Trish Stratus is no stranger to pressure. She knows the anxiety that comes with performing in a packed stadium full of fans, she knows the stress of having millions of eyes around the world watching her perform on the biggest stage of them all.

But, as one of the judges of Canada’s Got Talent – which returns for its third season tonight, March 19, on CITY-TV – this year brings even more pressure. Specifically, the pressure that comes with changing someone’s life, as the prize for winning the competition this year is one million dollars, the largest prize ever in Canadian TV history.

“It really did come into play,” Stratus said during an exclusive interview with in the days leading up to tonight’s premiere. “(When I was watching an act), there was this feeling of, ‘Hey this guy is good. But is it million dollars good?’ You really have to think about it. It’s a different measuring stick that we had to use, because you want someone who’s really deserving to get it. It changed my outlook on judging for sure.”

In fact, Stratus says, that the belief that only the most-deserving talents advanced in the competition led to some heated discussions between the judges who, besides her, are Lilly Singh, Kardinal Offishal, and Howie Mandel.

“There were a few arguments,” she confirmed. “a lot of discussions. Because it was harder this year. The million dollar prize – and thanks to Rogers for putting that up – really elevated the game of all the (competitors). I don’t want to dismiss any of the talents from the past two years, but this year, everyone really stepped up. We also opened it up this year to Canadians living abroad, and that really opened up the talent pool even more. And they brought some stuff that really blew our minds, things that we had never seen before. Howie has been doing this for twelve years, and even he saw things he had never seen before. When you can blow his mind, someone who’s been doing this for 12 years, you know that the acts are really special.”

The breadth of variety in the acts makes it even more of a challenge for the judges, Stratus said, since it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison.

“I ask myself, ‘Would I want to see this again?’ That’s usually my gauge,” Stratus shared about how she evaluates an act. “Would I go see that show in Vegas? Would I send the clip to a friend? That kind of thing. I want to feel like it’s a special moment, something that evokes emotion, something that I think Canada will feel moved by.”

“Because that’s that type of discussion that the show sparks. I love that the other judges and I are having a discussion that mirrors the conversations families are having at home on their couch. Mom has one favorite, dad has another, and the brother and sister have their own. That’s really special about our show and I feel really blessed to be a part of a show that leads to that.”

Stratus also feels blessed to be a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, an honur that she earned in 2013. And was very happy that someone she has worked with and has a great amount of respect for – Paul Heyman – will receive that accolade this year.

“I’ve worked very closely with Paul at times. He’s lent me his ear and his brain for things, which was very valuable. And he’s a great friend,” she shared. “He’s been a very big supporter of mine. I remember after a match I had, he came to me and (complimented) the selling I did. We talked about why something I did worked, and how it made the audience feel, and what it did for my character. And I just remember taking all that in. And when I watched it back, I could really see what he was saying, and that stayed with me for my whole career – knowing how important evoking that emotion is. He’s a genius at that.”

“It was nice to reunite with him when I went back on the road. We would make these jokes that I could be a Paul Heyman Gal one day. He’s given so much to this industry for so long, and it’s those tiny things that he does that really makes a huge difference. I think it’s really great that they’re honoring him.”

Stratus also complimented Heyman’s fellow inductee, Bull Nakano, who Stratus said was way ahead of her time.

“When you see a soman and you see strength and you see something you don’t expect – I hate to say it like this, but I like when I see something in pro wrestling from a women that you wouldn’t expect from a woman. So I’m very happy to see her take her place there.”

“There’s a small handful of females in this business,” she noted. “it’s a male-dominated business. So any time the women get recognized, it’s great. I feel there’s a few names on my list that I think were missing. Chyna is one of them and I’d like to see her get recognized. And Bull is another one that needed to be recognized, and I’m glad she’s going in.”

Of course, Stratus’ support for women in the business extends beyond the veterans, and in that light, she had little tolerance for the toxic minority who spout negativity against women wrestlers. As someone who has had to deal with the same kind of toxicity early in her career, Stratus was sympathetic to the plight of the women who were targeted by the trolls, including Maxine Dupri who was the subject of some disparaging comments recently, causing many other women in the industry to come to her defense.

“I think these keyboard warriors have no idea what we do,” Stratus criticized about the trolls. “I suffered it too. They were like, ‘Oh that (match) was crap.’ Well, you try it. I love that (the women) banded together. Because we all get it, we all go through it, we live it. And it affects us, you know? We have feelings. So when people say something mean, it doesn’t feel that great. So it’s great that we can all use the platform of social media to (unite), and let (the critics) know that they can’t just talk s— and get away with it. I love that we can put them in their place.”

