In the first episode of the hilarious obstacle-course game show Wipeout Canada, audiences are introduced to Heather Westmacott, a self-proclaimed "yummy mummy" from Winnipeg, Manitoba; Philip Demers from Welland, Ontario, who calls himself the "Walrus"; and shy but sweet Sizula Pitsiulak from Kimmirut, Nunavut. While these three contestants and the 17 others who appear in the premiere episode are armed with enough personality to pack a decent punch, these 20 are only a hint of what's to come.
"Miss Conception and Naked Nana," Wipeout Canada cohost Jessica Phillips tells the Georgia Straight by phone, when recalling some of the inaugural season's most memorable contestants.
"We had the 'Photo Bomber,'" Phillips' cohost Ennis Esmer, also on the line, adds. "Usually people identify themselves by their profession—you know, we had a train conductor, cattle ranchers. This guy, he identifies himself just as a photo bomber. You know what a photo bomber is? It's somebody who ruins pictures [by running into the frame], like some family is on vacation and this shmuck photo bombs them. Who identifies themselves as a photo bomber?"
Esmer shares studio commentary responsibilities with Jonathan Torrens (TV with TV's Jonathan Torrens) while Phillips (who has also appeared on Being Erica and Republic of Doyle) reports live from the obstacle courses. He says that he wanted to try hosting a TV show after starring in films, like Young People Fucking, and TV series, like the telepathic crime drama The Listener.
"I knew it would be something that would be a great challenge and actually learn from, as well as being a ton of fun, which it is because it's such a different skill set than scripted TV," Esmer says.
While Esmer was aware of the internationally known Wipeout series before he started the show, he didn't realize how popular it was, citing game shows like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Family Feud as some of his favourites growing up. "I'm from Turkey originally, and I didn't realize there was a Turkish version," he says. "There are ones all over the world and I hadn't really appreciated how big a deal it was."
Meanwhile, Phillips, who couldn't get enough of The Price is Right before her Wipeout days, auditioned for a cohosting spot on the Canadian version because she was a fan of the U.S. series. "I always watched the American version, and I was such a big fan of it that when I heard they were doing a Canadian version, I really wanted to be a part of it," she says. "Watching it on TV it looks like so much fun. Then, when I was there, actually on set, meeting these amazing contestants and cheering them on, it was such an adrenaline rush."
After getting selected to cohost, Phillips and Esmer helped judge the auditions, which took place in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. "We had the chance to actually sit in on the callbacks," Esmer recalls. "People basically had to do like a job interview, but for the craziest job interview you've ever had. We'd ask, 'What would you do with the money? Who would be in your little shout outs off the top of the show?'"
"We'd get people to show us what their victory dance would look like, and asked them what they would do with the money, cause it's $50,000," Phillips adds. "That's a lot of money, and we'd have all kinds of crazy answers from them like a cat hysterectomy and sweet answers like, 'Oh, I want to pay for our wedding or my parents' debt.' "
Similar to the U.S. version, 20 contestants are introduced at the start of each episode and all of them try their hand at the first obstacle course, which consists of scaling a punching wall, bouncing across big red balls, and swinging through a doughnut hole. Contestants with the top 12 qualifying times make it onto the second round, which consists of each contestant balancing on top of a narrow platform without getting swept off. From there, six move onto the Dizzy Dummy, and let's just say that this round is not suited for those with weak stomachs. Finally, four contestants compete in the final Wipeout Zone, an extremely challenging, waterlogged obstacle course, for the grand prize.
"My very last night on set, they let me run the Wipeout Zone," Phillips says. "It was weird because I had watched everyone running the Wipeout Zone so I had all these things in my head, but everything that I thought I should do really didn't help me out."
That's why both Esmer and Phillips insist that there is no ideal contestant. "We had people in all sorts of different jobs, and different skill sets, and different body types," Phillips says. "We had people who were Olympians and people who probably hadn't worked out in five years."
Of course that's what partly makes the show so popular—anyone can be a contestant and anyone could be the winner. Esmer also says that it’s the show's game-show-meets-reality-TV form that makes Wipeout so appealing. "You really get a sense of who these people are. You get more of a window into their personalities, whether they're real or fabricated, than you would on a normal game show where they take two seconds to ask you where you're from and what you do. You get to know them a bit more, so when they fall down, you're a bit more invested in it."
Esmer insists that his and Torrens' cheeky commentary, which pokes fun at everything from the contestants' personalities to their runs on the obstacle courses, is all in good humor. "While we do make fun of people on the show, most of the time, we are cheering for them," Esmer says. "I think that's a big part of it. I think you can't help but sort of fall in love with the contestants."
"Laughter, laughter is the best medicine," Phillips adds. "Who doesn't like watching people get punched in the face and fall off a big red ball?"
Wipeout Canada premieres on Sunday (April 3) at 8 p.m. on TVtropolis.
You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.