2020 Canadian Atheist Awards – Podcast or show of the year

The first award in the 2020 Canadian Atheist Awards is “Podcast or show of the year”. This award goes to the (more-or-less) regularly scheduled broadcast show – whether on traditional media like radio or television, or on modern media like YouTube or a podcast feed – that stood out the most to Canadian atheists in 2019.

[2020 Canadian Atheist awards poster]

If you’d like to review the list of nominees before finding out the results, check out the nominations announcement.

Before we begin, I’d like to offer congratulations to all our nominees. Although there can only be one final winner, every nominee earned their spot. Every one of them is worth checking out in its own right.

Indeed, judging this category turned out to be exceedingly difficult. Each nominee is the very best in its own genre; the difficulty lies in comparing them against each other. To that end, to create some sort of pseudo-objective standard for judging, I chose a set of criteria. The “ideal” winner would satisfy every criteria maximally. It would be…:

  • … Canadian. Obviously. All the nominees are Canadian.

  • … atheist. Again, obviously, but there’s a nuance here. There are shows with a heavier focus on being “skeptical”, and which are only atheist peripherally – or they don’t explicitly mention being atheist at all – and then there are shows that wear their atheism on their sleeve proudly. The latter get more of a boost.

  • … regular. This turned out to be one of the most important deciding factors. A lot of Canadian atheist shows are labours of love by people who have day jobs, and real lives, and so maintaining a regular schedule can be challenging. Unexpected and extended hiatuses are common. I decided to give more weight to shows with more demanding schedules – so weekly shows got a leg up over monthlies – and to shows that kept to their schedules.

  • … entertaining to listen to or watch. Obviously all the shows nominated are entertaining. What I mean by this criteria is two things. First, that the show has good quality audio and, if relevant, visuals. Second, that the presentation is interesting enough to keep one’s interest through the whole show.

The creators and producers of all works nominated have earned the right to use the following images or any other method they prefer to declare themselves nominees for the 2020 Canadian Atheist Podcast or show of the year:

And so, with no further ado, let us get to the awarding of the 2020 Canadian Atheist Podcast or show of the year.

Runners-up

Runner-up: The Brainstorm Podcast

[Logo of the Brainstorm Podcast.]
Brainstorm Podcast

The Brainstorm Podcast has been around since 2013, and has grown into multiple shows and even a conference in 2016. And all this is coming out of Saskatchewan (Regina, I believe)… not exactly the first place you’d associate with excellent skeptical content in Canada.

I should clarify, because of the complexity of the thing, that the award nomination applies to the entire Brainstorm Podcast. That is, the nomination includes The Skeptic Studio (which is the first half the live show, I believe), Shift to Reason Radio (the second half of the live show), as well as Skeptic Voices, The Hardcore Skeptic Examines, and The Rectable, all of which are either segments of the live show, or rebroadcast on the main show feed. In other words, everything you get when you subscribe to The Brainstorm Podcast feed is included.

And wow, you get a lot from this podcast. They opened up 2019 with a discussion with Dan Arel about protesting and riots, and over the course of the year delved into such heavy topics as Postmodernism and Marxism (with Peter Coffin), Communism (with Felicia Entwistle from Utah Outcasts), and toxic masculinity (with Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch). There are few shows in Canada that wear their left-wing and progressive identity on their sleeve as much as Brainstorm does. Oh, sure, they still cover the standard atheist podcast topics in their “Religious Nuttery” and “Woo Report” segments, but over the years they’ve grown up in their focus and their activism. Those atheists who have also matured in their worldview will find them a wonderful follow.

The biggest strike against The Brainstorm Podcast is the long hiatus they took between May and November. It’s unfortunate timing, really – had this award been in the 2019 awards, they probably would have won (they took no hiatus in 2018). I have no doubt they’ll be showing up in future awards, though.

At least for 2020, their incredibly thoughtful and interesting discussions on topics relating to skepticism and progressive activism has earned The Brainstorm Podcast their place as one of the best podcasts of 2019.

Runner-up: Life, the Universe & Everything Else Podcast

[Life, the Universe & Everything Else Podcast logo]
Life, the Universe & Everything Else Podcast

The Life, the Universe & Everything Else Podcast may be the funniest show out of all the nominees this year. Oh, sure, they cover a dizzying array of topics – anything from flat-Eartherism to iridology to diabetes insipidus – and some of them are quite serious. But hosts Ashlyn Noble and Gem Newman and regular panellists Lauren Bailey and Laura Creek Newman are at their best when they’re tackling topics that are absolutely bizarre, either because of their obscurity, or because they’re just plain weird or silly. No lie, their most recent episode at the time of nomination (and writing) is entirely about the question of “what is a sandwich?”.

But here’s the brilliance of the show: Even when discussing a topic as superficially silly as “what is a sandwich?”, they still manage to make it not only fun and interesting, but absolutely fascinating. What starts out as a seemingly silly argument over whether a hot dog is a sandwich becomes a thoughtful – but still hilarious – dive into the challenges of defining something: what is its essence, the difference between intensional (defining by describing something’s nature) and ostensive (defining by giving examples) definitions, and the Wittgensteinian notion that it is neither possible nor necessary to give a precise definition of a term, so long as it is possible to share a common understanding of its use. All that out of an argument about hot dogs.

The same depth of thought applies to their more serious topics. This is not a show that shies away from philosophical examination and intellectual rigour. But the hosts are so upbeat and quick-witted, it never feels like a lecture. You come away from an episode not even realizing you just sat through a deep and surprisingly thorough lesson in philosophy (or whatever other field their current topic is related to: like medicine, or education, etc.). You just come away refreshed, having enjoyed yourself. And that’s a hell of a feat for a show to pull off.

Indeed, just about the only thing about the show I could complain about is that it only publishes once a month. That’s only barely enough to feed my addiction! Still, every month when that show pops up in my podcatcher, I’m beaming even with just the anticipation of listening.

For being one of the most subversively intelligent – and funnest – shows in all of Canadian podcasting, the Life, the Universe & Everything Else Podcast has definitely earned its nomination as one of the best podcasts of the year.

Runner-up: Logicked

[Logicked avatar]
Logicked

If you’re not familiar with YouTube, there is a genre that is fairly unique to the medium: the response video. The basic idea is that you take a video presentation by someone else on some topic, and play clips from that video intercut with your own commentary. It’s a bit like Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style riffing, and is usually humorous or sarcastic, but also serves as a way to criticize claims made in the source video immediately as they’re made. Logicked – both the name of the channel and the host character – is one of the better examples of this genre, and his targets of choice for the source video are generally either videos made by religious kooks, videos made by pseudoscientific conspiracy theory kooks, or given the frequent intersection of those populations, both.

What makes Logicked stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the pack in the genre is the amount of research he puts into his responses. For example, Logicked spent most of 2019 responding to videos making claims like that the Sun is a fake put up by, I dunno, the Illuminati or something, the planets are actually amoebas, and… like, lots of weird shit, man. It would be easy to just mock the claims and move on. But not Logicked, no sir. In one instance, the source video made a claim that the Sun was fake because the real Sun couldn’t possibly be blocked by a mere light standard, based on an image from a weather camera at the Drumheller Municipal Airport just outside of Drumheller, Alberta. It would have been enough to refute the silly claim by pointing out that something as small as a dime could obscure the Sun, if held close enough to the eye, and of course Logicked makes that point. But then he goes into a deep dive into that particular weather camera, using satellite photos of the airport and other photos he could find online to pinpoint the location of the camera and light standard, and geometry via an online calculator to prove that it could quite easily obscure the Sun. And that’s just one example. Logicked will frequently try to recreate the conditions of certain optical effects to prove they match what someone claims is a hidden planet or space amoeba or whatever. The work he puts into his debunking is incredible.

But that would mean nothing if it weren’t entertainingly presented… and wow, it is. Logicked’s format is fairly simple on its face: he (or a guest pretending to be him, or a cartoon version of himself), wearing a top hat, a black face mask, a pair of red/blue anaglyph 3D glasses, and an all-black suit with a distinctive red-and-blue striped tie simply stands in front of an animated background depicting some kind of weird scene of Escher-like distorted hallways and lunging tentacles and talks animatedly – which he refers to self-deprecatingly as “head-bobbing”. It’s fun to watch, and compliments his witty commentary perfectly.

But as good as Logicked was in 2019, I have a strong suspicion he’s about to get much, much better. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard through the atheist grapevine that for many years – almost all of his channel’s history – he’s been living in a somewhat difficult situation that made it tough to make his videos… and that just changed at the end of 2019. So if you’re not a subscriber or supporter, now may be the best time in years to get on board the Logicked train.

As one of the most dedicated and entertaining debunkers on YouTube, Logicked is an easy choice for one of the best shows of 2019.

