Poker players always seem to come up short on reality shows despite their natural proclivity for game theory and psychology.
That was not the case for Kevin Martin who got a second shot on Big Brother Canada this spring and ended up winning it all for $100,000 in a stunning sweep in the final episode.
In addition to his reality-TV success, Martin's Twitch channel has rapidly risen to the top of the poker charts and even helped secure him a sponsorship deal with PokerStars.
PokerListings caught up with Martin on a break from the Main Event to get his thoughts on winning Big Brother Canada, the future of Twitch and how streaming has elevated poker to a community-driven pursuit.
PokerListings: Can you talk a little bit about winning Big Brother? I heard you describe it as “the best day of your life.” What did the experience mean to you?
Kevin Martin: I’m a super competitive person and when Big Brother came to Canada I was instantly like, “I want to be on this show.” I was so obsessed with it.
When I got a chance in season three and I failed — I didn’t even come close — it really devastated me.
I thought that was my shot. I was so confident. Probably overconfident.
To get the call two years later… I wanted to come back and finish my story and get the job done.
It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t play the sexiest game ever but we grinded it out and got the win.
It’s May 18, 2017, and after the host read the final votes I swept it. To win it unanimously, get the $100k, get the car and most of all the title… it was just such a blessing. Even just to be on that show.
PL: How much more of meaningful experience, and sort of a learning experience, do you think it was having to go back, persevere, try again and actually come out on top?
You just nailed it. Experience is super key… just like in poker where you have to put in your time and play enough hands to get good.
Having that experience was just massive. A bunch of my house mates were playing for the first time and I had this huge edge. I knew what competitions were coming up. What way the show was going and how I could anticipate the next move.
It was a pure grind and I’m so glad they brought me back. There were tons of characters they could have chosen.
PL: What do you think it is about you that’s allowed you to succeed in things like poker, streaming and Big Brother? It seems like there are large number of transferable skills there…
First of all, it’s a lot of run-good.
I’ve been super blessed to meet a lot of good people in poker when I first started playing. I knew a lot of players that were much better than me. They helped get me going.
I mean a lot of it is just luck but I have worked super hard. I’ve had a drive to succeed. It’s pretty cool what we’ve done. Sponsored by PokerStars, done well on Twitch, grown a YouTube channel… but there is much to achieve.
We’re not done.
PL: When you say ‘We’ what do you mean?
I just use the word to refer to myself and the people that care about me. That watch the YouTube videos, Twitch stream and have an active interest in my life.
I always use the word “We” because I feel like I’m playing for the community that supports me.
PL: Poker can be a very independent thing but the way you talk about it, it doesn’t sound that way at all. How important is to have your “team” supporting you?
It’s massive. A lot of what I’ve done I owe to the people who follow me… I mean there are individuals I could name but the community as a whole has been huge.
When you play poker on Twitch and show your cards — I mean poker is an individual game — but it definitely feels like there is a team vibe behind it.
If you run deep in a tournament there are 2,000 or maybe 5,000 people watching. It gives me this feeling that I have to pull through because all these people are spending their time watching me play a card game.
That team mentality comes from all my years of streaming.
PL: Streaming is something that a lot of people would be afraid to try in the first place considering you are really putting yourself out there and the Internet can be an unkind place. Were you afraid when you first started your streaming career and how did you get over that?
There have been a lot of highs and lows. There have been some tough moments. All streamers will tell you. All content creators and all personalities who put themselves out there will tell you this: If you put yourself on the Internet you’re going to get praised and judged.
There is going to be a lot from both sides. I have a lot of respect for other people in the poker industry who put stuff out there.
It just goes back to the people who helped me out in the beginning. Jaime Staples started Twitch streaming and I was like, “What is this? Jaime you are wasting your time. Let’s go play live poker.”
I always thought live poker was the way and he convinced me Twitch was going to be huge and that I had to do it.
I’ve always been a pretty outgoing guy though. I lack that chemical in your brain that causes embarrassment [laughs]
It allows me to put myself out there and succeed and fail and be OK with it.
PL: Do you see a big upside to taking risks and putting yourself out there like that?
Oh yeah. I mean we’re getting pretty deep into this stuff but a lot of that is what life is about. Putting yourself out there and taking risks.
It comes from going out there and finding struggles. If you’re just sitting around and not doing anything that can become very boring and lackadaisical.
You gotta put yourself out there using whatever means you have — whether it’s poker or fitness or reality television. Go try. Just try.
PL: Is it important realize that “success” isn’t just succeeding all the time and that there are going to be failures?
Ask any person you know — say Daniel Negreanu right now as he’s walking by — he could give you a laundry list of failures. I don’t know him that well but I guarantee you that all the people who climb that mountain have a laundry list of failures.
That’s not something to be ashamed of. I think you just have to embrace it because we’re all humans. It’s not going to be easy the entire way.
You’re not going to scoop every single pot.
PL: It seems like you got some good advice from Jaime Staples. Streaming is just blowing up, not just in poker but in many different areas. I’m curious what you see as the future of streaming?
It’s awesome because it brings a lot of new people to the game. A lot of people followed me from Big Brother.
All the people who are streaming — I’m talking Jcarver and TonkaaaaP — they are bringing new people to poker and that’s what the game needs.
It’s just really, really exciting because it’s very intimate.
Poker is usually taped on television and you miss moments. On Twitch it’s live and vulnerable. It’s a three minute delay and if you punt it off on a triple-barrel bluff, lose all my equity in a tournament, I just put it out there. Every single play you make. Everything you do is on there.
PL: So it’s honest?
It’s very, very, very honest. And I think that’s people like about it.
PL: Is that also what you like about Big Brother?
Yes! The cameras are on 24/7. The lack of privacy is staggering. I can’t even think of another situation like that. You’re just stripped to the bone.
Poker is way easier than Big Brother. Big Brother was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s not even close.
PL: So you can relax now that you are playing a $10,000 buy-in poker tournament?
Well it is the Main Event! There is a little extra spice there. We’re definitely planning on running deep in this thing.
More from Kevin on his Big Brother experience and the upcoming MicroMillions on PokerStars below: