Last of a five-part series. Recap of the story so far: Christopher LaVoie convinced roughly 250 people — Canadians, Americans and Europeans — to pay $25,000 or more to be part of his planned reality television series “4 Days to Save the World.” What they didn’t know is that before styling himself as a television producer who wanted to make the world better he had a checkered past, including a conviction for financial exploitation of an elderly woman, and dubious transactions as a “headhunter.” On Day 4 in Miami, LaVoie sets the stage for a surprise ending.
Miami Beach, June 10, 2021
The heavy steel door of the old bank vault yawned open, oil on massive hinges glinting in lights set up by a film crew suddenly out in force. A contestant’s name was called and she walked forward. The last stage of the “key ceremony” had begun.
“I was the vault master and must have opened and closed this giant round vault door a hundred times,” recalls Kevin Dawson, a leadership consultant from Texas who was one of the contestants. Set on perfectly balanced hinges and weighing 50,000 pounds, the door took all of Dawson’s strength and several feet of runway to bring it to a stop. Then Dawson would have to haul it open again for the next contestant.
For this final night, LaVoie and his team had rented space in the storied Alfred I. duPont building in Miami for their take on the “rose ceremony” from “The Bachelor,” where a handsome man gives a rose to a beautiful woman he wants to remain on the show.
Built in 1939, the art deco skyscraper has been home to the 7th Naval District in the Second World War and a major bank. Now the vault room in the basement is an event space for cocktail parties. Someone else was to be the vault master, but just before the event began LaVoie called Dawson over: “Kevin, I am going to make you part of this scene,” and Dawson says he was promised “two kegs of beer of my choice.”
Previous levels of the key ceremony were staged at other beautiful locations. What the contestants had figured out was those who paid the $25,000 (all figures U.S.) up front received the first keys, followed by those who paid in monthly instalments. Canadians and Europeans who paid — in full or in instalments — were excluded from Miami due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic.
As Dawson stood at the vault door that Thursday night, Isabelle Fontes, the model who LaVoie hired to act as his mysterious “Agent X,” asked each contestant one question:
“Why do you deserve a key?”
By this, the final stage of what they all agreed were the strangest four days of their lives, contestants were just trying to get across the finish line and go home. “I want to help save the world,” one grumbled.
Jose Ramon Riestra Jr., a contestant who paid his fee in full from a successful few months trading cryptocurrency, had a close look at what was being handed out by “Agent X” and noticed they were “plastic keys from Party City,” a dollar-store chain. He’d been roped into distributing them the previous night, when Fontes was a no-show.
Riestra Jr. runs a large property management firm in Florida. He paid LaVoie a total of $25,000, and was asked for another $25,000 to be an “Advisor X,” which LaVoie likened to being a judge, saying it would give him “an opportunity to make change.” Through what he learned was an accounting slip-up, LaVoie’s team refunded him $22,500 and he is glad to be only out $2,500.
Riestra Jr. says fellow contestants frequently came to him with complaints about the show, thinking he was part of LaVoie’s structure. Riestra Jr. was the one who earlier drove to a Target store in north Miami Beach to purchase a projector that Team Homeless needed to make their presentation.
“Looking back on this whole thing the attraction for me was that I like to fix things,” Riestra Jr. says. “I love the idea of a challenge. But it was all bulls—.”
For Dawson, as he shifted the vault door open and closed, it seemed like a million years since “Agent X” (the model Isabelle Fontes) had knocked at his door the previous Sunday night and asked him if he would accept a “mission.”
Those missions, 10 in total split among 10 teams, were described as “impossible” tasks by LaVoie — how to end hunger, homelessness, suicide and other challenges. It wasn’t just coming up with a solution, they had to do it with a financially viable model and they were told that judges representing a billion-dollar investment fund would determine the winner.
Even though they noticed a lack of cameras as they sat around tables in groups brainstorming, the teams really did try hard.
Team Suicide, for example, worked on coming up with a lifeline for people who struggled with depression. One of the team members, Archie Messersmith-Bunting, had himself tried to take his life when he was younger.
“They preyed on the fact that this topic is so personal to me,” he says.
Messersmith-Bunting has a company called Archie Cares and delivers workshops and talks about mental health. After hearing about “4 Days” he spoke with LaVoie, who told him that his own son struggled with mental health issues.
“Archie, we need someone like you in Miami,” Messersmith-Bunting recalls LaVoie saying. “Will you lead Team Suicide?”
That would have meant paying a total of $50,000. Messersmith-Bunting says he was only able to pay the $25,000 contestant fee and an additional $5,000 that he was promised would give him “VIP” treatment. To this day, Messersmith-Bunting is paying off the debt.
The first of the four days was taken up a by a photo shoot. Day 2 and 3, the teams worked on their plan. Team Suicide came up with the concept of an app that Messersmith-Bunting likens to a “bat signal” — someone in distress could be instantly linked to friends, family, counsellors. “My thinking was you tap this bracelet on your wrist and it connects you to people who say, ‘I am with you, don’t give up.’ ”
Messersmith-Bunting says nobody was watching while they developed the business model.
“I am looking around as we are working on our business plan for the app and there is no filming of what we are doing,” he says. “We are thinking, how are they going to make a television show about this?”
Kevin Dawson, the ad hoc “vaultmaster,” was on Team Climate Change and had a similar experience: no filming of their strategy sessions.
His team came up with a business model that would link homeowners who wanted to make their house more energy-efficient with tax credits and grants that would provide an incentive. Their planned company would complete all of the paperwork, and ensure the homeowner received their rebates within a month in return for a fee. Dawson’s team had two other revenue streams in the plan, including one involving retailers of energy-efficient products for homes.
“We budgeted a first-year bootstrap plan that would’ve required $750,000, but we were expecting $5 million (if they won) as our starting fund,” Dawson says.
Rhett Power of Team Cancer says he wanted to make a difference in the world. He has a company that provides leadership coaching to executives. Previously, he spent 20 years working in international development. “No way I would do a normal reality show,” he says. Power paid his $25,000 straight up, plus an additional $5,000, and was a co-captain on Team Cancer, which included people who were cancer survivors. They came up with the concept of developing a “cheap in-home test” for certain types of cancers that would give an indication “if something is off.”
All 10 business models were complicated, put together in a rush by people with business knowledge. They got a big surprise on Day 4.
That morning, the teams were preparing to present to judges they were told would select a winner and fund the proposal.
LaVoie swept into the room, followed by cameras. “You are all going to be given an Agent Eleven who will present to the judges.”
The Agent Elevens were local high school students the contestants had never met before. Each of the 10 teams was given a short time to brief their “Agent Eleven” on the pitch. And the Agent Elevens would only have 90 seconds to make the pitch — behind closed doors. This was a different spin on what LaVoie had done in Montreal two years previous, when at the last minute he announced that a team of high school students with a plan to harness solar power had won the competition.
Dawson, the vaultmaster in Miami, says they never saw what happened when their assigned Agent Eleven went behind those closed doors. After, LaVoie announced that four teams, including Dawson’s Team Climate Change and Power’s Team Cancer, had won.
“We were told we would get $5 million to fund our business plan. We were told we could not say we had won until all of the episodes came out,” says Dawson. No money was ever paid. As for the judges, contestants in Miami say they learned they were not part of a billion-dollar investment fund, they were just people LaVoie asked at the last minute to choose four winners.
“We all got duped,” says Dawson. “We all got smitten by being on TV, having our 15 minutes of fame. And (LaVoie) has run off with everyone’s money.” He notes that he never received the promised two kegs of beer.
LaVoie has recently been posting short videos of the Agent Elevens. They are filmed speaking in general terms about issues — not delivering a business plan. (LaVoie has told the Star he is working on “permissions” for a reporter to talk to these young people. The Star has not been able to reach any of the Agent Elevens.)
The week had been for many of the contestants both cathartic and confusing. To this day, the people who took part in the Miami event have remained a tight group. Allied against their common enemy of Christopher LaVoie, they ended up becoming friends.
Contestants from both Montreal and Miami have retained a lawyer and are considering suingLaVoie to recoup their money. As for how much is owed, it is difficult to come up with the total as some paid more than $25,000, some paid less, some received partial refunds. Contestants interviewed by the Star estimate the amount owed people involved in Montreal and Miami is in the neighbourhood of $5 million.
