Review: Wek and Vij bring new fire to Dragons’ Den

With nine seasons under its belt, you’d expect Dragons’ Den to be a little, well, long in the tooth. Less than fiery. Lacking bite. You would, however, be wrong.

The secret to the veteran CBC show’s success is its skill at being able to mix a feisty bunch of outsized Type-A personalities on its panel of Canadian entrepreneurs. I must admit that I was a little worried for the franchise after Kevin O’Leary and Bruce Croxon exited, the former to focus on Bell Media projects and ABC’s Shark Tank where he’s been doing double duty with former Canuck Dragon Robert Herjavec. O’Leary, the Simon Cowell of the reality show, would be hard to replace.

So producers didn’t bother trying to find someone to fill O’Leary’s expensive loafers with the same personality. They went glitzier. A little more rock ‘n’ roll. With hair. Enter financial whiz Michael Wekerle and celebrity chef Vikram Vij, who capably fill those empty spots on the panel. Wekerle–a.k.a. Wek–is a sight to behold. With his shiny, patterned suits, tattoos, blonde hair and gravelly voice, he commands attention in Wednesday’s first new episode. He’s quick with a quip and a comment and prefers to go last in his bids to budding entrepreneurs.

Vij brings a West Coast calm to the panel–the ying to Wekerle’s yang–but don’t let his soft demeanour and smooth tone fool you. This is a man who has built a culinary empire and isn’t afraid to let you know how he truly feels. Two dudes found that out the hard way when they attempted to get some cash for their new tablet-form energy drink.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Vij asked after reading the chemical ingredients. “If I had to drink this … I’d barf!”

The new duo get along just fine with veteran panelists David Chilton, Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t take long for Wek to bond with Treliving over the energy drink pitch. Wek was worried the stuff would be bought by kids and mixed with booze and was vocal about it. Treliving admitted he hadn’t thought of that and backed out of the deal.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom with regard to pitches in Wednesday’s return. Everyone but Vij was tossing out offers to a woman who had come up with a mining outfit tailored specifically for females on the crew, a brilliant idea. Not so brilliant? A rake that refused to stand on-end as advertised and a pillow that wrapped around the wearer’s head like a fuzzy helmet so one could nap anywhere. The creator of that admitted he had been “really tired” when he came up with the idea.

Dragons’ Den airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.