Set Visit: Behind the Scenes of 'Wipeout Canada'
by Chris Jancelewicz, posted Mar 29th 2011 6:00PM
We start our adventure deep within the farm country surrounding Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a place where you'd expect to find wild animals or giant clusters of horses running freely, we instead find towering obstacles, spinning wheels, and the occasional yell/scream of a contestant. Yep, 45 minutes into the Argentinian countryside from Buenos Aires, we stumble upon the set of 'Wipeout Canada.'
The sun is hot already (and it's only 10AM) and the 'Wipeout' crew is buzzing around the set. They aim their giant hoses at the Big Red Balls to "wet" them down (i.e. -- make them more slippery), and ensure all the ring towers are stacked properly. Larger than life and not unlike a carnival, the course props spin and whir, and the Punch-Out Wall starts shooting out the feared fists.
Unfortunately, media isn't allowed on the course, but we get as close as possible without being actual contestants. We also glean some tips and tricks from cast and crew about how to compete on 'Wipeout,' without getting any -- well -- mud on your face. From avoiding local wildlife to what to expect from this upcoming premiere season, here are the top 10 things you need to know about 'Wipeout Canada.'
1. Hot Talent at the Helm
What's 'Wipeout' without a sexy, sarcastic host on the course? The US has Jill Wagner; for the Canadian version we have Jessica Phillips, a former model and game-for-anything kind of gal. In fact, prior to the taping we attended, Phillips had voluntarily done a stunt (at her insistence, actually) and managed to get a bloody nose from a football tackle. She's up for anything, it seems. "I pinch myself every day," she says. "I can't believe I get paid to do this. Weird things happen all the time: I've been tackled by a football player, I put an apple on my head for an axe thrower, I've kissed a frog, and I ate pickles with a man from Poland and burped with him (he claims he was a well-known burper in his home country)."
Up in the booth, the fun continues. The in-studio hosts for 'Wipeout Canada' are long-time TV veteran Jonathan Torrens and 'The Listener' star Ennis Esmer. Both guys are a laugh-riot and we can't wait to see what they're like as a team. We're assuming sexual innuendo and tongue-in-cheek humour will be rampant.
2. A Theme to Suit Every Taste
Just like its American cousin, 'Wipeout Canada' will be offering a variety of themed episodes in its premiere season. At the time of shooting, we were told of several upcoming themes: East provinces vs. west provinces, "heroes" (firemen and police officers, for example), a families episode, an athletes episode, and perhaps the best of them all, a beauties vs. geeks episode. We don't know about you, but we can't wait for that blonde hair to turn green in the chlorinated water.
3. The Gang's All Here
When selecting contestants for the show, producers and show creators wanted to make sure that every corner of our beloved country was represented. So the gang's all here -- there are contestants from every province and territory in Canada. 260 people were chosen, including one person from the Northwest Territories, three from The Yukon, and two from Nunavut.
The contestants are not only geographically representative, but vary widely in terms of age and background. There are moms, former Olympians, Aborigines, lumberjacks and dentists, just to name a few. One thing is certain: There will be no shortage of variety on 'Wipeout Canada' as the contestants vie for the $50,000 prize.
4. Why the Heck Is This Shot in Argentina?
So why would 'Wipeout Canada' shoot in Argentina and not in a back lot in Toronto? Or what about one of the many plains of Saskatchewan or Manitoba? The simple answer is because this course is already built, functional, and running. Not to mention huge. Bigger than 5 football fields, it would take about 30 minutes to walk the periphery of the course.
The Argentinian course services over 20 other countries' editions of 'Wipeout,' including the UK and Russia; there were discarded parts of the dismantled Russian set with Cyrillic characters written on them (it was like catching a glimpse of the 'Wipeout' graveyard!). It's also much cheaper to film in South America, and thanks to the climate, the shows can shoot for 10 months of the year. The US version of 'Wipeout' films in California.
5. And Speaking of Weather...
Canadians love to talk about weather. It's just a fact. And here in Argentina, just like in Canada, weather can change on a dime. While the climate is generally forgiving, in the blink of an eye it can change from stifling hot to freezing cold. Once that sun sets, watch out -- it can get downright chilly. The sun can also be responsible for some serious sunburns, too. Nearly all of the journalists on set during the first day were burned in some way, shape or form.
