouse adjacent to the studio. We were told that we would play in the second game of the day, so we still had some time to practise our performance. Jake lined us up in front of our green room in our official team order—me, Ashley, Myriam, Joël, Adèle—and asked Myriam to name a type of animal. The goal of the exercise was to practise our cheering. We clapped maniacally and repeatedly screamed “GOOD ANSWER!” into the warehouse void as expressionless, black-clad technicians milled around us. For them, I suppose, it was just another Monday.

At 12:30 p.m., we were called out to the studio and walked onto the set in our matching red and grey outfits. We did a last microphone check, chugged our coffees and retreated to an elevated nook behind the podiums to wait for the show to start. The studio, which had looked larger than life on TV, appeared shrunken to the size of a high school classroom. I stared at the crowd of roughly 50 people, all sitting in stand-alone chairs, with my parents; my girlfriend, Alexis, and her family; and our cousins from Pickering all hogging the front rows. It looked more like an intervention than a live TV shoot.

The Arsenault-Cyr family on the set of Family Feud Canada

My cousins and I gathered in a huddle and waited for our cue. The announcer called, “From Abram-Village, PEI, the Arsenault-Cyr family!” and we exploded out of our crouches and jogged down to the podiums, where I introduced our family to Gerry Dee. It was surreal to see him up close after years of watching Family Feud and his TV show Mr. D. I felt a pang of anxiety after giving him a fist bump. This was real, and there was $10,000 on the line. I had a new mortgage to pay. Having fun with my cousins stopped being the main goal. We had to win.

As the first round dragged on, I quickly realized that Family Feud is not a game of speed as much as one of memory. Gerry’s first question to each contestant is an invitation to delve into one of our prepared stories—“So, tell me about your job”—but the conversation inevitably devolves into a three-minute improvisational skit, where Dee taps into his self-deprecative, play-dumb persona to poke fun at the contestant or himself. (He spent a solid 90 seconds trying to get Myriam and Joël to diagnose his various medical ailments.) Much of the material is worth a chuckle and gets cut in editing, but it’s easy to forget your answers amid all the banter.

When the playful discussion finally ends, it takes another 20 seconds for an answer to make its way to the board—a tech lag that’s cut in editing. It may not sound like a long time, but when you’re clapping and screaming, “It’s up there!” “Good answer!” or any other mundane encouragement you can think of before the board flips or an X crashes onto the screen, it feels like an eternity. At one point, there was a technical glitch and the board froze. Both teams had to recreate the scene that had just played out—disclosing the same answer, feigning surprise and then celebrating (or sighing, on the losing side) when the answer revealed itself again. It was a microcosm of our experience on the show—a blend of real and rehearsed excitement.

The Arsenault-Cyr family banters with host Gerry Dee

But fans will be glad to know that much of the show is real. You don’t know if your answer is successful until the board flips. That’s because contestants aren’t answering with trivia facts but guessing the responses to a 100-person survey. In a given round, there are four to eight answers on the board, with point totals corresponding to the number of people who gave that answer in the survey. The top few answers are usually obvious while the final two or three are a total guessing game. It’s those last few answers that make it difficult to sweep the board, and if one team isn’t able to do it, the other team has a chance to steal all the points. Ultimately, it comes down to who has the luckiest guess. In all my years of watching the show, I failed to appreciate how fickle its outcome can be.

Months have now passed since we filmed our episode of Family Feud, and we are forbidden from disclosing the results until the show airs on November 29. But our friends’ and family’s eagerness to watch us on TV is growing. Last week, we posted photos of ourselves on set on Instagram, and they garnered likes at the rate of an engagement announcement. In the world of TikTok and YouTube, where anyone and everyone can have a platform, prime time TV somehow still holds its glow. People still appreciate a gatekeeper. In that way, it feels like the allure of national television will never die. 

Yet, with each passing week, my own excitement to watch the show is dwindling and giving way to vulnerability. We are about to share abridged versions of our lives with thousands of strangers and, in some ways, it feels fabricated. We talk about our childhood village, but none of us have lived there in years. We reduce our most cherished memories to polished banter. We aren’t even speaking our native language, French. I keep wondering, Will people like us? Will it show that we are acting at times and that we are truly living our best moments together in others? Or maybe viewers will just see us as another 22 minutes of light entertainment, flipping channels during the commercials and screaming out the answers we butcher, convinced they’d do a better job.