This year was an exciting one for me.

Between the premiere of my own HGTV show, Save My Reno, going full-time with my blog, being asked aboard the Home To Win roster and getting to meet—and eventually make friends with—a lot of my heroes on the HGTV Canada family, I experienced a ton of pinch-me moments —but nothing compared to the visceral experience that was the Home To Win finale.

While I had already felt that feel-good-ness (14 times to be exact) that comes from transforming someone’s home—with happy tears, laughs, the whole nine—nothing compared to the feeling of coming together with 22 other celebrity designers and builders and an incredible crew to change the lives of one Canadian family. It’s a buzzing sensation that bought us all to tears—literally.

(If you missed the finale episode of HGTV Canada’s Home To Win, have a gander here before reading on.)

But while meeting the three contestants (Eric, Cynthia and Raluca) was super feel-good, it was also emotional in a hard way. I had the privilege of joining the finalists to judge the reward challenge the day before, which meant I had the pleasure of spending an extra 24 hours getting to know each family.I had a fidget spinner battle with Carter (Eric’s son), had a refreshingly real hug-fest with Cynthia, and ate chicken over chats with Raluca. And I can’t tell you enough how lovely and deserving each person was—which made judging and ultimately voting for only one family so hard. These competitors wore their hearts on their sleeves, and while they were experiencing life-changing moments, so too were we.HGTV Canada Celebrities Sarah Richardson, Tiffany Pratt and Sebastian Clovis had the tough job of judging the first competition and eliminating a family, so the rainy day definitely matched our moods. While Eric’s up-cycled antique rocking horse was cute, it just didn’t cut it, so going into the second challenge, we had to say a hard goodbye to Eric and his lovely family.That left HGTV Canada Celebrities Tommy Smythe, Mike Holmes Jr. and myself to judge the second challenge of the day: a reward challenge (which was a relief for all three of us) where Cynthia and Raluca had to distress and dress a picnic table in 45 minutes. In a nutshell, it was pandemonium. Ultimately, Cynthia’s table was a bit more creative and she did a better job distressing which gave her the edge to win the advantage: help from her husband in the final challenge for 15 minutes.

It was a long and tough day, but after some rest, we all returned with the entire roster of HGTV Canada celebrities to vote on the hardest challenge of them all: the one which ultimately determined the winner of the HGTV Canada’s Home To Win.What’s that term that describes when nature mimics life and emotions? My English Literature isn’t quite kicking in, but whatever the word, that’s how the final day felt: The sun was out, the air was fresh and victory and anticipation hung heavy in the air. While all of us got prettied up, Raluca and Cynthia perused the property and it was so wild to witness them enjoying the house we all spent so long working on. To know that one of these families would win this home and live here was an exciting thought that seemed to fuel all of us–that is, on top of the ample donuts, snacks, coffee and tea.

After months of hard work, laughs and love, it all came down to an intense three-hour competition which challenged Cynthia and Raluca’s skill, creativity, bravery, and yes, their emotions. We all gathered round and watched in anticipation (and a bit of anxiety) as each competitor had to finish constructing and decorating a bunkie.I can’t even imagine how Cynthia and Raluca (and their families watching) must have felt, but it was the longest three hours ever. There was tears, falls, swearing, scrapes, mistakes, come-backs and moments of design genius. It was honestly neck-in-neck for the most part, and in the final 20 minutes, we all went from saying, “how are they going to finish?!” to “holy cow, this is really coming together!”It was so fascinating to see how different their respective approaches were given the same resources. One was more overt, one was more subtle, but where one woman made a big error in one area, the other did elsewhere. I’m not lying when I say that the final call was very close and would come down to a cocktail of skill, rationale, creativity, detail, and more. And ultimately, after an hour or more was given to us to privately make our own judgements, the names were tallied up and the winner was announced: Raluca Urlea and her beautiful family (see Raluca’s reaction here)!As I watched the episode last night, I saw that fireworks went off, but I honestly don’t remember them. They seem to have been drowned out by the emotions expressed on everyone’s part in that magical moment. And the next half hour that followed was full of hugs: between cast, crew, and both wonderful families.

Thinking about it now, I just got chills again and I cannot wait for season three! Congratulations to everyone involved and to our winner, Raluca Urlea. May your family enjoy this home for years to come…
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