Few of us can say we were born in an A&W restaurant. But multiple award-winning TV host, comedienne and philanthropist Jessi Cruickshank can.
Maybe her unusual entrance gave her zest for showmanship. It’s certainly apparent in CBC’s daytime series The Goods, a light-hearted melange of trends, food, fashion, style and wellness and on her primetime gig, CBC’s weekly game show Canada’s Smartest Person — which returns for Season 3 on Sunday.
It sees Jessi wrangle talented Canadians as they battle one another in games of brains, and matches them wit for wit. We spoke with Jessi in Toronto about the diversity of intelligence and her special gift.
Monsters and Critics: Canada’s Smartest Person is beloved. I like that we get to meet interesting folks from across the country. What do you find the most rewarding aspect of doing the show?
Jessi Cruickshank: That’s exactly it, meeting the people. I am used to interviewing celebrities and this is such a welcome change because these people are so interesting.
We shoot segments over a long time and I get to know them. They fly in from different parts of the country.
We get to become friends, we have relationships, and I’m still in touch with these unique Canadians that I would never have had the opportunity to meet and know, and their incredible talent and intelligence. They are the most amazing people.
Intelligence comes in so many forms. It’s about redefining what we think of as smart and using different facets of our intelligence.
For me it’s a funny balance. I meet the competitors and feel in part intimidated by their genius but I feel better about my own intelligence. We all have many categories of intelligence.
M&C: I think I have a certain intelligence in that I can repair things around the house. Does that count?
JC: That’s your accomplishment. I think that mine is fashion, being able to put an outfit together, a visual and colour intelligence.
I fight often for the visual intelligence and that’s clear in Season 3. It’s not something to be dismissed. There is a certain heightened visual skill.
M&C: Hosting the show is altogether different from your work hosting Much Music shows. Was it an adjustment?
JC: I think it’s really about growing up. The cool thing about my career is that I started at MTV fresh out of university. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was 23 and living in the world I was talking about.
I was very much the same age and same page as the viewers. It would be a little sad to be a married woman in my thirties trying to hang with the kids.
M&C: So you’ve been up and running for a while with The Goods. Do you feel in the groove yet?
JC: You should ask me that question in six months and I still won’t be. I’m so thrilled to do a daytime show; everything is a little less precious. It’s a shiny floor game show! Like The Voice.
Game shows, pun intended, have to be very polished and require a lot of work. We have an incredible and vast crew who work on it till it’s tight and shiny.
It’s a daytime show and just an hour and every single day you can throw out the window the idea that something needs to be perfect.
We feel free to throw things at the wall and see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe we’re beginning to feel our groove.
M&C: There is a lot of great information on the show on all kinds of topics. It’s useful.
JC: I’m still learning about making a daytime show. I’m going to be a much more well-rounded human being and a better wife.
I have learned some skills. That’s where I think our show is so thrilled with the balance between the four hosts; we all fall into different categories.
And we do a lot of competitions. Stephen talks a big talk about his game skills and I may or may not have won the prize and I felt in the moment thrilled. More pride than when I graduated university with honours!
M&C: Which comediennes did and do you admire?
JC: I like all the big personalities. My taste in comedy is the same as a gay man’s, all the big personalities: Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Sandra Bernhard.
Roseanne too, although she can be a bit gritty for me. I loved Rosie O’Donnell on daytime talk and Kathy Griffin. I looked up to a lot of funny women. Red hair was a bonus for me! I was a lost little redhead!
M&C: Your charity work is impressive. Tell me what it was like living in a mud hut with a Maasai family?
JC: Free the Children is close to my heart. I started at 13. I heard about it and Craig Kielburger and started a little chapter in my school.
Ten years later at MTV he contacted me and said he knew I was part of it and asked if I would like to be the ambassador to India.
I’ve been to Kenya, Ecuador, Peru and I have travelled across Canada speaking to college and high school students. I tell them about eye-opening experiences of traveling and how they can make a bigger difference in the world.
Coming from MTV and entertainment, I questioned what I was doing for humanity.
I want to spread the message that it’s okay to be in pop culture and follow gossip and watch MTV but you need to find that balance and volunteer.
Season 3 of Canada’s Smartest Person starts this Sunday, November 13 at 8pm (8:30NT).