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January 22, 2004


Take to the sea


Photo by Frantic Films

Outport Gothic

The television show Quest for the Sea provides a glimpse of life in outport Newfoundland during the 1930s, said show participant Ralph Wheeler, shown here on set with his children Anna (L) and Elliot. Dr. Wheeler is an associate professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.

By David Sorensen
Life at sea was quite an adventure, according to one of the players in the Newfoundland-based reality show Quest for the Sea. Ralph Wheeler, an associate professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, spent the summer on a remote island in Placentia Bay as one of the participants in a reality television show now airing on the History Channel. But the show is unlike the current crop of U.S. network reality shows that favour backstabbing and bikinis. Quest for the Sea has attempted to recreate life in rural Newfoundland in the 1930s.

“The issues and conflicts were really just minor parts of my overall experience.”
“I think it will be an outstanding educational package,” said Dr. Wheeler of the series. “They’ve got the (footage shot during the 10 weeks), they’ve got the historical footage, and they’ve got the interviews with the old folks. That’s all overlapped and woven together.”

Not that there wasn’t a fair share of internal politics, obvious to anyone who watched episodes three and four. “The episodes are called The Storms of August and they weren’t just referring to the weather,” said Dr. Wheeler, who participated with his daughter Anna, 14, and son Elliot, 10.

Since the show started to air, Dr. Wheeler has been the subject of a great deal of media interest and has been interviewed by newspapers and radio stations across Canada, including a string of 13 interviews on one afternoon with CBC Radio shows across the country. Aside from that,
and the occasional needling from friends and family, life is back to normal for the 51 year old.

The show’s 10 participants spent June 22 to Sept. 1 in Hay Cove, on Long Island, Placentia Bay.

Dr. Wheeler said he wasn’t too shocked seeing himself on the small screen, although there were a few times “when we rolled our eyes (while watching),” he said. One eye-roller was the narrator’s description of Ralph as a gourmet cook.

“I like to cook and I know my way around the kitchen but I am not a gourmet cook.”

Some of the other comments that came his way were a bit puzzling.

“People pick out the strangest things,” he said of reaction of friends and family. “I had a number of phone calls about being the gourmet cook, people called in and wrote in and said (of a scene of Ralph carrying fish) ‘that was some bicep shot’. Someone else phoned in and said ‘You’re cutting out (cod) tongues using the wrong stroke. You were using a down stroke instead of an up stroke.’”

But, aside from the occasional stress of the 10-week shoot, Dr. Wheeler said his kids enjoyed the experience.

He said he’d do it again. “The issues and conflicts were really just minor parts of my overall experience,” he said. “If you put any group of people down there, you would have your differences. The conflict is there, I’m just surprised they’ve chosen to emphasize that.”

For more on the Quest for the Sea, see


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Next issue: February 5, 2003

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