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YTV launches high-tech reality show for youngsters
Nelson Wyatt
Canadian Press

MONTREAL - They've got fast cars and cutting-edge gear, and they fight a nefarious villain.

Is it the Central Intelligence Agency? Britain's shadowy MI-5? The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service? Try the kids from Spy Academy.

It's not a school, it's a TV show, set to premiere on YTV next month. Each Saturday, black-clad youngsters race against the clock to complete a mission that's not quite impossible and win a cool prize.

And they aren't the only ones in on the fun. Spy Academy is interactive, so viewers can log on to the show's website themselves and play a game.

One of the show's contestants is appropriately named Bond - Nicole Bond. She's 13 but that's her age, not her secret agent number. She's just as intrepid as that other Bond, the one that dukes it out with Goldfinger and SMERSH.

"We got to test a whole bunch of different things and do things I never did before,'' enthused the high-tech fan who "definitely would be interested in joining CSIS'' one day.

"There's a new gadget, which is a hiptop and it's got Internet access, it's a cellphone and it's also e-mail and instant messenger all in one,'' Bond said of the gizmos on the fast-paced show. "That's how we would communicate with our team members. There were also cellphones and Palm Pilots that we got to use as well.

"I love computers and stuff like that,'' said Bond. "I think it started when I was five or six and my parents were throwing out an old toaster and I rebuilt it and made it work again.''

Executive producer Dana Johl is one of the masterminds behind the show, which was born when she was brainstorming with her boss on ways to expand on their other high-tech show, Dave Chalk Connected, to tap the youth market.

"The combination of reality shows, technology and making it interactive are all things that kids in this age group are interested in,'' observed Johl. A spy show for kids was a natural.

"Wherever you look there's some kind of spy thing that the kids are really into.''

The 13 episodes, produced by Vancouver's Chalk Media, were shot in Toronto. Three new teams of kids compete every week and are dispatched on missions to thwart E. Ville Dood by the descriptively named Agent Zero.

Dood, for instance, hatches schemes to control the weather or kidnap pandas in a petting zoo.

Johl said the show is kinder than The Apprentice or Survivor, acknowledging it's more like a cross between the Spy Kids movies and TV's The Amazing Race. But she acknowledged the youngsters are aware of the adult-targeted shows.

"They're so in tune with reality shows, they actually will make references to some of the other lingo they've been hearing in reality shows like Survivor.

"I remember one of the kids said something about forming an alliance with the other team,'' she said.

Being tech-friendly helps in the game but a sense of adventure is handy too. There's a lot of charging around to go with the code-cracking. However, nobody is looking for, say, weapons of mass destruction.

"The first challenge, we had to run around taking pictures of animals,'' reported Troy Hawkins, 10, whose grandfather is Canadian singing icon Ronnie Hawkins. "We had to do it as fast as we could out of like five minutes. It would tell us on a little radar what animal we had to do and we were running in circles trying to find each animal.''

Hawkins, of Peterborough, Ont., fancies himself a "really good athlete'' but noted that one thing he thinks gave his team an edge is the fact it had a boy and a girl.

"That's better for the strategy, we think,'' he said. "Boys know better than girls for some things and girls know better than boys for some things.

"Just for example, I'd say boys are better at sports or running and girls are better at, like ... doing makeup and stuff.''

And Spy Game wasn't his first foray into covert operations.

"I always liked those James Bond things, 007, playing spy video games, I love that kind of stuff,'' he said.

"Me and my friend, we spy on our neighbours and stuff because we have an old folks home beside us so we just go around hopping fences, spying on people. We like doing that kind of stuff, getting binoculars, climbing fences, running.''

Harrison Jordan, an 11-year-old from Toronto, relished the competition.

"They mailed us spy books that we had to study and once we were actually there we would discuss strategies of what we would do, like who would hold the memory card, how I would put it in, who would go to different places, who would decode the puzzle.

"It is teamwork and co-operation,'' said Jordan, who won the Information Technology Award for his work on computers in his Grade 6 class this past school year.

"I think it's a great idea,'' he said of the show. "It's very original and it's great that they have kids involved in physical things. It's cool how they have kids as spies on the show.''

Kiana Madeira, 11, of Mississauga, Ont., said she was "under a lot of pressure with performing the tasks, which made it very nerve-racking.''

Not that it slowed her down.

"We raced cars, we rode trikkies - fun stuff.''

What, those smoke-spewing, tire-shredding, machine-gun firing Aston Martins like James Bond drives?

"Remote control cars,'' she explained.

She also embraced the technology, which is pretty much accessible to the average kid and identified in the show in case viewers want to send parents on their own missions to the mall.

"Every Christmas I always ask for little gadgets similar to what we use in Spy Academy,'' Madeira said. "I have a remote control robot, a listening device and a lie detector.

"The other member of my team was my brother (Mikane, 13) and he has a lot of special skills with gadgets as well. He's really interested in the lie detector.''

Spy Academy gave Madeira a chance to fulfil a longtime dream.

"I've always wanted to be a spy, since I was, like, six,'' she said. "I always thought I had the power to control evil.''


© Canadian Press 2004

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