When Tina Maher was first paired on the job with Michael, a trainee, last October, she got the feeling something was up.
Maher, a technician with Orkin Canada in St. John's, was told her company wanted her to take part in the filming of a documentary for the pest control industry, in an effort to avoid the "Billy the Exterminator" image.
As part of the film, she - as one of the first female technicians hired in Atlantic Canada - was to take Michael, an actor with no pest control experience, through some of the demands of her daily tasks.
Except Michael was really Gary Muldoon, Orkin president and CEO. And the "documentary" was an episode of "Undercover Boss Canada."
The TV show, which airs on the W network, sees top executives from national companies leave their offices to go undercover with some of the frontline employees, learning what they do every day, what the perspective of the company is, and how management decisions affect them.
Past episodes have featured executives from companies like Second Cup, Molson, Goodlife Fitness, Home Hardware and Pets Unlimited.
At the end of the episode, the employees are brought to the company's head office, where the boss's true identity is revealed, and they are either rewarded or reprimanded for their work ethic.
Muldoon has been in the pest management industry for 30 years, taking over as president of Orkin Canada in 2007. He's participated in many ride-alongs, but never before undercover.
"Undercover Boss Canada" contacted him about the possibility of participating in the show and he agreed, thinking it would be a good opportunity to see members of his team at work and get their feedback.
Muldoon's disguise was drastic: he was transformed into a goofy sort of guy, complete with heavy glasses, moustache and thick, spiky red hair.
"Nobody recognized me, although one employee I worked with said, 'You know, you look a lot like one of my bosses.' I said, 'Who's that?' and he said, 'Gary Muldoon, the president - but you're much younger,'" Muldoon told The Telegram with a chuckle.
Muldoon spent about 10 days filming the show, working with Orkin technicians in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alta; Toronto and the Niagara Falls region of Ontario; and St. John's. Orkin does pest control as well as washroom care, and Muldoon found himself chasing geese on a golf course, crawling under a patio to trap a raccoon, and working with a bed bug-locating dog, among other things.
With Maher, he participated in both washroom care and pest control, including checking the rat trapline on the St. John's waterfront.
Maher, of Torbay, has been an Orkin technician for eight years, and says she enjoys her job.
"Every day is a different day - you don't know what challenges you're going to face, and you get to meet and chat with different people," she explains.
"I can't say I don't mind things like rats, but you get used to them. If one ran across the floor right now, though, I'd jump."
Maher was familiar with the British and American versions of "Undercover Boss" and briefly considered the possibility that the "documentary" might be something to do with the show, but dismissed it, thinking it wasn't something that would happen to her, and a film about women working in the pest control industry sounded reasonable.
Michael was nice, but not the fastest worker, she said.
"He was slowing me down a little," she said, laughing. "I was in a hurry, because my husband and I were leaving the next day for Ottawa to see Bruce Springsteen, and I wanted to get away and get some things done. I was kind of like, 'Come on, get going!'"
Muldoon said he thought for sure his jig was up with Maher at one point, down on the waterfront.
"It was the closest I came to screwing up and revealing my identity in the whole show," he explained.
"I was trying to use this key to get the trap opened and I couldn't get it. I said to myself, 'Come on, Gary, get with it!' I thought for sure Tina had heard me, but she seemed to just look away."
Within the first five minutes of the day, Maher accidentally locked her keys in the Orkin truck, and she and Michael sat on the bumper to wait for a colleague to come and unlock it. Michael took the opportunity to chat with her, asking her personal questions about her family and her goals. She told him she had recently gotten married, about her children, and her dream to visit Alaska.
After spending a whole day with Maher, Muldoon went back to Toronto, and Maher was told she would be flown up to Toronto the following week to meet the other documentary participants at Orkin's head office for a debriefing. When she got there, she noticed a lot of cameras.
"There was even a camera in the car, but they told me, 'Oh, it's just part of the production,'" she said. "When we got to the Orkin office, there were cameras everywhere, and I thought, what's on the go?
"I was brought into the president's office to wait, and there were three cameras in there. When he came in, he sort of smirked, and I thought, oh, they got me on something. He said, 'Do you know who I am?' and I said, 'Yes, you're Michael, I trained you last week.'"
Maher wouldn't say what kind of feedback Muldoon gave her on her work, and Muldoon didn't elaborate beyond saying he had really enjoyed Maher's company. Overall, he was impressed with the work of his employees in the three provinces, he said.
Muldoon has already implemented a number of changes, based on his undercover experience.
"Physically, it was very demanding - I woke up with bones hurting that I didn't even know I had," he said.
"Two days after shooting, I instructed some regional managers to hire new technicians, because we can't push people. We need some kneepads in our uniforms, and better flashlights. I saw what worked and what needed work. As president, you don't normally see these things."
"Undercover Boss Canada," with Muldoon and Maher, will air on W Network Thursday, Jan. 24 at 10:30 p.m.
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