'Winter Wipeout': My Night at the Wipeout Zone (Part 1) -- Let It Snow, Let It Snow...

Tonight's cuppa: hotel coffee

I've been locked up for a week in a lovely hotel in Pasadena for the winter edition of the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour (you can follow the fun on Twitter at @KateOH and by searching for the #TCA hashtag -- there are a few more days yet to go!).

RealSnowonWipeoutCourse1.jpegYesterday, ABC and DIsney were presenting their shows, and that included a hot-chocolate break with the cast and producers of "Winter Wipeout" (including big, round, red mascot Ballsy), a first-time winter-themed edition of the rollicking obstacle-course competition show.

I had a nice chat with executive producer Matt Kunitz, who provided the photos here, which depict a rare Southern California snowstorm that recently blanketed the "Wipeout" location north of Los Angeles with real snow.

(There was even some talk that day that the show might go year-round.)

Back when I visited the set not long before Thanksgiving, filming for "Winter Wipeout" -- airing its second episode Thursday on ABC -- was almost finished. I drove up after dark, down the winding country roads that lead to the filming location on a former ranch surrounded by hills. In the pitch darkness, the lights of the "Wipeout Zone" (the name for the show's final round, which is always at night) could be seen for quite a distance, especially the searchlights.

No word on how the neighbors in this rural area feel about this. Luckily, it doesn't look like there are any close by.

I overshot the entrance the first time and wound up headed into the Angeles National Forest, then did a U-turn and found my way back. Filming on the first "Wipeout Zone" of the evening was underway, featuring a contestant who was taking a very, very long time finishing the course. As you've seen on TV, the obstacles all have a wintry theme, and there were fake snowflakes drifting through the air.

RealSnowonWipeoutCourse2.jpegOn impulse, I started to stick my tongue out to catch one, until Kunitz's assistant reminded me they were actually soap flakes. For that, she got one of the homemade oatmeal cookies I'd brought with me ... as you may remember a previous visit to "Wipeout" early in 2010, Kunitz expects baked goods. Another one went to Kunitz's brother, who was there for a visit. But yes, there were plenty left for Kunitz to enjoy (and be forced to share with everyone in the control room).

Appropriately enough, it was cold that night (ironic, since a couple of weeks before, it had been blistering hot), so I had broken out the berber fleece jacket, hat, gloves and scarf -- and I can't even imagine what it was like when the contestants (wearing colorful vests that sagged unattractively when wet) plunged repeatedly into the foamy water. "Wipeout" normally shoots in the winter so the shows can be edited to air in the summer, and the pools are often not very warm, even on the balmiest of days.

After a visit to the control room to warm up and enjoy a grilled sandwich stuffed with turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce, I sat with Kunitz in his office for a chat about how he created his winter wonderland. Check back here for that tomorrow (including a bit about a proposed visit by a political bigwig).

UPDATE: Click here for Part 2: Princes and Potentates Need Not Apply.

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