Initial for BBC One, 3 January 2009 to 31 December 2012 (58 episodes in 5 series)
as Winter Wipeout: 17 December 2011 to 31 March 2012 (12 episodes in 1 series)
In some game shows, mental dexterity is what is needed in order to win. In others, physical strength or agility is required. A combination of the two is not uncommon either. But what if both mental and physical prowess are thrown out in favour of sheer good luck, coupled with a healthy dollop of 'Who Dares Wins'? Total Wipeout is the answer. Giant red balls, rolling logs, rotating beams. This is It's a Knockout for the 21st Century.
Amanda Byram acts as co-host on location in sunny Buenos Aires. Meanwhile the main host and commentator Richard Hammond hosts from a not so glamorous studio, presumably somewhere in London, probably wondering how Amanda managed to be co-host, but get the better end of the deal. The show follows broadly the same format each week, with four different stages.
This opening round sees 20
brave stupid men and women attempting to complete a short, but tricky obstacle course. The obstacles on the course vary by episode but often include rolling logs, slippery foam cubes, and a final obstacle that normally involves swinging on the end of a rope. There are two obstacles that always feature. The first is the Sucker Punch. This consists of a wall with high-powered boxing gloves randomly popping out as the contenders attempt to walk along a narrow ledge in the front of them. A muddy pool awaits those who fall off. The second are the giant red balls. Here contenders must attempt cross between two platforms by way of jumping and landing on a series of four giant red foam balls. This is easier said than done. At the time of writing (after series 2, episode 7), this had only been successfully completed three times in two series. Still at least falling off into the pool cleans up any contenders who fell foul of the Sucker Punch. The 12 contenders who complete the course the fastest move on to the next stage, the remainder are relegated to cheering duties on the sidelines.
As the series has progressed, there have been a number of occasions whereby the opening round has featured some action replays with mocked-up variations to (supposedly) fit the contestants' outlooks and/or abilities. For example, one contestant, Anthony (or 'Nervous Anthony', as Hammond insisted on nicknaming him), who was training to be a flight steward, was shown in action replays complete with aircraft-noises and mock-footage of his flights (ie into the mud and water). Despite his perceived 'nervous' image (and Byram feeling such concern for him that she felt obliged to mother him and make him some hot soup, etc, etc), Anthony impressively won his game. Another contestant, who apparently didn't see the course as much of a threat, was shown in replays with the course mocked up as nothing but beautiful countryside and flowers, with soothing background music and Hammond claiming that 'this is how he perceives it' (ha, ha!) Silly, but strangely appropriate to the overall wackiness of the show.
The Sweeper/Crash Mountain
Round 2 is The Sweeper, and this is perhaps the best of the four stages, due in large part to its sheer simplicity. The remaining dozen contenders stand atop a circle of 13ft platforms above a large pool. When the game begins, a large red beam spins around the circle. Each time the beam approaches their platform, the contender must jump over it, and land safely. That's all there is to it - well, not quite, from the second series on, because a number of variations have been tried, such as an extra higher beam that the contestants need to duck under while jumping over the lower one, and an amusing twist of making all the contestants stand in sacks, so that they can't use a "stepping over" technique (and of course, if they drop the sack, they're disqualified).
To add extra interest to the proceedings, and to make an already tricky game that bit harder, as the game progresses, The Sweeper gets faster, and also raises higher, forcing contenders to jump more often and higher, just as they begin to tire. This normally results in some quite spectacular falls as the contestants fail to clear The Sweeper, and are hit with the full force of the rotating beam. Full use is made of the video-processing department, as the audience is treated to several slow-motion replays of such falls. The first six (seven in the second series - unless they're using the Dreadmill that week, in which case it's six) contenders to fall leave the game, and go to sit with their fellow eliminated contenders on the cheering benches. The remaining six (or five) play on to find the last man or woman standing, providing bragging rights for them (allegedly), and fun for the viewer.
More recent series have seen a change to the Sweeper round, with the name having been changed to 'Crash Mountain' - contestants now have to try to traverse a narrow gangway to get to the centre, while risking being knocked off by the sweeper arm. Naturally, they all end up in the drink at one time or another, but now they have to climb back up to the relevant podium and try again. The first five (or six, depending on the next game) to get to the middle remain in the contest, while the rest are eliminated, surprise, surprise. Another decent twist on the original game that has provided a welcome change.
The remaining contenders (six in the first series, now reduced to five in the second) now move onto Round 3, Dizzy Dummies. Strapped to the outside edge of a large rotating drum-cum-roundabout, they are quickly spun for 45 seconds (you feel sick just watching them!) Once stopped, they must traverse one of two obstacles to reach the other side of a pool. These obstacles vary week-to-week but often include large tipping platforms, foam cubes, or large inflatable rings. Any contenders that end up in the water must go back to the start and try again. The last one over the line is eliminated, and the round is re-run, using the alternate route, again last over the line is out. Repeat a third time (although not from the second series onwards), so there are three contenders left. It would be more efficient to simply take the first three over the line through of course, but where's the fun in that?
