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The UTTV crew, Ana Sani is fifth from left.
The UTTV crew, Ana Sani is fifth from left. Photo by Cameron Wathey

The Real Students of U of T

Reality television comes to U of T as students vie for chance to compete in Big Brother-like show

Reality television – from American Idol to The Amazing Race – has entertained many of today’s U of T students since they were kids. Now, University of Toronto Television (UTTV), a student broadcasting club, is turning the lens on U of T with a Big Brother-inspired show.

More than 70 cast hopefuls — including graduate students, an alumna, and even a U of T staff member — auditioned for one of the show’s eight spots. During the filming, contestants will face a day of physical and mental challenges in an undisclosed Mississauga house, vying for a $500 cash prize and the glory of winning.

“It’s based on the reality shows we see on TV, but with our own twist,” says Ana Sani, co-president of UTTV and the show’s director. “The show conjures up drama really fast. Participants form alliances that dissolve and regroup through each elimination round.”

On a snowy Friday evening at UTTV’s Sussex Avenue office recently, first-year student Henna Choi waited nervously for her turn to meet Sani and a panel of judges. “I’m walking into this blind,” she says. “This is a new experience for me – I’ve never been in front of a camera.” A few minutes later, she emerged from the room laughing: “It was fun, not what I expected. They made me sing a song.”

Improvisation is integral to the show’s audition process. “We want to see if people will open up to the camera,” says Sani, “It’s an opportunity for people to step out of their comfort zones.”

The show is the brainchild of Nathan Martinak (BA 2012). Martinak and Sani piloted the idea in 2011 with a trial run, which they uploaded to YouTube. This time around, they’re armed with better equipment and have devised more intricate challenges.

UTTV’s YouTube channel offers a range of programming: cooking videos, comedy sketches, and a news show. With over 1,000 members, it is one of U of T’s larger student groups. Word of the show spread through Facebook, posters, and campus media, but Sani credits a recent Toronto Star article about the show with propelling the group’s popularity. “It’s difficult to grab the attention of busy students,” she says. “A big problem at U of T is that people don’t engage with extracurriculars. They go to class and go home.”

Sani hopes the show will help generate enthusiasm for student clubs. “Being a part of UTTV has become an outlet for my personal expression,” she says. “I want to open the doors for other students. There are so many clubs, so many possibilities outside of the classroom.”

A self-taught team of six will create the show. UTTV has completed casting; contestant names will be kept under embargo until shooting begins in April. The team will spend the summer condensing the footage into eight 15-minute episodes to air during Frosh Week in September.

“It will be great for new students to see what kinds of activities exist at U of T,” says Sani. “We want to make this a yearly project, to spark a new tradition that people will talk about every year.”

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