As most 'Wipeout' watchers will tell you, the show shoots rain or shine. So if you're a contestant you'd better hope it's hot out, because we hear (mainly via harrowing screams) that the water pools you fall into are freezing. Just adds another layer to the fun, doesn't it?
6. Deja Vu: This Looks Familiar
After watching the premiere episode you might ask, "But wait. Haven't I seen this course before?" If you're that astute, yes, you probably have. Before 'Wipeout' started filming on the Argentina course, the set was home to such classics as 'Fear Factor' and '101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow.' It seems like the Argentinian countryside is the perfect place for people to engage in risky stunts and fall on their faces.
As for the 'Wipeout' course itself, the Canadian iteration features nearly identical obstacles to every other 'Wipeout.' There are the rubber ring towers in a pit of mud, the Punch-Out Wall, the Big Red Balls, the Tarzan rope, the Sweeper, the Dizzy Dummy and of course, the Eliminator. And some of the obstacles even have little maple leaves on them. Awww.
7. Reading Between the Lines... Um... Edits
If you think what you see when you watch 'Wipeout' on TV looks painful, try watching it in real life. Between obstacles, there is a veritable chorus of screaming, gasping, heavy breathing and whining. Point blank: The course is a helluva lot harder than it looks. There's nothing more demoralizing than getting punched in the face and knocked into the mud, only to get back up and have the exact same thing happen 10 seconds later.
We won't even get into the pretty-much-guaranteed puking after/during the Dizzy Dummy. We just won't.
8. They're There for You
One thing we've gotta give to the 'Wipeout' crew -- they're there for you. There are two ambulances on set, one of which has its doors open, facing the course, not 10 feet from the pools of water. We thought this was solely a precautionary measure until one of the contestants flew off the Tarzan rope and went through the tower of donuts, resurfacing screaming in pain. It turns out he dislocated his knee, but at the time his yelps made it sound like his leg was broken in 20 places.
The ambulance crew made short work of it; they had the contestant on a stretcher, injury secured, in a matter of a minute. He was then whisked away to the hospital, given the best care possible, and then put on a flight back to Canada the following week. Now that is some expert care.
9. Dirty Little Secrets
After watching several contestants make their way through the course, a few tips and tricks become pretty apparent. While some people succeed by flying through the obstacles, others do well by taking it slow and contemplating every move. Here are some definites, though: It pays to run as fast as possible over the rubber ring towers, and the Punch-Out Wall is all about timing (but chances are you're going to get clocked at least once).
In order to get over those Big Red Balls, try to aim your foot for the middle of the ball and keep your centre of gravity on top of it. Speed here is tantamount; one stall and you're into the freezing water. Says contestant 'Mars' from Toronto: "When I was standing up above the Big Balls, it was so intimidating. All math goes out the window."
As for the Dizzy Dummy (a.k.a. the Nauseator), several contestants claim that focusing on one spot as you're spinning helps alleviate the dizziness. We certainly didn't enlist to try out that theory.
10. Everything About This Course Is Wild
If you look beyond the obstacles on the course, behind the lines of trees that circle the set, you can easily see gigantic mansions and manors. It seems that many Argentinian bourgeois like to live outside of Buenos Aires -- though you can probably still hear the 'Wipeout' airhorn while eating dinner. Maybe not such a good real estate choice?
And while most of the set is cleared of long grass so the obstacles sit flat on the ground, there are still occasional tufts, where a native bird species with a massive, pointy beak makes its nest. While the female stays on the nest minding the eggs, the male stands guard nearby, warning any intruders with a high-pitched caw. On the first day, as we strayed too close to one of the nests, the producer told us: "Just so you know, those birds will attack you. We don't want you losing an eye." We stayed far, far away.
Seems you don't have to be a contestant on 'Wipeout' to be in danger on this set! There are obstacles everywhere, even in the form of birds.
Cheer on your Canadian compatriots when 'Wipeout Canada' starts up on TVTropolis at 8PM ET on Sunday, April 3. New episodes of 'Spring Wipeout' start airing on Thursday, April 14 at 8PM ET on Global in Canada and ABC in the US.