A new game for the second series, this is sometimes used in place of Dizzy Dummies. It consists of two treadmills / moving walkways side by side, on which contestants have to run while dodging giant swinging foam "demolition balls". When a contestant gets knocked down, they only have a few seconds to get back up and running again before the Dreadmill deposits them in a pool at the end. The first contestant to fall in the water gets eliminated. The six contestants surviving from the Sweeper are paired off at random and the winner of each of the three runs goes through to the Wipeout Zone. There is also a variation called "Door Jam" (or it could be "Door Jamb", but that wouldn't really be a play on words, just a rather nonsensical use of a standard term) in which each contestant starts at the pool end of the Dreadmill and has to run to the other end, pushing aside three "doors" (think thin mattresses hung from frames) as they go. The very first time they ran this variant, one of the contestants was forced to retire through injury, but that didn't stop them bringing it back later in the series.
The Wipeout Zone
This is the final round, and like all good TV obstacle courses, it's hyped up accordingly. The course starts with a trip down a 50ft tall water slide in an inflatable ring, a balance beam follows, and a greased slope with rolling barrels coming towards you is next up. Walking along a narrow ledge underneath a torrent of water follows in the first series, monkey bars under the waterfall in the second, before contenders must attempt to jump onto, then off the other side of a large spinning platform. The course ends with a rolling beam, and two mini-trampolines (referred to as the launch-pads), before reaching the finishing platform, where they must hit the buzzer to stop the clock. The whole course takes place above a large pool, and if at any point the contestants fall off, a swim back to the end of the last obstacle they successfully completed awaits.
Until they have tackled the course themselves, each contender is not allowed to watch their opponents on the course, meaning they have no idea how quickly their opponents managed to complete the course. After the second contender has competed, the person with the slowest time is dispatched to the cheering benches, and the faster of the two is allowed to watch from the sidelines. This normally affords the viewer the opportunity to see some less than sporting behaviour as the contender watching from the sidelines cheers if their final remaining opponent makes a mistake on the course.
After the final contender has completed the course, the quickest contender to finish is revealed, and wins the £10,000 jackpot, plus a somewhat cheap looking trophy. Though they have to give the trophy back afterwards.
A Total Wipeout?
Total Wipeout really isn't a bad programme at all, but that's not to say it's perfect. The changes to the course in The Qualifier, The Sweeper and the Dizzy Dummies rounds ensures the show doesn't feel as stale or repetitive as it might have done. However seeing clips of other countries versions on the internet highlights the fact that there were enough other variations that could have been incorporated, to add further interest to show, and make each episode different. Although this issue was addressed to a certain extent by the second series, there is still a lot of unexplored potential. Richard Hammond does a good job of the slightly mocking, slightly sarcastic, but generally good-natured commentary, and has noticeably become better during the series. Amanda Byram, likewise, is good, although her contributions are somewhat limited by the nature of the format. Sure, the programme will never win any awards for intellectual content or subtlety (it's ultimately harmless escapism for viewers), but it's nonetheless a good family show, that has potential to develop further - really, a mixture of a number of other shows - It's a Knockout, The Krypton Factor, Takeshi's Castle, Dog Eat Dog and The Superteams. Oh, and why haven't we seen Richard and Amanda tackling the course themselves yet? It's about time they did. Having said that, though, there has been footage of Richard reporting from the course in Argentina, usually just pretending that he managed the main obstacles successfully (yeah, right!) but at least we've seen him in the mud bath by the Sucker Punch, claiming that he knew just what to do and so couldn't understand how he'd ended up caked in mud. He's also been seen in the water by the Sweeper, having obviously been knocked off by said feature, despite apparently having been sure that it wouldn't happen. That footage has almost compensated, but the BBC really should build on it. After all, Noel Edmonds invariably got gunged at the end of every series of both his Saturday Roadshow and his House Party (although, frankly, that wasn't often enough!) so why should Richard and Amanda get away (comparatively) scot free? According to a 2010 interview in 'Radio Times', it's because Richard doesn't want to get hurt on the course as a number of contestants have - but hasn't he already taken plenty of risks on "Top Gear" in any case? Yes, OK, he was once nearly killed on the latter show, but still....
(Hammond): "Let the games begin..."
"...So it's over to my co-host, Amanda Byram" and, at the end of the Wipeout Zone, "...So it's over to Amanda to reveal the result."
"Now that's gotta hurt!"
(Regarding contestants tackling the big red balls): "Yeeesss - yeeeesss - noooo!"
(Byram): "So I'm joined at the top of the qualifier by (whoever)..."
