How 'Total Wipeout' Made a Splash in the U.K

'Total Wipeout' is undoubtably a point of nostalgia for many Britons. Though the show's origins are less British than you might believe.

John Heycock
19th October 2021
Source: BBC

For many Brits born at the turn of the century, the words "Total Wipeout" sparks an intense wave of nostalgia. But did you know that there's an even better American version? This version was called Wipeout and it was in fact the original - not Total Wipeout as many would believe.

Yes, the Sucker Punch, Sweeper, and the classic Big Red Balls - are all a lot less British than people think.

Wipeout first aired on the US TV network ABC in 2008, inviting 24 contestants to face an enormous obstacle course for a $50,000 cash prize. The show's original run lasted for 7 seasons, getting much bigger in scale and ambition for each of the first 4 series before gradually scaling back as its popularity waned.

When it premiered in the summer of 2008, Wipeout scored the highest premiere rating of any new show that whole summer, and after its initial success, the show's producers decided the format was capable of being a worldwide hit. For most shows, this is a simple matter of selling the rights to the format - but of course, for a show which is based on a multi-million dollar purpose-built obstacle course; it was never going to be that easy.

Whilst undoubtedly an expensive project at first, the vision was a long-term one

Knowing they would be unable to rent out their current set and that the foreign networks didn't have the money to build their own, the producers decided to build an entirely new one in Argentina. They wanted a set so big that two shows could film on it at the same time. An investment of this scale for a set which you would never be using for your own show would seem to most like a foolish waste of money but for Wipeout, it turned out to be a masterstroke.

The double-sized course in Argentina allowed the show to be licensed to TV networks from different countries around the world that otherwise could never have afforded to run their own version. Whilst undoubtedly an expensive project at first, the vision was a long-term one - one which by the end of its life as a TV set had been used by networks from a staggering 37 countries.

Total Wipeout first aired the following year in 2009 on the BBC and quickly became popular Saturday night viewing. The show lasted for 5 regular series and one winter series before being canceled due to the decommissioning of the Argentinian set. Various shows have since tried to replicate the popularity of Total Wipeout - such as Can't Touch This, Cannonball, and The Void. Only Ninja Warrior UK has come close, itself lasting 5 series.

More recently, the original US version of the show has been revived with John Cena and Nicole Byer at the helm. Could this lead to a new era of Total Wipeout?

Contestants compete in the Wipeout Zone (Warning: flashing images)

By John Heycock

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