Wipeout is back! Why the return of the Big Balls 'was only a matter of time'
After seven seasons as one of the most popular game shows on network television, the fail-fest known as Wipeout quietly stopped airing new episodes in 2014. Now a revamped version of the show is coming back with John Cena and Nicole Byer as co-hosts on TBS. But did it ever really leave? Matt Kunitz, creator and executive producer behind the show, would beg to differ.
"One of the interesting things is that Wipeout left six years ago, but it never left the internet," Kunitz told EW.
Wipeout returns with a 10-episode run starting on April 1. What's kept the fandom alive to get to this moment may not surprise you. Endemol Shine North America is the studio behind the show, and it's been cranking out clips of its original run on the official Facebook page ever since it left air. The Wipeout Facebook page still has more than 6 million fans, and yes, it has very active users (A recent clip featuring a team of teachers going through a jungle-themed version of the course has more than 385,000 views).
Kunitz says this online fandom (which also includes compilation videos that are made on YouTube) is one of the reasons why "it was only a matter of time" before Wipeout came back to allow contestants to chance to win big money, while also offering up slapstick laughs.
"We originally premiered in 2008, which was in the middle of a recession. And it was the perfect antidote for that [time]. You could come home and the whole family could watch together, not worry about sort of the difficulties of life," Kunitz said.
To make sure eyeballs are drawn back in to the show, the course and its format were buffed up with several key differences. First, the hosts. Cena and Byer are taking over for John Anderson and John Henson.
There's also a slight tweak in how the hosts will be commentating the action compared to the original series. During its first run, the Johns would commentate in front of a green screen of pre-recorded footage. This time around, Cena and Byer are in the thick of the action. The three-round course features its infamous final Wipeout Zone, which begins with contestants being catapulted into a water tank. The new version of Wipeout has Cena and Byer placed in the middle of the Wipeout Zone, to allow for them to cheer on the contestants when they're about to complete one of the more difficult obstacles of the course.
Byer, host of the popular Netflix baking show Nailed It!, told EW the two hosting gigs are "apples and oranges."
"It's a different beast. I bring myself to it," Byer said. "I'm never truly laughing at someone because I don't think that's fun to watch."
Byer had to co-host the show 12 days after having surgery on her ankle. She posted a video of herself being wheeled up a ramp to the Wipeout Zone on Instagram.
"I'm a consummate professional, I will get the job done," she says.
And as for her co-host Cena, Byer says they both had to figure out a chemistry in the beginning, but "almost immediately, I was like, 'I like him. He's fun!'"
The new run of shows will also vary from the original by strictly having teams of two running the course at a time. The second round has also been expanded into a gauntlet (which you can see in the video above). Kunitz hails it as "the biggest course we've ever done," featuring two tanks and a land-based portion in the middle.
Outside of what you will see on the show, Wipeout also had to change how it ran its operations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The crew and contestants, which Kunitz estimates could be upward of around 300 people at a time, were tested regularly to make sure the production can stay on pace. Contestants would get tested for COVID-19 a few days before and the morning of their run of the course, Kunitz said.
Despite all the precautions, Kunitz added that they were living in "constant fear" of shutdowns during the six-month duration of the shoot because of changes in the government's plan for TV productions.
"We would hear things like, they're not going to allow night shoots anymore," he said. "And we have all our Wipeout Zones coming up. But then that would go away."
Things intensified in November when a contestant, Michael Parades, died of a heart attack while running the new course, forcing a stop in production. It was revealed later that Parades suffered from an undetected coronary disease. Sources close to the production confirmed to EW at the time that all contestants on the show are expected to complete medical exams before being cleared to participate. Other safety precautions on the show include having on-site paramedics, doctors, and a safety producer.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones. Our medical testing is strenuous. Safety is a top priority for us. It always has been," Kunitz said. "We took some time down, obviously, and then we've continued to do what we've always done, which is to make sure that everyone has proper medical testing and that the courses are safe."
After its first run of shows starting in April, Wipeout will continue with another 10 episodes later this year.
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