Inside the Family Feud that brought together two Canadian marketers

As veteran game show contestants, it was plainly obvious there were no butterflies for Wes Brown and his younger brother Dustin during their recent appearance on CBC Television’s Family Feud Canada. Unfortunately, there were also no butterflies in a key question for the $10,000 grand prize.

The Brown brothers are prominent members of Canada’s marketing community. Wes is VP of brand management for Loblaw Companies Limited, while Dustin (main picture, with Family Feud Canada host Gerry Dee) is partner and head of strategy at Toronto agency Elemental.

Both possess the type of big, boisterous personality that is commonplace in a high-pressure industry like marketing. Watching them (and particularly Wes) during the episode is to see people who are uninhibited and living entirely in the moment.

They’re so comfortable on stage that Dustin says they’ve been lobbying the CMA Awards for a hosting gig—with no success—for a few years now. “I don’t know what they haven’t seen in us yet,” he says.

It helped that they come from a family with what Dustin describes as “a proud history of game showing.” It began in the 1980s, when their mother Cathy was joined by a young Wes on a show called Just Like Mom, hosted by former Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Fergie Olver.

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The Brown family, from left: Wes, his wife Marian, mom Cathy, Dustin and his wife Katie

“She just loves life and she’s just built a certain way,” says Wes of their mother, who won a trip to Walt Disney World on that very first game show appearance. “Her life mission is ‘You can’t win if you don’t play.’ Whatever it is, she’s in it to win it.”

That initial success led to Cathy becoming what Dustin describes as “a game show goddess,” with the next few years marked by appearances on a slew of Canadian game shows including Jackpot, the trivia game show Guess What, and that Canadian classic, Supermarket Sweep.

“We grew up on sets,” jokes Dustin, who would later carry on the family tradition by becoming a contestant on long-running U.S. game show The Price is Right with original host Bob Barker. That was about 15 years ago, and he won a purple Dodge Neon playing the game “Let ’em roll.”

But Family Feud was the holy grail of game shows for Cathy. The brothers had applied to be on its U.S. version for their mother’s birthday about five years ago, but were informed that it was only open to U.S. citizens. So when CBC announced last year that it was bringing the show to Canada, there was little doubt the Brown family would be a part of it.

During the early February taping, the Browns were pitted against the Liu family from Toronto, fresh off two straight wins. The Browns came in confident, but the Lius kept beating them on the buzzer to earn the right to “play the Feud,” at one point building up a 159-0 lead.

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Wes Brown

“The producers literally at one point said ‘You guys need to smile more,’ because of how defeated we looked,” says Dustin.

“The whole game was us in the huddle,” adds Wes. “It looked like we were just trying to think of good answers to steal, but all we were doing was passively aggressively talking to each other.”

“There were questions like ‘Hey, do you know where the buzzer is?’ and other things like ‘The idea is to be first,'” adds Dustin.

The turning point came when the Browns, trailing 159-32, “stole” an answer from the Lius in response to the question: “Name something most people have been bitten by at least once in their life.” The Lius got two of the top four responses, but racked up three strikes to give the Browns a chance to steal.

That led to a vigorous debate among the Browns, who huddled together to discuss whether a bee actually stings or bites. At one point hamster was their second choice. But with a degree of trepidation, Wes went with “snake”—a response given by just six Canadians but enough to force a tie-breaker.

“We go insane because it’s the first joy we’ve had in 20 minutes of taping,” says Wes.

That set up a sudden-death question accepting the top answer only, with Dustin’s wife Katie correctly giving the most popular response to the question “The best things in life are…” to propel the Browns into the Fast Money round.

Fast Money is structured as a lightning round, with two family members asked to give their responses to five questions. The first contestant gets 20 seconds, while the second person gets an extra five seconds. To win the grand prize of $10,000, their combined answers must total 200 points.

Dustin went first and earned 144 points. That meant that Wes needed to collect just 56 points from his five answers to earn the grand prize.

“If you don’t do it, not good, because [Dustin] got you a lot of points,” host Gerry Dee told Wes before the round began. “I’ve never seen anybody get that many points on the show, and the second person drop the ball.”

But Wes earned a total of just 15 points, earning zero points on four of his five responses. Each incorrect response seemed to cause him genuine distress, causing him to bend over at the waist with a pained expression. “C’mon lots left. Get up,” said Dee at one point.

“It was such a slam dunk,” says Wes, speaking to The Message. “It’s different if Dustin does his job and gets 104, but it was just like ‘Let’s just put the cherry on top here.”

It should be noted here that at least three of Wes’s responses were reasonable. Name something that people are sometimes said to be under? His response: pressure (zero points). A health food that’s trendy? Yogurt (zero points). Something you spray out of a can? Deodorant (zero points). The only points he earned came in response to naming a Canadian Prime Minister other than Justin Trudeau. His response, Jean Chretien, earned 15 points.

Unfortunately for Wes, his only dubious response came on the final question, “Name something people catch?” Wes came up with “butterflies.” He needed 41 people to agree with him. Survey said: Zero.

“I don’t want to know those 100 Canadians,” he says with a self-deprecating laugh. “If they can’t stop and catch the butterfly in life, why are we living?”

At the time though, Wes seemed to take his failure to win the $10,000 prize hard. “You’re supposed to have a two-minute dance party at the end, and I was just blowing in the wind,” he says, before jokingly adding: “The upgrade we had planned in Honolulu [if the family won the $10,000] was majestic, but instead we stayed with a couple of lovely families in a camper caravan thing.”

But the biggest win for the two brothers had already come earlier in the game. At one point during the early part of the game, Wes noticed tears welling in Cathy’s eyes. “We were like ‘Don’t worry mom, we’ll think of some better answers,’ and she said ‘No, I’m just so happy. My dream is coming true right now.'”

And how many Canadians can say that?

Chris Powell