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Fine & Sandy

Judge Karen Fralich and host Maestro Fresh Wes dig deep on season three of CBC sand-sculpting competition Race Against the Tide

What is the secret to building a lasting sand sculpture? There is no secret, if you are to believe professional sand sculptor, and third-time judge of Race Against the Tide, Karen Fralich. “It’s just sand that’s been pressed together with a lot of water,” she reveals to TV Week. “It’s mud. When people go to the beach, they try to make something out of soft, fluffy, dry, not compacted sand. Of course, it doesn’t stay. Just make it as wet and muddy as possible.” 

As the 12 teams gathered in the Bay of Fundy on this latest season of the competition that premiered on July 16, even this valuable piece of advice means little, as they face the rapidly rising tide that will erase their masterpieces. In fact, as the contestants’ technical abilities improve with each season, it is that time crunch that brings unpredictability to the competition that three years in should come with few surprises. “These sculptors have to create incredible works of art in five or six hours. Normally professionals get about three or four days to create their masterpieces, over 24 to 30 hours. It’s a ridiculously short amount of time to work in,” says Fralich. “Sometimes when you’re under that kind of pressure, you come up with the most amazing stuff, that you never would’ve thought of had you had the time to think about it. The contestants blow us away with some incredible creations.”

In its third run, the teams have been increased from 10 to a dozen and separated into two groups. “Each heat dwindles down to two teams, and each of those teams will go into the semifinals,” explains Fralich. “It adds an exciting edge to it because it feels like the stakes are even higher for each of the competitors.” Not that the circumstances of the competition were ever a walk on the beach. Maestro Fresh Wes, the Canadian rap artist who is back for his second run as host, returns with some key advice of his own: “Come with a contingency plan,” he says with a chuckle. “I remember, one season a dude was making the face of his grandmother and it collapsed. It looked like grandma had a stroke! He had to get all creative. So, it’s good to have a contingency plan as you go, because things happen.” 

It is not only the contestants that are slightly out of their depth in this race. For both Fralich and Maestro, the gig has demanded a pivot despite their experience in the field. “I have judged sand sculpting contests before and done many of them, but to switch to a TV format was very different,” says Fralich. “I had no idea how much fun we were going to have. Just being yourself and putting all your enthusiasm into the art and artistry and the hard work that these competitors put into it, that was not hard to do. My job as a judge is to help the audience understand what the competitors are going through and how difficult this actually is.” 

The Canadian musician, well known for his hip-hop tracks since the 1980s, is channelling some A-list actors in his job as the emcee. “Somebody I always looked up to is Don Cheadle. If Don Cheadle, or Samuel Jackson, could pull something off like this, that’s outside their so-called parameters, that’s something cool,” he muses, admitting that in year two, this is still terra nova for him. “It comes with a comfort zone when you do stuff that you’re used to doing, like music. This has nothing to do with music,” he says. “Acting, you’re reading a script, and I’m making that character come to life as organically as possible. As a host, you’re making it more theatrical. When I do Race Against the Tide, and I see a [camera] drone up in the air, I’m like, ‘This is theatre, man. This is drama.’ ”

Time and time again, Race demonstrates that no one heightens that drama quite like Mother Earth. Between gravity and the tides, there is zero room for regret in this competition. “If you have a significant collapse during the contest, all you can do is stop for a second, take a breath, walk away, come back and just move forward,” says Fralich. “Let the sand tell you what it wants to be, because you can’t make it do anything else.” And when it’s time to say goodbye to your work, there’s nothing to do but take one last snapshot and accept life’s impermanence. “These are the highest tides in the world. Those tides move so quickly. You could be standing there and on dry land and you look down a couple minutes later and you’re underwater a foot. It moves that fast,” explains Fralich. “That is a pretty profound thing.”

Race Against the Tide airs Sundays on CBC

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