Runner-up: The Reality Check

[Logo of The Reality Check podcast]
The Reality Check podcast

No other nominee this year is as slickly produced as The Reality Check. And no other nominee is as old; in fact, The Reality Check may be able to claim to be the first skeptical Canadian podcast ever. (Or at least, the first that survives to this day. Actually, is The Reality Check the first skeptical Canadian podcast? If only there were a podcast dedicated to researching the answer to questions like that….) Those are just some of the amazing facts that this podcast can lay claim to. With millions of downloads and over 500 episodes (almost 600 now!), The Reality Check is the show that every other Canadian atheist and skeptical show aspires to.

With a roughly 30-minute show every week, the general format is three segments: each produced by a different host, and each on a different skeptical topic. The segment’s producer explains the topic, and shares the results of their research into it, which is usually surprisingly deep and extensive – often far more than many shows that dedicate entire hour-long episodes to a single topic – and then the panel chats about it for a few minutes. Other episodes have a guest, and devote the entire episode to the guest’s field of expertise.

Sometimes the topics are silly – like a look into the “Drake curse”, the Shag Harbour UFO story, and how IKEA names their stuff – but many are about very serious questions. The best ones, though, are the ones that start out seemingly innocent, only to turn out to be doorways leading to absolutely fascinating rabbit holes. An example from the past year that jumps out at me is the segment they did on Shen Yun, which led into a fascinating discussion about its connection with the persecuted religion, Falun Gong, and… organ harvesting, and… an earthquake triggered by Karl Marx? It’s mind-blowing stuff.

If these were the Canadian Skeptic Awards, The Reality Check would probably be the hands-down winner. As it is, while The Reality Check crew are open about their atheism, the show itself isn’t focused on atheist issues; it’s a show that atheists would like, and one that certainly aligns with their interests, but it’s not an “atheist show”. That’s not really a criticism, but it was the reasoning I used when deciding the ultimate winner this year.

Nevertheless, though it may not be an explicitly “atheist show”, The Reality Check is not only one of the best podcasts related to atheist interests – science and skepticism – it may even be one of the best Canadian podcasts period, and certainly one of the best shows of 2019.

Runner-up: Viced Rhino

[Viced Rhino logo]
Viced Rhino

Viced Rhino is a YouTube channel and personality that mostly does response videos, but specifically responses to primarily religious videos – mostly videos promoting some form of creationism. Viced Rhino is probably the best example of the more traditional style of atheist podcast or show – the show dedicated to analyzing, deconstructing, and critiquing the bullshit pseudoscientific claims of religious “authorities”. In fact, the name “Viced Rhino” is actually an anagram of “Eric Hovind”, the name of Kent Hovind’s son who managed the father’s empire during his prison stint, and is one of the more infamous purveyors of religious pseudoscientific crap.

Viced Rhino may be the youngest show nominated this year, but has still already established himself as one of the best Canadian atheist YouTubers. It’s not hard to see why – just pick a video, any video, and you’ll see for yourself. It’s not just that he dissects the pseudoscientific nonsense of the source video with amazing clarity and depth, showing volumes of scientific data, charts, and images to back up each point. No, that’s fairly run-of-the-mill stuff for an atheist YouTube debunker (though few do it as well or as in depth as Viced Rhino). The hardest part of debunking the claims of most pseudoscientific bullshit peddlers is sussing out exactly what it is they’re actually claiming… and this is where Viced Rhino really shines. Viced Rhino is absolutely brilliant at translating the vague and often incoherent babbling of creationists and other pseudoscientists into actual, concrete claims… and more importantly, he is especially good at catching the things they are not explicitly saying, but which are nonetheless implied by their claims – and that’s usually where the most damning problems in their positions lie.

Visually, Viced Rhino’s presentations are dense – one of those shows it’s hard to watch while doing something else, because there’s so much that you can miss if you blink. It’s basically just a static image of his cartoon character over some rather trippy, hallucinogenic background animations. But so much more is going on each moment beyond that, with charts and other data visualizations thrown up regularly, not to mention the quick cuts for humorous asides. Viced Rhino himself is entertaining, with an acerbic wit he’s always quick to apply to the ridiculous claims of his source material.

If you’re not really interested in creationist crap – or just bored of it, having heard it in a million different forms over the years – Viced Rhino’s content can feel a bit limited. There is some variation in there, though. One of the things he does from time to time is watch bad Christian movies while providing a running commentary accompanied by “Mrs. Rhino”, usually both inebriated, which can be quite entertaining.

Providing some of the most in-depth and scientifically well-sourced debunking of creationist nonsense on YouTube, Viced Rhino is without a doubt one of the best shows of 2019.

… AND THE WINNER… IN THE CATEGORY OF PODCAST OR SHOW OF THE YEAR… IS…

< < < drum roll > > >

[Secular Soup logo]
Secular Soup

What’s this? I don’t know how they did it when they weren’t even nominated, but the Amies of Secular Soup have managed to pull off the upset of the year, winning the Canadian Atheist podcast or show of the year award despite not even being a Canadian podcast! What a shocking turn of events! Who could have foreseen this?!

