“WIPEOUT” MEMORIES (PART 2): “YOU’RE GOING TO GET WET.”
Yesterday I gave the skinny on how I became a contestant on the gameshow Wipeout (back in 2011)… so give it a look see. I’ll wait.
(Cue gameshow waiting music)
Okay, where were we? Oh yes, filming day.
Wipeout is shot at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, where they’ve also filmed numerous westerns as well as scenes for “The A-Team” and “24.” Well Hannibal Smith and Jack Bauer were nowhere in sight on this chilly January morning when myself and 23 other contestants rolled into the makeshift parking lot. Now while our show was being filmed to air on the Spring version of Wipeout, we were in the middle of January and it was about 45 degrees outside when we showed up pre-dawn and were hustled into the trailers. And did I mention there was a lot of water there? More on that in a bit.
So as we got ourselves settled, it was natural to size up the competition and I must say the Wipeout gang for Episode 412: “Wizard of Owws” was a rather diverse bunch. About an equal number of men and women varying in age from late teens to mid 5os. And while we were going to be battling against each other in a few hours, the mood was positive and energetic as we said our “Hellos” and exchanged stories about how (and in god’s name why) we wanted to be on the show. A good bunch of people.
That was when the support staff came in to start prepping us, fitting us with life vests, ankle braces and taping up our ankles. If you watch the show you’ll notice a lot of people look like they’re wearing black socks…nope that’d be ankle tape. Yup, we were going to be real “weekend warriors” (even though it was a Monday).
Once we were good and taped up, they walked us up to set for the prep talk. The trek up to set took us past the huge storage area of past obstacles, but it really looked like a graveyard of gigantic torture tools that had spent their days beating past contestants into submission and were now cast aside only to be replaced by more efficient pain-causing devices.
We reached the top of the hill overlooking the first obstacle course and stood 24-abreast, like two dozen soldiers about to become cannon fodder. The obstacle course glistened in the early morning sun, a monstrous and twisting assortment of platforms, ramps, swings and foam-coated walls. It was as if the gods had created a the epic game of “Mousetrap” and we were the playing pieces. One of my fellow contestants summed up in two words what we were all thinking.
And with that the director spoke to us via megaphone. He explained the route we’d take and described the obstacles. I say “described” because nothing on the course was moving, inflated or turned on… yet. It was as if a mighty dragon was lying there asleep and we dare not wake it up. I should also mention that while the director talked about the obstacles, he did purposely leave out some important (and as we soon discovered, painful) details.
He also explained the basic rules… keep moving, no ducking under or avoiding obstacles, no crawling… and above all, have fun. He also pointed to the water pools surrounding the obstacles (I mentioned the water, right). He informed us that the water was NOT heated (I mentioned it was winter, right) and that we’d start going into hypothermia the second we hit the water (FYI, the water temp was about 50 degrees). Of course for a second we all thought, we’ll be fine if we don’t fall in. The director must have read our minds because he responded very simply:
“You’re going to get wet.”
The director could also see we were looking at the obstacles, trying to come up with strategies. To which he informed us that each obstacle was designed to have an approximate 90% failure rate. Like he said… we were going to get wet.
And of course everyone glanced at the “Big Balls,” the one obstacle seen in basically every episode of Wipeout. Again, the director displayed his ESP skills by saying.
“The secret to beating the big balls is simple… it’s all luck.”
And with that we were shuffled off set and did our initial interviews with Jill Wagner (the on-camera hostess). It was during my 5-minute stand up with Jill that I earned my “call sign.” For those of you who don’t know, I fondly became known as “Big Blue.”
Why Big Blue? It was the nickname I gave to my mouthguard.
Let me explain. A few years earlier I had gotten some significant and necessary dental work done (porcelain veneers to several upper and lower teeth) and as a result, I wear this obnoxiously big blue mouthguard whenever I play softball, soccer or any other contact sport. And since Wipeout definitely fell in the “contact” category, I figured I best protect my choppers. And thus Big Blue was born.
One more tidbit. As I mentioned, each contestant was fitted with a life vest (we were getting wet after all). I had worn a bright orange shirt that day and started to buckle the vest outside my shirt. That was when a coordinator said, “Scott, the producers would love it if you’d wear the vest under your shirt.” I look around at the other contestants and only one or two others were wearing vests under their shirts. And we all happened to be the “larger” contestants. I smiled and looked at the coordinator.
“You want me to be the fat guy, don’t you?”
The coordinator denied any such motive, but I pointed out that wearing the vest underneath my shirt would indeed make me look like the bastard child of “Curly” from the Three Stooges and the Great Pumpkin. But since I knew I had left dignity behind the moment I stepped out of my car, I replied, “Sure, why the hell not.”
So, with our camera interviews done and me looking like a giant pumpkin, all that remained was for the producers to pick the order in which we lambs would be led to slaughter. In true Hollywood fashion we should have drawn straws, but instead it was random numbers. And for better or worse (worse as I later learned) I was slated to go second to last. Which meant I had to sit sequestered with my fellow victims for about two hours before my name was called.
Why was it so painful to wait? Well, one at a time we’d be led off to the Wipeout zone (like we were walking the Green Mile) while the rest of us could only watch and wait. To make matters worse, while the game area was obscured from our field of view, we could hear what was going on. As each person got their turn, those of us left behind could only hear the chaos unfolding and imagine what horrors wait for us. What we heard was a painful symphony of sound… an airhorn signaling the start of the run, followed air rams being fired, screams, splashes, muffled laughter (from the crew, we figured) and horns blaring.
Then silence. Very loud, very painful silence.
And whereas each person led to the zone was excited, smiling and dry… what came back was an entirely different story.
When a contestant returned from the Wipeout zone, they were led to a different area to recover but we did manage to catch a glimpse (like prisoners peering through the jail fence).
They were changed people.
Soaked from head to toe and covered in mud and various other substances, they walked very slowly and looked as if they had just spent the past five minutes in a paint mixer. One contestant made eye contact with me and their gaze was a combination of pity and relief as if to say “You poor poor bastard. You really have no idea.”
Again, this went on non-stop for over two hours… airhorns, splashes and the parade of broken spirits.
And after what seemed like an eternity, they finally called my name.
Like Tom Hanks from the aforementioned Green Mile, the coordinator led me along my Green Mile (hey, there was grass) and I could just hear the words “Dead man walking” ringing in my head as he spoke to me. To be honest, I didn’t hear a word he said. It was like he was the “Wah wah wah” teacher in the new Peanuts special, “You’re About to Get Your Ass Handed to You, Charlie Brown.”
And like that, I was standing on top of the ramp overlooking the Wipeout zone. It seemed bigger and meaner than it had at dawn. The Big Balls were inflated, platforms were swinging, levers were turning and walls were sliding up and down.
The dragon was wide awake and boy was he pissed.
Over the megaphone I heard the director say one thing to me, “Give us your war cry, Scott.”
This was where I got to say something witty or toss out some smack.
I realized I was about to get the shit kicked out of me, so I might as well enjoy it.
I smirked and shouted loud and proud…
“Alright Wipeout, me and Big Blue are coming for you. Let’s Get Nasty!”
And then it did.
Tomorrow on TTK, “Wipeout” Memories (Part 3): “In the Zone”
Posted on April 12, 2014, in General, Humor and tagged "Let's Get Nasty.", 24, A-Team, ankle braces, hypothermia, Jill Wagner, Mousetrap, Sable Ranch, Santa Clarita, Wipeout. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.