Behind The Scenes Of ABC's 'Winter Wipeout'
Helping Kunitz create the madness are casting producer Rich Leist and co-creator Scott Larsen, who take time out from watching the action in the "Wipeout Zone" to chat about their respective roles in bringing the slips, falls and crashes to the small screen every week.
It's Leist who's responsible for finding the show's willing victims...er, contestants.
"I go through their videos, their background checks, their medical stuff. I have quite an interesting and bizarre job," he said with a chuckle. "We're going to be approaching 2,000 contestants on a primetime game show, which is unreal."
"With contestants on Wipeout we look for people who aren't shy. Wipeout is one of those shows where you have to be willing to completely be yourself and show America the fun side of you. Most of these people are the type where if you go to a party, if you walk into a room, people are like, 'Oh my gosh, Jim's here!' Outgoing and just exciting," he explained.
Beyond that, they're not looking for anything all that specific: "You can be eighteen. You can be sixty-five. There's no barrier. Wipeout is for everyone, which is what makes it very different from all these other shows."
"Most of these people are crazy," he added, nodding to the contestants braving the freezing cold behind him. "You see so many different sides of people. People who come to auditions in costume, or dressing up as a big red ball. You really see a lot," he confided. "Somebody completely changed their name, changed their everything, tried to pretend they were somebody else to be on the show."
Meanwhile, Larsen is responsible when it comes to building the Wipeout obstacles, which have ranged from the now-infamous Big Red Balls to a faux car wash and, on this particular night, a giant game of Plinko.
Sources of inspiration for them can be anything from something he spots on a road trip to something conceived on a napkin at a coffee shop.
"I'll come up with all these different ideas, funny ideas. [I] either start with a wipeout or start with a theme and just kind of mix them together. To have a great wipeout without hurting somebody and make it look great, that's hard to achieve," he said, explaining that the process from idea to physical obstacle is an "assembly line" of computer assisted design (CAD) drawings, steel, carpentry, foam and construction.
Did he ever come up with something he couldn't do?
"All the time. Usually those are the ones I come up with at like 3 AM when I'm half asleep. Next morning I'll wake up and go 'Oh, no. I can't do that,' crumple it up and throw it away."
Working on the show is a perfect fit for Larsen, who's no stranger to physical activity - and injury. "I've hurt myself about every way I possibly could," he told me. "You can ask my mom, and she'd just shake her head."
So certainly he's tried the Wipeout course, then?
"No," he admitted while laughing. "I push all the buttons, so I can't be out..."
He had to stop in mid-sentence as a contestant takes a tumble, their unfortunate scream drawing everyone's attention. Once he was sure that there was no serious injury, he finished the thought. "I've tried one, way back in the day, and I fell."
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