The ABC game show Wipeout has become a summer staple since it made its debut in June 2008. The show, which has been on the air for seven seasons, has “everyday” Americans attempting ridiculous obstacle courses and stunts for a chance to win the $50,000 grand prize. Of course, most of us viewers only watch the show so we can see people getting punched in the face, bounced off giant balls and plunged into ice cold water.
The Ashley enjoys watching this show on occasion, and has wondered what goes on behind the scenes of ‘Wipeout.’ Here, she answers some of your frequently asked questions about the show, its contestants and its rules. (Thanks to the readers that submitted questions! If you have a question that’s not answered here, be sure to leave it in the comments below! The Ashley will be doing a second “Wipeout FAQ” very soon!)
On with the questions…
Q: Are contestants allowed to touch other contestants, or push them out of the way if necessary?
A: Not really. According to the show’s creator and executive producer Matt Kunitz, who did a Facebook Q & A session in January 2011, contestants are limited on what kind of contact they can have with each other during the game.
“Incidental contact is OK,” he said. “If someone is in your way you can step over them. You may not intentionally hurt another contestant, throw a contestant out of the way or body slam someone.”
Q: Is Wipeout’s host John Henson related to Muppet creator Jim Henson?
A: Nope. While Jim Henson did, indeed, have a son named John, he is not the same John Henson that hosts ‘Wipeout.’ Jim Henson’s son John passed away in February 2014 at the age of 48 after suffering a major heart attack.
Q: Do the contestants get to have a trial run of the course before they do it for the cameras?
A: Nope. What we watch on TV is the contestants’ first and only run on the courses, according to Ari Grant, who won the “Hotties vs. Nerds 2.0” episode back in 2012. (He went by the nickname “Dorky Kong.)
“Everything that you see on camera is us giving it our first try,” he said in a Reddit AMA after his episode aired. “There were no practice runs allowed. The first round we weren’t allowed to see before running it. They only briefly described it to us and said ‘Go!’”
Q: Who tests the courses and stunts before they make it on the air?
A: There is an entire staff of people that do this, according to the show’s creator and executive producer.
“They’re probably 19- to 25-year-olds, that we have dubbed The Black and Blues, because they test stunts all day long, for months and months and months, and by the end of the day, they’re generally black and blue,” Matt Kunitz said in a 2010 interview with AOL TV.
The show uses the Black and Blues to figure out all of the ways a contestant could get hurt.
“We’re always asking them, ‘OK, if someone was really going to do something really stupid that could potentially hurt themselves, what would that be?’ And now let’s test that…maybe someone will want to run into this thing head first. So can you please run into this thing head first? We really want to test every possible scenario to make sure that this new course is safe.”
After the Black and Blues finish with the testing, the show brings in a crew of “real people” to test the stunts.
Q: Do they make the contestants act weird or play a particular role (i.e. “Creepy Chris” or “Nerdy Nate”)?
A: Yes. According to a Reddit user Chicki5150, who did a 2013 “Ask Me Anything” about being a contestant on the show in 2011, the producers encourage that for particular contestants.
“Producers want a certain reaction/soundbite from the people on camera. So they’ll tell the contestants they’re filming to talk about something like this: ‘talk about the food’ or ‘talk about an embarrassing sexual experience’ or ‘frame a conversation around this topic.’ Mix in some overly dramatic music and constant flashbacks, and you’ve got yourself a reality show,” she wrote.
“I don’t think they ever gave me a script at all,” former winner Ari “Dorky Kong” Grant said in his Reddit AMA. “I dressed how I wanted, interviewed how I wanted, played the courses how I wanted, and even talked during the courses how I wanted. After the final round they told me that was one of the goofiest things they had ever seen. I would say the show was not scripted at all.”
Q: Are the courses as hard as they look on TV?
A: They are actually harder, says former contestant and Reddit user Chicki5150.
“It was very, very difficult. I am not an athlete but I am in good shape and I did train for this, running, swimming, boot camps etc. They actually showed us the course beforehand and gave us tips on how to do it. Still, I had a very hard time,” she wrote.
Former winner Ari “Dorky Kong” Grant agreed.
“When I used to watch the show I always thought it looked easy. I found out that it’s a very different story. It was REALLY hard,” he wrote during his Reddit AMA.
Q: Do contestants make any money just for participating in the show?
Um…no. Unless you win the $50,000 grand prize, you basically go home with just a bunch of cuts and bruises.
The contestants are provided breakfast and lunch on-set, as well as (very little) money for gas.
“Yeah, got TEN WHOLE DOLLARS! for gas money,” Reddit user Chicki5150 said. “It was a 3.5 hour drive, there and back.”
Q: Have there been any serious or life-threatening injuries from this show?
In 2009, contestant Tom Sparks, a 33-year-old radio DJ, died of a stroke two weeks after taping a segment of the show. Tom only made it partway through the first round’s obstacle course before the show’s medics took him out because he was experiencing knee pain and shortness of breath. He was sent to the hospital, where he suffered a stroke. It was later found out that Tom’s stroke was most likely caused by antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS), a condition Tom had.
Tom had just completed a marathon and was competing on a “Couples Edition” episode of the show with his new bride, Kate, when the incident occurred.
Q: Will the show’s production company pay the medical bills if someone gets hurt on the show?
A: Nope! Contestants sign an eighty page contract that severely limits the responsibility the show has for anything that happens.
Reddit user Chicki5150 said she was the only contestant on her episode to come away from the show with an injury, and she had to pay all her own medical costs.
“I very badly sprained my knee, a Meniscus Sprain, which is the inside of my knee. Stupid balls. I finished the course, but needed to be helped to the trailer, and then to my car,” she wrote. “I signed my life away. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got home either, and couldn’t walk.”
Q: Why don’t contestants just go barefoot on the course to get better traction?
A: The reason they don’t is because they are not allowed.
“Contestants must wear shoes.,” Matt Kunitz wrote in his 2011 Facebook Q & A session. “Occasionally [the shoes] fall off and [the contestants] are allowed to continue. We do not regulate nasty toenails.”
Q: What’s something fans don’t know about ‘Wipeout’?
A: The show’s production company hires a private company to come out and take pictures of the contestants participating in the courses. They are reportedly the only photos the contestants can get of themselves on the show, but they do not come free.
“They CHARGED US FOR THEM,” wrote Reddit user Chicki5150. “Now that I think was exploitative! That s**t should have been free!”
Viewers may also be surprised to find out that the hosts, John and John, aren’t actually on-site commenting on the contestants’ performances.
“If you look close enough, they have a green screen,” former contestant Greg “Mr. Twister” Lozano wrote in his Reddit AMA post. “They’re not actually there during the show. It would be really hard to make a lot of the jokes on the spot as it is probably 15 hours of filming everyone, maybe more.”
Want the answers to your burning questions about some of your other favorite reality shows? Click the links below to read The Ashley’s past “Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions” posts.