'Wipeout' strives for big splats


When contestants head out on the obstacle course for the ABC competitive reality show "Wipeout," airing Tuesdays, executive producer Matt Kunitz wants to make sure that nobody gets hurt, but that most of them fail to complete the course -- in all sorts of entertaining ways.

That allows host Jill Wagner to do fun interviews at the finish line and color commentators John Henson and John Anderson to make snarky comments from the booth.

"You don't want to see 24 people do the same wipeout over and over and over," says Kunitz, speaking in the lunchroom at the show's sets north of Los Angeles. "You want to see different ways of wiping out. We would like 10 percent to make it through and 90 percent to wipe out."

To attain that goal, Kunitz employs a team of stunt testers -- known as the Black & Blues -- to ensure that the inventive and torturous obstacles perform all the necessary functions.

"The stressful part about stunt testing," Kunitz says, "is, 'Will it work?' I'll always know that we'll make it safe, but we worry, 'Is it going to be boring? Is it going to look bad? Is it going to give us the big wipeout?' "

For those who've never seen the show, the competitors -- who are occasionally athletic but always colorful -- strap on helmets and flotation vests and try to run, leap, slide and sprawl across a series of brightly hued moving obstacles (the signature big red balls don't move, but they're plenty hazardous just as they are) in the hopes of eventually making it to the "Wipeout Zone" and a $50,000 prize.

The show has been on for a while now, and contestants have seen it on TV, watched clips on YouTube and believe they have a handle on what they're facing.

"They think they can figure it out," Kunitz says, "but this is why it's 'A Season of Surprises.' "

You'd think there'd be sobs of pain at "Wipeout," but Kunitz says, "We get a lot of exhausted people, but we don't get a lot of tears."

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