If you thought that the most degrading thing a radio contest has done was make a person dressed in a wonder woman costume jump into a 400-gallon pool of green Jell-O, then you might want to sit down for this one.
Over the next month, a Canadian radio station will be holding a "Win a Wife" competition in which contestants will compete to win a Russian bride.
Edmonton's The Bear 100.3 has joined with A Volga Girl, a Russian "matchmaking" website, to give one listener a round-trip flight to Russia, 13 nights of accommodation and $500 to spend to meet a "lucky lady" provided by Volga.
The contest is advertised on the station's website with a picture of a skimpily dressed bride with a blurred face, her hands placed suggestively near her mouth. The text below reads: "We're not going to give this opportunity to just anybody ... to weed out the no-hopers and time-wasters, we've developed the application form below. If you're interested in potential holy matrimony with a hot foreign chick, fill it out to the best of your abilities."
This very same competition using the exact same wording, from the language about rejecting "no-hopers and time-wasters" to offering "holy matrimony with a hot foreign chick," already happened last Valentine's Day in New Zealand. Only The Rock FM station there sent its lucky winner to the Ukraine, not Russia.
In spite of the identical contest instructions, The Bear's brand director, Rob Vavrek, told The Huffington Post that the Canadian station does not "have any relation to the station in New Zealand."
The New Zealand contest created an uproar earlier this year. The Ukrainian Association of New Zealand filed grievances with the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority and Mediaworks, which owns The Rock. In March, the Ukraine feminist group Femen protested competition by marching down the Ukrainian streets naked to draw attention to their cause.
The Rock did not apologize. Instead, the station announced it would change the name of the contest from "Win a Wife" to "Win A Trip To Beautiful Ukraine For 12 Nights And Meet Eastern European Hot Lady Who Maybe One Day You Marry."
The Rock later announced that the competition's winner, Greg, went "back to NZ with his hot lady from the Ukraine -- now that's what we call results."
In Canada, The Bear's contest has elicited criticism similar to the outraged reactions in New Zealand.
Alberta's Immigration Minister, Thomas Lukaszuk, who oversees both immigration and labor concerns, pulled all of the department's advertisements from the station for the duration of the contest.
"I'm very familiar with [Eastern Europe], especially developing economies, and I do know that many of the women that make themselves available as Internet brides don't do it as a virtue of choice," said Lukaszuk, who also described himself as the last person to advocate censorship. "These women either do it due to dire economic circumstances -- many are single moms -- or they are coerced into it by a criminal element. We must do anything to prevent human trafficking."
Human trafficking is no light allegation. Vavrek, The Bear's brand manager brushed it off, saying, "There appears to be some misunderstanding (via the public) regarding what the actual contest entails."
In an email, Vavrek said the contest does not degrade women or guarantee matchmaking but rather provides people with "the opportunity to contact and meet each other in the hopes of developing a serious relationship -- a concept similar to many other such contests held on reality-TV shows over the past few years around the world (IE-the Bachelor/Bachelorette)."
He added, "The same rigorous selection criteria and principles of mutual consent, respect, and freedom of choice for each participant are at the heart of this contest and all contests run by The Bear for its listeners and web users."
The contest does not guarantee the prize recipient will get a bride -- contest rules include a disclaimer: "The Personal Introduction Experience is solely an introduction to Russian women and that the Contest Organizers shall not be liable in the event such Personal Introduction Experience is unsuccessful and/or does not result in a marriage. The rules also specify: "The winner is expected to conduct himself with the upmost respect towards the Russain woman he is being introduced to. If at any time Volgagirl is not satisfied with the prize winners' behaviour or attitude, they reserve the right to revoke the prize at their sole discretion."
But Lukaszuk said Vavrek's statement defending the contest represents "willful ignorance on behalf of the station." North Americans, he said, should not assume that the women involved in Volga have the same freedom and rights a Canadian woman has.
The Bear says the contest's winner will be selected based on live character assessments from friends and families, psychological marriage suitability tests and, finally, an online vote. So who are the contenders competing to "win a wife"?
The current frontrunner is a woman named Vanessa, going by the pseudonym of "Woo," who says she thinks the main benefit of having a wife is "lesbian action, duh."
The runner-up is Michael Okeymaw, who claims he just wants someone to "love, someone to share my life with and for finally being happy." But before your heart melts for this father of three, check out the rest of his profile. The "stupidest" thing he's done "in the hopes of scorin"? "Fed her a lot of alcohol. That was not a pretty site." Okeymaw also says he doesn't like Canadian or American women because they're "too spoiled, always want their way and will take everything from a man if they are not happy and leave the man."
Luskaszuk says the contestants' descriptions serve as a testament to what is wrong with the competition.
"Look at the website and look at some of the Canadian candidates and what they expect from these women," he said, "and then ask if any woman would be interested in engaging in a romantic relationship with any of these people if they had a choice."