Wait, no, I have just been informed – at the business end of a gun wielded by the immortal assassin Nancy – that Secular Soup’s win is clearly a mistake, and a potentially fatal one for me if I don’t rectify it quickly.

… SO THE REAL WINNER… IN THE CATEGORY OF PODCAST OR SHOW OF THE YEAR… IS…

< < < drum roll > > >

WINNER: Left at the Valley

[Banner saying that Left at the Valley is the Canadian Atheist 2020 podcast or show of the year]

Every nominee for podcast or show of the year this year is good – very good, all well worthy of their nominations – but none are as entertaining as Left at the Valley. From start to finish, each show is an absolute delight. They open with an absolutely banging hip-hop theme, “I’m an Atheist”, and then segue into host Kevin Francis sharing some truly godawful (but often hilarious) dad jokes as he introduces his co-hosts, and it just gets better from there.

Left at the Valley is packed to the brim with good-natured irreverence, and more running gags than you can shake a stick at. I actually called out to a few of them above: their current prank war with the Secular Soup podcast, and the claim that history expert Nancy Weisz-Gallagher is secretly an immortal assassin (who has, on multiple occasions, “taken out” other members of the crew – particularly Kevin – to run the show herself or with just her and the other lady hosts).

Each episode usually features a guest to discuss a specific topic, but before the guest comes on, the crew chats about current events, and runs a series of regular segments – such as “Another brilliant moment… brought to you by religion”. Thus far I’ve made a point of highlighting how entertaining Left at the Valley is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t chock full of very useful, very important, and very relevant content. Despite the general lighthearted tone of the show, the discussion with the guest that follows can dive into some pretty intense topics, but the hosts usually manage to navigate them ably, giving them the gravitas they warrant without drowning in despair. And they always end on an upbeat note, after asking their guest to narrate a stinger for them, often fumbling it hilariously.

[Left at the Valley logo]
Left at the Valley

You get it all from Left at the Valley – plenty of debunking of pseudoscience, lots of calling out and criticizing religious stupidity, in-depth discussions and analysis of controversial topics and ideas – and all of it in a fun and easy to listen to package, every week. Kevin Francis, Nancy Weisz-Gallagher, Kristina Randall, and Kirstin Nicholson are all excellent hosts, and the guests they bring on never fail to entertain and inform.

Every nominee was good, and each was certainly worthy of the award. But for being consistently high-quality, with a diverse range of atheist-relevant topics, and all with their own, quirky style – and managing to keep this up week after week without fail – Left at the Valley is the 2020 Canadian Atheist Podcast or show of the year.

Left at the Valley has earned the right to use the following images or any other method they prefer to declare themselves winner of the 2020 Canadian Atheist Podcast or show of the year award:

Congratulations to Left at the Valley!

Summary

Oof, this was a hard category to judge! Every nominee was excellent, and each in their own way. Each would certainly win out as the best in their own respective genre. I made a point of listening to a number of Canadian atheist podcasts and shows this year, all for the purpose of eventually judging this category, and every one of the nominees was a delight to follow – week after week or month after month, each time a new episode from one of the nominees popped up in my feeds, I knew I was in for a treat.

I doubt this will be a regular category in the Canadian Atheist awards, because the field just isn’t large enough to support five or six new nominees every year without repeating the same handful of shows over and over. But it could be an award that shows up every couple of years or so. We’ll have to see how things shake out. Certainly keep sending in suggestions for potential nominees (for this or any other categories, or for entirely new categories) – the more potential nominees I have, the more likely it is I can actually do the award!

One thing researching this category this year did was introduce me to a number of amazing shows I hadn’t heard of before. In addition to the six nominees (and Secular Soup, which managed to sneak in, too), there are several more that didn’t make the cut for nomination. In many cases, the reason they didn’t make the cut had nothing to do with their quality – for example, the excellent Paulogia show wasn’t nominated only because the host, Paul Ens, was nominated for Person of the year last year, and other shows weren’t nominated because they were too similar in concept to other nominees – so don’t assume that if a show wasn’t nominated, it is of lesser quality.

There is a whole world of wonderful atheist media out there, and this year’s nominees are only the tip of the iceberg, although they also represent a sampling of the best there is to offer. Congratulations to all our nominees and winners. And thanks to all our nominees and winners, for proving me with so much wonderful entertainment and information during the year as I watched/listened to your shows to research this category.

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