Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Winter Wipeout Experience - Part 1

Note: This is in six parts. I'll post one part a day. The total word count exceeds 31,000 words so it's going to be a long read. Hopefully putting it in six parts will keep you interested!

So erm, if you know me personally by now hopefully you tuned into BBC1 yesterday to see me make a fool out of my self on national television. I appeared on the UK version of Winter Wipeout, a spinoff of the series Total Wipeout. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s basically an obstacle course with lots of mud and water, and it’s filmed in Argentina. How well or bad did I do? Well I came 19th out of 20 contestants, pretty disastrous I suppose, and finished in six minutes, twenty five seconds. So therefore I didn’t qualify for the second round, never mind win the £10,000 prize.

The Wipeout Beard.
But as much as it’s a British cliché, I wasn’t there for the winning really, I was there for the taking part. Are you saying would I not have been happy to progress or win any money? Of course I would have, but in honesty, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I met 19 amazing random Brits, I went to Argentina, the first time I’ve left the UK and Ireland, and visited a country I’ve always wanted to go to. I was never a contender to win Winter Wipeout. If you don’t know me personally, I’m overweight, my diet is atrocious, and I very rarely work out. I’m fit enough to do most activities, but I just don’t do them. I lost a stone or two in the preparation of Winter Wipeout; I cycled to and from work on a daily basis - more than four hours a week of cycling, which is not something I did beforehand really. And as I hope you saw, the contestants I went up against were amazing. We had the best average time in the series at that point (I don’t know how Episode 7 or 8 have done, they’ve not been aired yet). So am I annoyed that I got 19th place? Not really, although I would have liked to take part in the second round and look less embarrassing on telly.

So how did this crazy adventure happen? Well that’s what this six-part article is about. I’m going to explain how the whole thing happened and the amazing adventure I had.

It all began around a year from now actually; January 2010 is a guess of when. I was watching a replay of “101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow”, another spinoff of Total Wipeout, that was ultimately axed. I found out it was axed in Argentina funnily enough, when I spoke to one of the many amazing researchers that were there. “It was too expensive. We had to construct every single way to leave the show, so with a new series comes a new set of exits to construct; it was just too expensive to do a new series.” It’s a damn shame because I actually wanted to apply on that show. I saw a replay of Episode 7, and there was an exit called “The Human Fling”, where the loser of that round was in basically what is easily described as a human catapult. It was literally a seat, with the contestant in, and attached to that seat was the catapult. It’s probably around 15 feet in length and it the catapult flings the losing contestant high into the sky into a large pool of water. I’m not kidding, the poor loser went very far into the water and I was laughing at how amazing it was. I said to my wife (we weren’t married at the time mind), that if I were to leave this gameshow, that’s the way I’d like to go. And then a light bulb went in my head, about ACTUALLY applying to go on it. My wife didn’t take me seriously. I looked online and disappointingly, there was no news on a second series, nor there were any applications to appear on a future show. But the link I found online redirected to an application to appear on Total Wipeout. Now, I did like Total Wipeout, I saw it on the TV many times, and found it quite funny. I didn’t think too much about it at that point. I saw it as a British ripoff of Takeshi’s Castle. I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all, because in the end, it is. The big difference is that Total Wipeout is more polished and also, a lot safer. Takeshi’s Castle looks really dangerous, where as a lot of the props in Total Wipeout are soft objects with force behind them, so it’s a lot less risky. I pondered over applying for Total Wipeout instead, before deciding to just go for it, I mean, what were the chances of me appearing on a gameshow in Argentina, that only just over 1000 lucky Brits had done? I certainly wasn’t expecting anything of it; I saw it as a laugh.

"The Human Fling", this clip on TV urged me to apply and eventually appear on Winter Wipeout.
So I went to work to print off an application form and talked to my colleagues about my ‘crazy’ idea to appear on this show. We all chuckled about it, with a few colleagues looking at my not-so trim figure and thinking I had no chance to win. As I said, I wasn’t there really with the intention to win; it was a laugh, a joke, something that ‘crazy’ John would do. Looking at the application form, I realised how crazy I actually was. There were a lot of questions about safety, and the fear of certain things; the fear of heights, water, also you had to rate yourself for athletic ability. Of course there questions like why you want to appear on the show, why you should be picked, and you also had to put a picture of yourself on the form, to show them who you are and why you should be picked.

This was the picture I put in my application form. I'm pretty sure it gave me an edge to reach the auditions. On my shoulders is my daughter, Vivi.
So I filled in the form, quite honestly actually. I mentioned that I’d never been abroad before, which is true if you consider Ireland as a part of the British Isles. In the boxes where you rate your fitness, I was honest enough to say that I didn’t often keep fit, but that I was capable of doing most things, which is true. In terms of fear, I’m not really scared of anything, I’m not bragging or anything, but I’m not. I get nervous surely, but I’m not scared of heights or water or anything else like that. Other things on the form were my hobbies, a brief description of yourself in 50 words or less, and five things that your friends and family describe of you. So I filled in the form as honestly as possible, with a small tint of optimism about me, my life and my physical fitness. If I was completely frank and said I was a lardy, lazy video gamer who has an awful diet why would they consider me? So while I didn’t lie, you have to have an optimistic and positive view on your life, so I added that into my form and sent it off.