"Come on, (whoever)!"
"Are you all ready? Let the game begin - three - two - one!" (and then the klaxon).
(To unsuccessful contestants): "What happened?" and, after hearing their response, "Go and join the others".
Filmed at a purpose-built facility in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where countless (well, at least twenty) other international versions are also produced.
Total Wipeout proved to be a surprisingly large hit, regularly attracting 6 million viewers at Saturday teatime. The BBC moved with unusual speed: by April 2009 they had made swift edits, chopped the show in half, and filled a Friday evening slot with Total Wipeout Fast Forward.
Hammond has come out with some memorable/daft nicknames for virtually all the contestants. These have included 'Jumping Jack', 'Gassy Alex', 'Slam Dunk James', 'Bouncy Becky', 'Cartwheeling Tara', 'Nervous Anthony', 'Scary Claire', 'Everest Alice', 'No Problem At All Dave', 'Geeky Sam', 'Tom The Tank Engine', 'Grumpy David', 'John With His Beard', 'Cowman Arran' (due to his habit of constantly mooing with triumph), 'Chatty Peran' (who was actually virtually monosyllabic) and 'Who's The Derek?' (yes, as in 'Who's The Daddy?')
The most recent celebrity edition was notable for the fact that both the athletes involved, Katharine Merry and John Regis, made it through to the Wipeout Zone, yet only by default in Regis's case, because the contestant who had beaten him in the Dizzy Dummies round had had to retire through injury. It therefore seemed slightly ironic that Regis achieved a faster time than Merry in the Wipeout Zone (and there seemed, not surprisingly, to have been a good deal of rivalry between the pair), but, as it turned out, they were both beaten by a seemingly less likely candidate, the DJ/presenter Jason King.
The record time for the original Wipeout Zone was 1 minute 10 seconds, achieved by James Scott in series 2, episode 8 - an achievement he then went on to match in the series final. This record was beaten in series 4, episode 3, by Andy Cowper, who completed the Zone in 1 minute and 7 seconds, while one of his opponents, James (aka 'Slam Dunk James') came very close with a time of 1 minute 11 seconds. Scott Pryor smashed that record by making it round in 58 seconds in the series 4 final (also setting a qualifier record of 1 minute 4 seconds along the way). The rules and obstacles in the Wipeout Zone were changed after series 2, so times on the old and new courses may not be directly comparable.
Series 1 had no series final, and therefore no overall champion.
Series 2: James Scott
Series 3: Brian Wills
Series 4: Scott Pryor
The inevitable celebrity specials first appeared after the second series. These specials used the same obstacles as the normal episodes, however the celebrities were given between 1 and 10 points depending on how fast they completed The Qualifier, and how long they stayed on the platforms in The Sweeper. The five celebrities with highest scores after these two rounds progressed to the Dizzy Dummies, where two more were eliminated, leaving three to compete in The Wipeout Zone. The celebrity specials featured -
26 December 2009
- Luke Bailey (ex-Casualty actor) (winner)
- Kevin Adams (fitness expert and choreographer)
- James Jordan (Strictly dancer)
- Ola Jordan (Strictly dancer)
- Joe Swash (ex-EastEnders actor)
- Tim Vine (comedian)
- Carrie Grant (vocal coach)
- Adele Silva (ex-Emmerdale actress)
- Fatima Whitbread (former athlete)
- Kaye Adams (presenter)
2 January 2010
- Danielle Lloyd (presenter and model) (winner)
- Chris Parker (ex-EastEnders actor)
- Joe Pasquale (presenter and comedian)
- Dominic Littlewood (presenter)
- Cleo Rocos (actress)
- Sally Gunnell (former athlete)
- Kirsten O'Brien (presenter and comedian)
- Andrea McLean (presenter)
- Sam Nixon (presenter and singer)
- Mark Rhodes (presenter and singer)
18 September 2010
- Joe Absolom (ex-EastEnders actor) (winner)
- Michaela Strachen (wildlife tv presenter)
- Sian Lloyd (weather presenter)
- Antony Costa (ex-Blue singer and presenter)
- Kate Lawler (DJ and Big Brother winner)
- Ninia Benjamin (comedian)
- Jeff Brazier (presenter)
- Iwan Thomas (former athlete)
- Tony Tobin (chef)
- Nancy Lam (chef - was due to take part but pulled out)
25 September 2010
- Jason King (DJ and one half of JK and Joel) (winner)
- Joel Ross (DJ and the other half of JK and Joel)
- John Regis (former athlete)
- Sarah Cawood (presenter)
- Margi Clarke (actress)
- Rowland Rivron (comedian)
- Cheryl Baker (presenter)
- Katharine Merry (former athlete)
- Nina Toussaint-White (actress)
- Jeremy Edwards (ex-Holby City actor)