There was no mistaking the pair of green eyes, glowing eerily underneath the black light at SPiN Toronto on Wednesday evening. The famed and mysterious creature was lured out of hiding, not by a song, but by a challenge he could not refuse. The prize was title of the Top TV Ontario Icon, his challenger was The Agenda‘s Steve Paikin, and the game was ping-pong.
Torontoist was there, because there was no way we were going to miss the enigmatic Polkaroo. Not again.
Polkaroo’s signature spots blended in with the tiny orange plastic balls bouncing around the various table tennis stations. Even so, the unnaturally tall kangaroo-like being couldn’t escape the spectators that had gathered to watch him face off against Paikin, the hard-hitting journalist. Cameras, both DSLR and phone varieties, snapped the rare sight. Fans posed and hugged the multicoloured beast. With a bright white towel hanging loosely around his neck and a handler by his side, he shook hands with Paikin. The pair took to their spots on opposite ends of the blue ping-pong table.
“Slam it Polkaroo!” an eager supporter yelled to the crowd favourite as the game began. A close match all the way through, Paikin took an early lead despite Polkaroo having a paddle triple the usual size. Still, the TV host felt no joy in shaming the childhood legend.
“I should feel good about beating you, but I don’t,” he said mid-swing. Eventually, he won the match. Polkaroo was silent but upbeat about his loss. After he had retreated from public view once again, TVO execs took the opportunity to announce the reason for the ping-pong match: the online premiere of the TVO Doc Studio film Ping Pong, a documentary that follows a group of octogenarians who travel to Mongolia to compete in the World Table Tennis Championships.
As clips from the documentary played on screens around the room, other attendees tried their hands at the game in both its physical and virtual forms—the latter via an iPhone and iPad app that TVO Doc Studio had created. The pings and pops from the hollow plastic balls created an interesting mash-up with Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and other dance tunes that were playing overhead, as bystanders tried to prevent flying missiles from colliding with their beers. It was an odd location to come face to face with the beloved children’s character, but hey, we’ll take it.
Not to let this moment slide by, Torontoist brought Polkaroo out again from hiding for a game of our own. Again, armed with a giant paddle, and with his personal handler Jeff Maus to his side, Polkaroo took his place and we took ours. After a neck-and-neck match, Torontoist came out victorious—11 to 10.
Still, we had much to learn from Polkaroo, whose optimism did not falter after the consecutive losses. When asked how he felt about his performance, he lifted his spotted arms in a triumphant “raise the roof” motion, and rated his skills a 10 out of five. But when asked if he would consider following his dreams, much like the subjects in the Ping Pong documentary, and leave his job at TVO for a career in table tennis, he responded with an enigmatic shrug.
“Polkaroo is amazing, he can do anything,” Maus said, holding some towels and a bucket of extra ping-pong balls. “Polkaroo can make it happen, I’m sure. With his imagination, and everything.”
2013 marks 20 years since The Polka Dot Door stopped production, ending over two decades of children’s entertainment. A foray into ping-pong might not be the way we envisioned Polkaroo’s retirement, and it’s clear he could use some practise. Thankfully, he hasn’t lost any of his magnetism in middle age.
And here (because why not?) is an animated GIF of our match with Polkaroo.