When I called Brent Balluff to interview him about his success as the Season 3 winner of Canada’s Handyman Challenge, I didn’t expect to find out that he had learned his trade as a mechanic in the Canadian Armed Forces, served three UN tours, and nearly didn’t even make his audition for the show.
A father of two, stepfather to three, and grandfather of two, this Vancouver native was also very gracious and humble on the phone, still a bit shocked I think of his win, but speaking very highly of his fellow competition.
From what Brent plans to do with his $25,000 win, to his rocky Handyman start, here’s more about the man behind this year’s win, and what it was like behind the scenes of the show:
Tina Taus: What does it feel like to be Canada’s Best Handyman?
Brent Balluff: It still hasn’t set in to be honest with you. I think as these episodes are being aired now, of course, it was surreal up until the episode aired, and now you start to believe it really happened.
TT: What are your plans with the $25,000?
BB: Haven’t really thought about it to be honest with you. I’m sure there’ll be a nice holiday in it, and we’ll have some fun with the money for sure. But you don’t want to get out in front of your headlights with what’s happening.
TT: What was it like being on the show for you? Going through the challenges and everything?
BB: It was a great experience…The highlight was the group of guys. The camaraderie between us was great. It was just a great group of guys…We all had the same approach, it wasn’t that it was a competition against one another, it was a competition against what we had as a skill package, against what the particular challenge was…So there was a great deal of talk that you would not probably expect in a typical competition. And it was a lot fun, there was a lot of humour too.
TT: What’s life like for the Brent we didn’t see on camera?
BB: I’m in the best place I’ve been in, in my life, just in terms of my whole lifestyle. I have a phenomenal support system in my family. I’m recently remarried, I was married in 2009. My best fan, of course, is my wife, Susan. I have two children. My son Kyle is 31, and my daughter, Krista, she’s 33. And I have three step sons, that are of course in the same 24-30 age group. So it’s been great for the family, my brothers, my sisters – I’m from Vancouver, born and raised, so I’ve got a lot of family support.
TT: Where did your handyman skills come from?
BB: I’m a heavy duty mechanic by trade. In fact I got my trade in the Canadian Armed Forces many many years ago. So I was trained in the army, and fortunately that was a good go for me too, because as a young guy it was a great experience. During my six years in the regular forces, I had the pleasure of being involved with three UN tours. So I was overseas for much of the six years.
Also, growing up, the house that my mom and dad moved into when I was about seven, was an older home in Vancouver. From seven until I was probably 18, when I left home, the house was a continual evolution in renovations. So I credit my dad, he taught me everything I learned about doing what I did. He started me at a young age. Very early I was right beside him doing what he was doing. So we rewired, re-plumbed, redid everything in that house (laughs). And my dad was an electrician by trade, so for me that wiring and the electrical side has come very naturally, because he taught me so much. We did a lot of jobs, not just our own house.
TT: What were your expectations when you auditioned, did you ever see yourself getting to the finals?
BB: (Laughs), it was a comedy of errors for me to begin with. I’m of course from Vancouver, and I hadn’t really figured out what I was going to do as a project. And when I got the email I was an applicant, I had no idea what I was going to build. The time I had left myself [to build my plywood project] just wasn’t enough. So, I was going 14, 15, 16 hours a day trying to get this thing built, and I cut it too close. I had to book the flight from Vancouver to Calgary to be there at the proper time. My brother helped me all through the night before, packaging this thing up in a box, so it wouldn’t be damaged and we could put in air cargo. I get to the airport, I cut it too close, I had about an hour sleep.
“The difference between me putting my project back in the truck and driving away, or walking back to the set, was a split second decision.”
I missed my first flight. As a result, I wouldn’t be there until about 10:30am, and cut off was 11:00am I think. So anyway, now I’m frustrated and tired. I get on the next plane. I get there. I throw the box in the back of a rental truck, run down to Heritage Park. I pull the box out of the back of the truck, and I open it up and my project is broken in two. Fortunately it had broke off fairly cleanly. I’m pulling the pieces out of the box, and I think “oh well, I got to go over and at least explain what happened.”
As I’m walking through one of the line-ups, and I’m cussing and swearing, I got my engine in two pieces and I’m carrying it and thinking “this is crazy.” So one of the lads can see that my project is broken, he stops me and he says, “Look it, I’m here from Edmonton, and I’ve got my car here and I’ve got some glue in my car.” I said “really?” and he said “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I said, “Okay, let me set this down and go see what kind of time I have.” I had about an hour to go, I run back and it was Mohki, the Japanese man that built the phenomenal suitcase chair, and he and I were side by side on the mallet challenge. So it was Mohki, who ran and got the clue, and I glued the engine back together. The casting director got me some tape, and I left the tape on seconds before I was about to present.
I went from being out, in fact I was ready to get back in my truck and drive away. I was thinking there was no point in going over there. So to go from that, for me after that, I was like, “let’s not just be the first guy to get kicked off, after all of this.” And when we were doing the first challenge with my buddies from Calgary, I thought “let’s just get through this.” The difference between me putting my project back in the truck and driving away, or walking back to the set, was a split second decision.
TT: What was your favourite, and least favourite challenge?
BB: My favourite for sure was the judge-mobile. That was so much fun, and as a mechanic, as you would expect, how better of challenge can you have.
Least favourite, was the billboard challenge. That was so controversial… It still bothers me. I would have liked to see Doug go further, if not all the way himself. He’s a very talented guy.
TT: What was it like for you when you found out you won?
BB: Couldn’t believe it. By the end of that challenge, you’re not eating properly, and for sure I’m a very emotional kind of guy, so my guts are ringing after every challenge, and you go to have lunch and you can’t eat, and of course I lost 15 pounds.
As soon as I was finished my project and the judging was completed, one of the features of our house is we had to have a bed in there. I actually laid down on that bed and I think I slept for 20 minutes. I slept, then I got up, I went to catering, which I had never done before. I went to catering and stood in that trailer and ate everything they could feed me.
So then at that point, I remember it clearly, we’re all standing there, we’re exhausted. You go to the judging ceremony and you have no idea what’s going to happen, and when they say your name, I can’t tell you how amazing it was.
Note: Brent wanted to formally thank Mohki for his help on that fateful audition day. You can watch the episode which features Mohki and his impressive suitcase chair (pictured above, right), online here.
WATCH Brent’s big win with the finale episode below:
FAN FAVOURITE! Voting is closed, and the results are in, a big congrats as well to Cameron Hartley who won our “Fan Favourite” poll online.