ABC’s obstacle course competition show “Wipeout” often airs in the spring and summer, so viewers might think that it’s as warm for the folks on the television as it may be outside.
That is often emphatically not the case.
“Wipeout” returns to the schedule on Thursday, May 9, but production started months earlier. On this particular February day, it’s bright and sunny at the show’s location north of Los Angeles, but a ferocious cold wind is blowing, whipping up dust and chilling cast, crew and visitors.
It’s also a little hard on the competitors — in this episode, it’s brains versus brawn, with smart geeks taking on bodybuilders — who must wipe out into frigid water and then step out into a gale.
“You guys came on a colder day,” says host Jill Wagner, drawing her denim jacket tighter around her. “It’s been pretty nice for us the whole season, but today, it looks nice, but it’s clearly cold.”
Wagner departed the show for a while, to be replaced by Vanessa Lachey — now a new mom — but she’s back behind the mike, interviewing contestants before and during the competition.
“I don’t know that I’m good at it,” she says, “but what people respond to is the fact that I’m not that professional in what I’m doing. I don’t take myself too seriously.”
Wagner is on hand as the contestants run through the colorful, complex obstacles, frequently plunging into water or mud in a variety of entertaining ways – at least for the audience, not always so much for the contestant.
John Anderson and John Henson provide color commentary during the rounds that whittle down the field on the way to the nighttime Wipeout Zone, when things can get really cold. That includes the infamous Big Balls — huge red globes that contestants can either bounce across nimbly or bounce off awkwardly.
But what some fans may not know is that Anderson and Henson are not actually doing their commentary live. Hence, they’re usually not on location — but on this day, Henson is on hand.
To hear him, though, he’s toughing it out every day with Wagner, among other things.
“I’m out there every day,” he says, “doing a lot of heavy lifting. I build most of the obstacles. I bring the Big Balls with me.
“It’s the Big Balls’ world; we just live in it. A couple of years ago, we had a human catapult. I just like the way that sounds – human catapult. It sounds like something out of ‘Game of Thrones.’ ‘I don’t know, maybe we build a catapult and just throw some guy over the wall.’ It just seems like such a bad idea, that only we could come up with it.”
As for trying the course, Henson says, “I have never tried any obstacle, nor will I. As I like to say, that’s like asking Dr. Drew if he’s tried heroin. I’m the other side of the equation. I’m trying to talk people out of running the course. When people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, can you get me on the course?’ I say, ‘You seem like such a nice guy; I would hate to do that.’
“John Anderson, I keep saying to him, ‘You’re man enough to do it.’ He’s back in Connecticut. He’s got the two shows. He’s got ‘SportsCenter’; he’s got ‘Wipeout.’ I’m just a peon in his world.”
Henson may not want to try the course, but there’s a chance that you may be able to — sort of.
“We’re actually in discussions with amusement park companies,” says executive producer Matt Kunitz, “for some kind of amusement park thing or water ride.”