Meanwhile, LaVoie has switched lawyers several times since Montreal. In the most recent change of lawyers, people who paid money for Montreal and Miami were sent a stern letter from Miller and Martin, an Atlanta law firm, in April, asking them to provide a full “release” of all future claims against LaVoie Entertainment in return for a $4,500 refund, to be paid within three years. Contestants interviewed for this series said they wrote back refusing to sign a legal release, and asked for all of their money back, now.
On Aug. 17, the Miller and Martin law firm wrote to all of the contestants announcing its “withdrawal as counsel” to LaVoie Entertainment. No reason was given. The Star contacted the law firm, but did not receive a reply.
Not all of the contestants have agreed to go public with their complaints. Some, including a well-known business person in Italy and a high-profile television personality in Toronto, say they are simply too embarrassed, fearing that if they were quoted in this series it would hurt their business — the opposite of what they were trying to do when they signed up.
So, what shows have been made? Soon after the Star began asking questions about LaVoie’s shows last June, his Vimeo account for Human2Human TV began being populated with 10-second videos featuring contestants, and some longer videos that appeared to the contestants to be hastily put together from filming in Miami in 2021.
Here’s how one of the longer video begins. A young woman walks across a darkened stage and sits down, looks at the camera, and says: “I have four days to End Cancer.”
The voiceover, read by an actor with a deep voice and English accent, begins:
“Every passing second. Every single breath. Every single thought that swiftly crosses your consciousness. Decisions are being made. Energies being exchanged. The sum of every second, every breath, every decision made or not….tick tock, it’s time…can you be a leader, a hero, can you be irreverent and irrational…tick tock, are you going in?” The music swells, followed by images of the young woman walking slowly, and the title credit: Created by Christopher LaVoie.”
The feeling among contestants was that LaVoie, fearing he was about to be exposed, was rushing to put some content on his site to satisfy the promise he had made to them all to provide “video assets” they could post on their social media channels.
None of the shows on H2H TV are as the contestants were promised and none of them are on Amazon or the other streaming platforms that LaVoie said would house the shows.
Ernie Humphrey, who is CEO of Treasury Webinars, a company that provides training to finance professionals across the globe, was a contestant in Miami. He has looked at some of the videos. “I’d be embarrassed to have my friends watch it. It’s crap.”
In an effort to hear from LaVoie, who declined to be interviewed, the Star asked contestants to share audio and video of their chats with LaVoie.
In one he explains: “For the last decade I’ve engineered 30 television shows. Creator and executive producer. I don’t throw events and I am not an event planner. I want to be really clear, an executive producer, what an executive producer does, it’s almost like the impossible. It’s sort of magical.
“Let’s think about it. We basically create stories that haven’t existed before and we bring it to the world. In order to do this you have to be fully dedicated. You can’t sacrifice on quality. You can’t sacrifice on vision. You can’t sacrifice on the people you are going to work with. To engineer the impossible into reality.”
He talks about his hopes: “When you have the vision for the extraordinary it all falls in line.”
LaVoie notes that he is building something big and it is about to be bigger as he grows his organization. “Going from three departments to 30 departments with 30 heads. Engineering 30 television shows, one television network, getting ready for distribution for probably the most important TV show ever created, The Social Movement.” The Social Movement is a sort of umbrella term to describe all of LaVoie’s shows. In his social media posting he makes wildly divergent statements about his shows; for example in one post he said he is about to film “Season 4” of “4 Days to Save the World.”
While he did not agree to answer my many questions about his various shows, LaVoie did text me an intriguing offer this summer.
“On a side note, I would like to invite you to our next season’s experience in November in Miami,” LaVoie wrote. “This way you can experience it yourself. Let me know if you are interested. I can have your expenses covered for this important piece of work.”
Clarification – Sept. 8 – This story has been changed to reflect updated information provided to the Star. According to the new information, contestant Jose Ramon Riestra Jr. paid Miami-based producer Christopher LaVoie a total of $25,000 and was asked for another $25,000 to be an “Advisor X.” LaVoie’s team refunded Riestra Jr. $22,500 and Riestra Jr. never paid the money to be an Advisor X. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Riestra Jr. paid LaVoie $50,000.
Kevin Donovan is the Star’s chief investigative reporter based in Toronto. He can be reached at 416-312-3503 or via email: email@example.com