The PopWatch tribe has spoken, and crowned Wipeout as the best Guilty Pleasure Reality TV show of all time.
In honor of this career-defining achievement, EW spoke to the show’s creator/executive producer Matt Kunitz and one of its hosts, John Henson, about what makes the show’s pratfalls so special, and what new obstacles they have in store for Wipeout’s season three, shooting now.
Henson says he wasn’t surprised by the PopWatch honor, since he campaigned on Facebook. “It was a lot like during the Obama election, we went down to canvassing door to door,” he quips, before getting philosophical: “I’m proud to be associated with a show that’s considered a guilty pleasure. My career began because of a guilty pleasure [Talk Soup]. That’s arguably the guiltiest pleasure of its era. I like to think of my comedy as a dark and deep shameful secret.”
He says Wipeout’s humor is universal. “It’s a guilty pleasure you can enjoy with your kid as well as your grandmother….We have an expression that we use: ‘It’s tragedy if it happens to me, it’s comedy if it happens to you.’ To see someone fall down is ‘Oh my god I’m so glad it’s not me.’ There’s something universally funny about watching the proverbial pratfall…and Wipeout is the greatest innovation to the pratfall since the banana peel.” (For the record, Henson’s favorite guilty pleasures are Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Rehab.)
Kunitz, a reality TV kingpin who worked on other guilty pleasures including Fear Factor and Dog Eat Dog, said he was “honored” by the votes from EW readers. “I think of Wipeout as a big fun, family show… Obviously people are laughing at other people wiping out. I don’t think the guilt is watching a bad show.”
The show’s third season – with 18 episodes, its biggest yet – is likely to debut directly following May’s NBA Finals on ABC.
“Season three is definitely a season of surprises,” Kunitz tells EW. “With the second season people have seen the show, they have figured out some of the obstacles. This season what they think they see before they run across isn’t necessarily what they will encounter.”
Innovations will include the “smack-wall sweeper,” which looks like a simple sweeper wall of blades for contestants to jump over, but actually has more movement to navigate. There’s also a new stunt called the Door Knock, which involves a huge hammerhead waiting behind a closed door.
The best pratfalls are yet to come, Kunitz promises: “My favorite wipeouts are coming up this season. In the Door Knock, you have this incredible element of surprise with the power of this 800-pound hammer to throw them back 15 feet. You get super slow motion of their complete look of shock.”
Thus far, one constant on Wipeout has been the big balls, which Kunitz reveals will change during some episodes in season three by spinning or going up and down on hydraulics.
Henson adds: “We’ve got new and even more demented obstacles. Every time I think to myself, ‘they’ve really reached the limit of what we can get people to participate in’, they find a new way to send someone pinwheeling in the air into water. It never gets old. I’ve been a comedian for more than 20 years and I laugh like a 5-year-old child when I go to work.”
Speaking of juvenile humor, Henson says one reward of the job is hearing people shout “big balls” at him when he’s walking down the street. He’ll stick with his closing line for season three and beyond: “’Good night and big balls,’ in my eyes, is the greatest signoff in the history of television.”
Photo Credit: Wipeout Season 3
Jeff Samaripa, courtesy Endemol USA; Henson: PR Photos.com; Kunitz; Todd Williamson/Wireimage.com