Monday, July 7, 2008

New Lows or New Awareness?

Is it insulting and crass? Yes. Does it humiliate contestants? Without a doubt. Does it have any redeeming value whatsoever? Absolutely not. Is it hilarious? Sadly... it is.

ABC's new Tuesday night "game show" Wipeout manages to pull off awful and funny simultaneously. Touted as a game show merely because there is a "winner" at the end, this show is really an exercise in how shameless Americans have become in their viewing habits. But unlike Fear Factor, whose host seems rather pleased but very serious about how far contestants will go for some cash, the hosts of Wipeout gleefully mock the contestants as they give the play-by-play action.

As contestants work their way through a water obstacle course (apparently, ones that look deceptively easy judging by the amount of bragging contestants do only to eventually... wipe out), John Anderson and John Henderson zing one-liners back and forth like an Olympic ping-pong match. It is the commentary that lends the show a sort of self-aware feeling, as if the show were saying, "Yes, I am cruel, crass, and shameless, but I don't pretend to be anything else."

Perhaps this is giving too much credit to a show that invites us to openly laugh at other people's foibles. And yet, it is hard to resist the occasional snicker as a confident braggart makes a face plant on a giant red ball and then tumbles into the muddy water below. No one eggs these people on; no one is shoving a cockroach in their face, imploring them to eat it. The contestants on Wipeout are ready, willing and often unable but the hosts clealrly are in on the joke. Perhaps the difference is that they actually let us in on it as well....

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