'They keep asking me back': Calgary poker player Kevin Martin tackles fifth reality-TV series in Amazing Race Canada

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It does not take long into a conversation with Kevin Martin and Gurleen Maan to get a sense of their battle plan going into Amazing Race Canada.

The couple — Martin is from Calgary and Maan is from Abbotsford — cannot reveal what transpired last spring when they were one of 11 teams competing in the 10th season of the reality-TV favourite. As always, they are sworn to secrecy. But it’s fair to say they went into the challenge with an aggressive attitude.

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Recently, everybody has played really nice on the Canadian season,” says Martin, in a Zoom interview with Postmedia alongside Maan. “Everybody helps each other. It’s a little Kumbaya. It’s boring. It’s really boring, I’m sorry. We absolutely were not going to bring any of that. We were going to come in and make our presence known. That was our mentality before the race.”

This may be the first time Martin and Maan have competed in Amazing Race Canada, but both are veterans of unscripted TV. Achieving celebrity through reality TV is nothing new, of course, but Martin and Maan represent a new breed of stars who are famous for multiple shows.

Martin, who lists his occupation as a professional poker player, may be best known as the winner of Big Brother Canada 5. But he also competed in Big Brother Canada 3 and on the Korean poker series Game of Gold. He was also on the cutthroat and high-concept The Traitors Canada series.

That was where he met Maan, an Abbotsford farmer, who also competed on that series after looking for a soulmate on the first season of CTV’s Farming For Love. In hindsight, it’s probably a good thing that Maan didn’t triumph on the farm because she later met and fell in love with Martin on the set of The Traitors. Up until CTV announced the 11 teams competing in Season 10, which begins airing July 2, they have kept their romance a secret.

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“We are both very public people and that has pros and cons,” Martin says. “We just had this beautiful and intense relationship developing and we just didn’t want to share it with anyone else. We wanted to keep it secret. We wanted to keep it pure in a way and now we’ve gotten to a point where it has just blossomed into this awesome thing and we’re just dying to tell people.”

“What better way to reveal your love story than on Amazing Race?” Maan says.

Shot in the spring, the 10th season of Amazing Race took contestants across Canada to engage in endurance-testing challenges, both mental and physical. The team’s aggressiveness was not the only reason they felt the heat from other teams. Without going into details, Martin acknowledges their previous experience and celebrity on reality TV did not go unnoticed by their competitors.

“Let’s just say, when you do every reality-TV show, a target naturally falls on your back,” says Martin. “We’re not people to take it lightly, either. We brought all the drama. We brought all the spice. All of Canada has to tune in. We left it all out there.”

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While competitors don’t know the specific challenges they will be facing, the show has been on long enough for them to get a pretty good idea. They pored over the first nine seasons of Amazing Race Canada and trained physically.

“Pumping some iron and running,” Maan says. “For sure, old-school methods of training for a huge competition came into play.”

Make no mistake, Amazing Race is a physically and mentally exhausting experience and the competition is fierce. Fellow Calgarians on this season include husband-and-wife team Dorothy and Olus Adeneye, who work in advertising, and Indigenous wrestler Taylor McPherson, who is paired with her Edmonton friend Katie Mulkay.

Martin says the competition in Season 10 was fierce.

“They cast this season differently, it’s insane athletes top to bottom,” he says. “There’s baseball players, there are wrestlers, triathletes. We got there and we were like ‘What is this?’ We’re normal people. We’re physically fit. But we were surrounded by literal giants and athletic specimens. Thankfully, the race is a lot more mental than it is physical.”

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So what keeps drawing them back to reality TV?

“I just love adventure, I love competing and they keep calling me,” Martin says with a laugh. “I get to go compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars and compete in mentally and physically stimulated situations. There is nothing more fun. I’ve also used these situations to grow as a person. This is No. 5 for me. I’ve created one of the best careers out there, which I’m super proud of. But it’s not even about that. It’s about the journey. Every single individual experience has broken me down and made me rebuilt as a stronger person.”

“Also, I think Kevin and I are both natural storytellers,” Maan says. “Obviously, Kevin is more out there and he has been doing it longer than I have. But we naturally are storytellers. We want to inspire other people. We want people to look at us and say, ‘OK, they are just regular people who have fallen upon these opportunities and had the courage to go try.’ ”

While they may have kept it a secret up until now, Maan promises the series will offer insight into their relationship.

It certainly offered insight for Martin and Maan.

“What we felt was going to be the key going in the was our communication skills,” she says. “What are our problem areas as a couple? What are some natural things that ended up happening? So we looked into that and tried to push that up and be strong in that way.”

It’s probably not too much of a spoiler to reveal that, months after filming, the couple still seem quite enamoured with each other.

“We’re glowing,” Maan says. “We’re obsessed.”

Season 10 of Amazing Race Canada debuts July 2 on CTV.

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