Contestants on “The Amazing Race Canada” were unanimously excited when informed that the show would be hosted by Olympic gold medallist Jon Montgomery — once they realized who he was, that is.
“Were they like who? Who? The beer guy?” Montgomery asks.
Well, actually, yes.
But the flame-haired 34-year-old has no issue with the fact that he’s still best-known to Canadians not for hurtling to a surprise gold medal in men’s skeleton at the 2010 Vancouver Games, but for how he celebrated afterward: gleefully marching through a crowd of elated Canucks while chugging a pitcher of beer.
“If I could pick between being known as an Olympic gold medallist or the beer guy, I would pick the beer guy,” Montgomery said in a recent interview — his words tumbling out at Olympic speed — before again revisiting the circumstances of his golden day.
“That lady that was kind enough to hand me a pitcher of beer, it was like she was angelic, there was this aura about her and … I was so thirsty at that moment in time,” he recalled. “As a good old Manitoba boy, you show your appreciation for someone buying you a drink by taking a good hearty swill of it.
“I think Canadians can’t necessarily see themselves flying down a frozen toilet chute on a cafeteria tray with rails head-first at 140 km/h, but Canadians can see themselves celebrating a goal accomplished … in a uniquely Canadian style with a pitcher of suds. And I think that leant them some access to the moment.”
It was a marquee moment for Games broadcaster CTV too, so it’s not surprising that the network decided upon Montgomery as host of its new flagship, race-around-Canada reality show, which will launch with considerable fanfare on July 15.
“How he behaved after he won his gold medal was just like a unifying moment where all Canadians said: that dude is Canadian and he’s a Canadian hero,” said executive producer John Brunton, chairman and CEO of Insight Productions.
“The way he behaved, it was like he had a Canadian flag tattooed on his forehead. He was Mr. Canada — he sort of represented a Molson beer commercial in many ways.
“I don’t think he was an obvious choice in any way,” Brunton continued. “(But) how can you not love Jon Montgomery? He’s a seasoned traveller, he’s got balls the size of grapefruits. One of the things that’s going to make our show different than the American show is that I think you will find our host more … physically active and relating to the challenges in a different way.”
Still, Montgomery is the first to admit he has scant experience in front of the camera, aside from the flurry of interviews and speaking engagements that followed his moment of Olympic glory.
So he shies away from comparing himself favourably to Phil Keoghan — the New Zealander who has hosted the American version of “The Amazing Race” for 22 seasons — demurring when told of Brunton’s praise: “I think it would be a big mistake for me to try and be Phil, because he’s so good at what he does that I think I should maybe try to find my own voice. … He’s the master, and maybe, one day, I can get close to being like Phil.”
In fact, Montgomery says he’s not drawing upon his on-camera experiences post-Olympics, but the decade he spent prior to that as a motor-mouthed auto auctioneer.
“(That) lent itself to being comfortable in front of an audience and being the guy with the microphone, the centre of attention — and that was probably why I got into auctioneering,” he added with a laugh. “I liked being the centre of attention growing up. I was the guy in class who was repeatedly told to sit down, to not talk. ‘Jon needs to focus more, he’s not getting his work done’ — that kind of deal.
“But it seems to have worked out OK.”
One of his other duties as “Amazing Race Canada” host will be to zero in upon the team conflicts that frequently erupt between pairs of stressed-out contestants desperately trying to quickly navigate the myriad obstacles strewn in their way.
Sometimes he might simply poke at those fires, sometimes he might have to pour figurative gasoline on them — anything in service of the viewer, he says.
“I don’t think that I’m going to get in there and try and be a total disturber — as maybe my role was on the ice when I played hockey growing up,” he said.
“But (will I be) a little bit of an agitator? Maybe. Just asking some appropriate questions to pull some responses out that you might be looking for — that might make for good television viewing — I think that that’s definitely the role of the host and I’ll have to walk that delicate line between being somebody who isn’t perceived very well by the public and someone who is perceived as doing a good job in their role of facilitating reactions.”
Speaking of his on-ice role, Montgomery is still hoping to qualify and represent Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
His hosting duties constitute a challenge for the training-focused Montgomery, who planned on a makeshift workout regimen while on the road — “Find a parking lot, do some track spring warmups, find a gym where I can find a few free weights, throw them around, get my workout done, get going,” he said.
While he hopes “The Amazing Race Canada” leads to more opportunities in broadcasting, he’s still maintaining focus on the skeleton track. And he knows he has plenty of work ahead if he plans to swig some celebratory suds next winter in Russia.
“I’ve got a huge road to hoe to be able to repeat,” he said, pointing to 2010 runners-up Martins Dukurs of Latvia and Alexander Tretiakov of Russia as “the two guys everyone’s chasing, including myself.”
“I’ve got a lot of work to do to narrow that margin between where I am right now and where they’re at,” he added, noting that he was comfortable playing catch-up for now. “I don’t want to go in being the front-runner. That’s not something I’ve ever been before. So it’s always easier being the underdog.
“So yeah, I would definitely welcome going into the 2014 Olympic Games being not the front-runner. And I’m not, so I’m cool with that.”