“I think that Maxine is doing amazing,” she added. “I think she’s being booked perfectly. I see similar parallels to the way I was booked early on. I  believe I have this connection with the fans because of how I came up. I didn’t do the traditional upbringing. I didn’t come in trained, I didn’t do the indies or the ‘minor league’ so to speak. I literally learned on the road – I learned as I went, and everyone was along for the journey. They got to see me fall down. But they also got to see me stand up, dust myself off, and try again. And I think she’s doing a great job. She’s athletic, she’s got a great look, she’s gorgeous. I think she’s the perfect underdog story. And I think it’s going to turn around and people are going to click with her, and she’ll be around a long time. And I would (encourage) her to use those negative words as her fuel. I hope she turns it into a fire so that she can go back to them and say ‘Look at what I did now.’ When I was getting criticized, when people were telling me I’d never succeed, my motivation was to become so good that people couldn’t help but notice. That drove me. Hopefully that can be her fuel as well.”

As to whether Trish will be there to give that kind of motivation to Maxine in person at WrestleMania weekend remains to be seen. Stratus will be in Philadelphia during WrestleMania weekend at WrestleCon, and she teased that “there may be some WWE-related stuff as well…. Stay tuned.”

But even if fans won’t be able to get to Philadelphia, there are plenty of opportunities to get to see Trish in person, as her Bad Girl tour is still going strong with appearances at a number of conventions where she does autograph signings and photo-ops.

Trish Stratus: Bad Girl. Photo: courtesy Trish Stratus’ Twitter

And, more recently, a One-Woman stage event, where Trish tells stories about her career.

“It’s like an ‘Intimate Evening with Trish Stratus’ kind of thing,” she explained. “It was really nice to get on stage and tell stories and interact with the crowd. We also got to do a live Q&A as part of that, which was kind of a unique thing and I really enjoyed that.”

“I often do panel interviews at conventions, but the stage show was different, because in each city, it’s a different crowd, with different questions, and a different energy. The vibe and the energy in Glasgow, Scotland, was very different than London, England. And it’s fun, because you get to tell stories that are specific to that city. But you also have to adjust to the crowd. Glasgow was very rowdy, and the questions got a little rowdy at time. In London, the stories were a little more focused – the city sort of dictated the evening’s content.”

The buzz, the excitement of performing in front of a live crowd is something that Trish enjoys, regardless of the type of show it’s on. Which, of course, begs the question as to whether she might scratch that itch in a wrestling ring again.

“Yeah,” she laughed, “that’s probably never going to go away. There was a point where Amy (Dumas, aka Lita) and I were watching Moolah and Mae Young and we said to each other, ‘Let’s remind each other that when we’re that old, we’re not going to be doing that.’ But, I don’t know, we seem like we’re on track to do just that.”

“Like I’ve said before – I think I said it on the night of my retirement – if I can give 100 percent, then I’m down. I never want to come back and not give my all. I have to be able to give everything that the fans are used to seeing, and deserve to see.”

In the meantime, Trish is focused on a title that isn’t a big gold belt. Rather, it’s the Canadian Screen Award in the category of Best Host or Presenter, Factual or Reality/Competition. Stratus is nominated along with the other judges and the show’s host country singer Lindsay Ell.

As it was her Golden Buzzer pick that won last year’s season of CGT, Trish jokes that she can take credit for the nomination, and especially if they win (the awards will be presented in the last week of May).

“Well, my pick won, so of course I have bragging rights over all the other judges for the season,” she laughed.

“Seriously, though, I think we do have a shot at winning. Because Canada loves the show, which is great. So it’s really exciting to be nominated.”

Exciting, but humbling as well, she said.

“It really reminds me that – sometimes I literally say to myself ‘I’m just a wrestler’, you know? I remember when I got offered the CGT job. I thought to myself ‘What is a wrestler doing on a panel of a major Canadian television show that has nothing to do with wrestling?’ And then when I saw the first performer, I realized that that’s exactly what I did. I was a performer, and I’ve been in those situations where one day can change your life. So I still pinch myself every time I sit at the judge’s desk.”

TOP PHOTO: Trish Stratus, courtesy Canadian Screen Awards