'Wipeout': A Not-So-Sweet Nutcracker for Christmas

Tonight's cuppa: decaf Irish breakfast tea

Christmas-Wipeout-3.jpgOn Thursday, Dec. 8, on ABC, new "Wipeout" host Vanessa Lachey -- wife of Nick Lachey, host of "The Sing-Off," which has a Christmas-music special on Monday, Dec. 5 on NBC -- makes her debut in the show's first-ever Christmas special.

Since this is "Wipeout," there aren't going to be any heartwarming carols sung around a fireplace or jingle-bell sleigh rides through the snow.

But, there will be nutcrackers.

"One of the biggest stunts we've ever built," says executive producer Matt Kunitz, "which you'll see in the Christmas special, is called the Nutcracker. We had these giant Christmas nutcrackers. They are probably 40 feet tall. So, the contestant has to run past them. You can imagine what our nutcrackers would do.

"So, the first nutcracker they run past, the foot jerks past and kicks them right in the nuts, hopefully, and then they think, 'OK, that's what's going to happen on the next one.' Then they run by the next one, and they're kind of protecting their groin. But the arm comes out and knocks them in the head. We misdirect them a little bit."

And despite "Wipeout's" reputation as a family show, the fun just keeps on coming.

Christmas-Wipeout-2.jpg "We've never done a Christmas special before," Kunitz says. "We have Santa Claus. We have Christmas elves. We hired a bunch of little people, and they dress up like elves. They're sort of evil elves, as you might imagine 'Wipeout' elves would be. They definitely have an evil side to them.

"What's really funny is John Henson. You see him six times throughout the show. He starts off in sort of a simple Christmas sweater, and they get more and more outrageous, to the point where he's wearing a Christmas sweater -- I don't want to give away what his last Christmas sweater is, but we had a lot of fun with it. Basically, we took every sort of Christmas tradition and turned it upside down on its head and shook it a little bit."

Asked if Henson wanted to keep any of the sweaters, Kunitz explains that there was actual sweat involved.

"What's ironic is," he says, "on this day, when he had to wear these sweaters, the air conditioning was broken. It was 85 degrees, and he had to wear these sweaters that got bigger and bigger and more crazy and bizarre. Some of them had electricity in them. But he was a trouper.

"At the end, I said, 'Because you put up with the broken air conditioner, I'm going to let you take home any one of these sweaters that you want to have.' I don't think he took me up on the offer.'"


At some point during production of "Winter Wipeout," the new host's husband got in on the act.

"Nick came to the set a couple of times,"
says Kunitz. "He enjoyed it. he got to throw a couple of snowballs at our contestants. We make real snowballs, and we're mean with the snowballs. We're vicious. We're making snowballs all day long. We own to sno-cone machines. We're just making sno-cones and not putting the sweet stuff on it. Christmas-Wipeout-4.jpg

"You get a bonus for headshots. So, if anyone can hit contestants in the head with a snowball, they get an extra five bucks. There's some incentive, and it's fun. Whenever we have guests, we're like, 'Have at it.' Nick jumped right in there and started chucking snowballs.

"We actually purchased a snowball launching machine. We were excited about it and then discovered that, really, there is nothing as good as the human arm for really aiming a good snowball at someone's face."

Kunitz says there will be a Valentine's-themed "Wipeout" airing as part of "Winter Wipeout," which starts in January, and then, "We're not doing a Fourth of July 'Wipeout,' but we are doing a 'Military Wipeout,' which will probably air around the Fourth of July. That will be Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, all competing against each other. We are casting that now. We won't be shooting that until the fourth cycle -- that's four months away at least."