OK, it’s summertime – there’s a dearth of stuff to watch on televsion, so I slum a little with my Tivo, looking for anything that might be vaguely entertaining. From the TV commercials, it seemed like ABC’s new show Wipeout might be kind of entertaining.

Unfortunately that’s not the case.

At this point you may be wondering just what exactly Wipeout is. It’s basically a reality show that consists of regular people trying to make it through an elaborate obstacle course. Essentially it’s a rip-off of the most-excellent Ninja Warrior which airs on the cable network G4.

My love of Ninja Warrior is actually what attracted me to ABC’s new series – “NW” is a Japanese TV show that has been airing for over 7 years and features people competing on, you guessed it: An elaborate obstacle course.

The Japanese series is aired on G4 with English subtitles and the damned thing is addictive. Although you can’t understand what the announcer is saying, the guy gets SO excited over the contestants’ performance that you can’t help but get caught up in their attempt to navigate the course.

On THAT show the obstacles are incredibly challenging, but they ARE capable of being conquered. If a contestant fails one obstacle, that’s the end of the line for them. In contrast the obstacles on the American version of the show are designed apparently only to embarrass the contestants and force them to fail spectacularly.

I don’t what the prize money amount is, if any, on Ninja Warrior – it’s obvious from watching the show that it’s primarily about the honor of completing the course (which only two people have done in seven years!). On Wipeout, it’s all about the money: $50,000.

What I find particularly galling about Wipeout are a number of things:

  • The show is obviously taped, and then the crack team of oh-so-funny comedy writers have time to whip up witty quips for the hosts: Straight-man John Anderson of ESPN’s Sportcenter and oh-so-incredibly-smarmy John Henson of E! Entertainment’s Talk Soup.
  • The hosts (mainly Henson) belittle the contestants to no end, reveling in their failures.
  • As mentioned above, the obstacles seem designed specifically to humiliate the contestants.
  • If contestants fail to complete an obstacle, they can just get up and move on to the next one.

As a counterpoint, on Ninja Warrior:

  • The announcer is obviously being taped live and we hear what he has to say as the event is happening. And let me tell you he is FAR funnier than these guys, and WITHOUT a script.
  • The host seems geniunely excited about the contestants advancing. Sure he pokes fun at some, but mainly at the ones who are obviously there just for the attention, and it comes across as funny but good-spirited.
  • The obstacles are incredibly challenging, but are designed to only let those in peak physical condition get through instead of consisting of mainly big rubber balls and tubes covered in mud and water.
  • If a contestant fails to make it past an obstacle, they’re done.

So I’ve hung in there through three episodes of Wipeout, but I’ve had enough… I’m disgusted by it and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for new episodes of Ninja Warrior on G4. Actually, there’s one thing that might get me to tune in again: To watch John Henson actually try to make it through the course in which he finds it so easy to make fun of others trying to make it through.

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