'Winter Wipeout': My Night at the Wipeout Zone (Part 2) -- Neither Princes nor Potentates Need Apply
Yesterday, I described a bit about my night visiting the set of "Winter Wipeout" not long before Thanksgiving -- click here for that, and a couple of pictures of the set covered in real snow -- and today I'm continuing with my chat with "Wipeout" executive producer Matt Kunitz, which took place that night in his office at the location north of Los Angeles.
All sorts of ordinary folks get a chance to tackle the "Wipeout" obstacle course in hopes of making it all the way to the nighttime "Wipeout Zone" and wining the cash prize. But it turns out that special people with special requests for a special "Wipeout" experience have less chance of running the course than a plumber from Duluth.
(Disclaimer: HGTV does not assert that, in, fact, a plumber from Duluth appears on the next episode of the show, called "Winter Wipeout: The Musical," airing Thursday, Jan. 13 on ABC, or, indeed, on any episode. But we wouldn't mind if one did.
BTW, regarding this episode, host John Henson said, "It's our craziest course yet ... and it's completely covered in snow! Fortunately, that helps reduce the swelling." After my night at the Wipeout Zone, I suspect that "snow" is more Ivory than fallen, but I digress.)
"We got a call," says Kunitz (at right), "from someone at the highest level of government -- top, top, top, can't say the name, but high, high, wanted to come with his whole family this Thanksgiving and do it. The person was impressive enough -- you couldn't get much higher -- and wanted to come with the kids, try the course.
"So we thought about it, 'What are the implications if something was to go wrong with this person? Certainly, we put a thousand contestants through it; we could let this person do it.'
"But we looked into, what would it really cost? It was not going to be on a shoot day. We would be doing it next week, during the downtime for Thanksgiving. It was going to be $80,000, and that pretty much put an end to that.
"There's no profit in that, even, but it's not worth it. It's not what we do."
After talking with Kunitz the other day, we were exchanging emails, and he told me of another request.
"Did I tell you a Saudi prince's staffer once called?" he wrote. They wanted to fly him and his friends in to play on the course. 'Money was not an issue.'
"We turned him down just as we have every other request. We don't have any downtime on the course when we are not either shooting or tearing it down to build a new course."
Speaking of building, Kunitz tells me on set in November, "It's literally like we have our own lumber supply here. Of course, we buy it, but we have shelves of every kind of bolt and fastener and glue and paint and vinyl. It's very well-organized. I was down there a few days ago, and it was like, 'Wow, this is like literally like being at your local lumber store.'
"We have spent close to a million dollars on foam. We are probably one of the largest foam buyers -- certainly the largest television show buying foam, period. I imagine the only people buying as much foam as us are mattress manufacturers."
I can attest that the outer edges of the "Wipeout" location are a strange maze of obstacle parts, supplies and equipment, which, when driving in the dark, is a little hard to navigate. I finally had to have a production assistant guide me off the property (which also has a rather alarming ditch at the perimeter that didn't look very inviting in my headlights either).
So far, "Winter Wipeout" is doing well, perhaps well enough to come back for another edition next year.
"If it does well," Kunitz says, "in January and February, we should get a pickup in time, so that we'll shoot our two summer cycles and then go, boom, right into the next winter cycle. We'll just be shooting year-round. We'll keep everybody working."