I didn’t hear anything until August. In fact, I actually don’t remember even thinking about it. I just sent off the form and probably thought something pessimistic like, “that won’t lead anywhere” or “that was a waste of time writing out that form”. But in August, early August I believe, I received an email from Total Wipeout, asking if I’d like to attend an audition. I had to respond to that email if I was interested. It came completely as a surprise, firstly because it felt like spam, but I naturally remembered applying so long ago. Secondly, because I didn’t expect them to show interest in me because of my honesty about my fitness. And lastly, because it took them so long to respond to me in the first place! January to August, that’s seven months! I actually spoke to other contestants on my episode, and they all applied only a few months before we did the show. I wonder what happened? It could have been possible that I was actually a ‘reject’ from Series 5 of Total Wipeout, but they gave me a chance in Winter Wipeout as they saw my application again. I honestly have no idea, and I wouldn’t know who to ask about the huge delay in my application coming useful.

Anyway, I replied to the email to show my interest in the audition, and they gave me a day and a time. I had to go to London for 9am on a Sunday (I can’t remember which Sunday, it was probably August 7th or 14th), at a part of a University in South Kensington. It was not an easy decision to make, believe it or not. Why? Because I’m absolutely skint. I have a lot of debt and having a wife and a child, and a low income job, we don’t have much money. So it was £20 to get a ticket to from Portsmouth to London, and it was £20 we in theory, couldn’t afford. £20 is a lot of money when you have little. £20 can get you a week’s worth of shopping, or some gas and electricity for a week. I spend £22 a week getting to work. Try sacrificing one of those. Luckily I got paid my month’s wages only a week before, and I managed to put enough back to get my train ticket. You also need to remember that even at this stage, it was only an audition. I never even dreamed of actually going to Argentina and doing the Total Wipeout course, it was a hope, not an expectation. So for me to take a risk like this, meant a lot to me and my wife. But I thought, I’d kick myself if I don’t go for it, take this opportunity and see what happens. So we put enough money back to afford a ticket to London.

But that wasn’t the end of the problems oh no! A few days before the audition, I looked at the train times in preparation. The earliest train into South Kensington got me there for 9:45am – I would have been 45 minutes late for my audition! I panicked, especially as I had bought the ticket by then so it was a wasted payment if I didn’t go. Frustratingly, my email told me that ‘they had taken where I live into consideration for my audition time’. The didn’t do much research then as I couldn’t get a train easily enough! To be fair, most people probably would have driven up, but I don’t drive. So I emailed Total Wipeout back and told them of my problem, and if there was any way they could give me another day or time as I didn’t want to waste this opportunity (primarily because of the fact that I had bought my ticket). They sent me a quick reply, and sympathised with my situation and gave me a time slot for the afternoon – 1pm. I was relieved. Getting to South Kensington for 1pm was never going to be an issue so I was set. I told my work colleagues and even my Facebook friends. I never thought it would happen, so I thought, I’m going to tell everyone about this crazy possibility! At that point, Endemol and Total Wipeout never told us not to tell anyone anything, so I made it quite clear what I was doing to a lot of people.

On the email they told me to wear clothing that was appropriate to my personality and applicable for the show. I also had to prepare for my audition. So what was the audition? It was 60 seconds to sell yourself on why you should be on Total Wipeout. At this stage I still didn’t know much about it being Winter Wipeout, the seasonal spin-off of the show. 60 seconds. Sixty. It was harsh and horrible, thinking about yourself and why YOU should appear on TV in front of the nation. In the email they emphasised on personality, and that what you wear and what you say are what they’re interested in. What was I to do? I couldn’t wear some stupid spandex (not that I had any) because that doesn’t fit who I am and what I do. I work in administration in the NHS. Should I wear my work clothes; a plain navy jumper and formal navy trousers? No, that would be silly and bland. I didn’t wear anything fancy, ever. I decided that I’d just turn up as myself and hope for the best. After all, that was what I did in my audition papers, was be myself, and it got me this far.

The last few days before the audition were spent pondering about what I was going to say. I had no idea what I was going to say. I tried really hard to think about my audition but nothing came. I didn’t even practise my audition. Luckily, I’m a decent talker and am relatively confident in my ability to communicate (despite my horrendous Welsh accent and my occasional slurring of my words) so I didn’t feel I needed to practise. Besides, if I wanted it to feel natural I didn’t want to rehearse as it shows when you’re on the spot - put it this way I’m not a good actor. So I’m much better if I talk naturally than if I’m reading from memory or from paper.

Vivi from Final Fantasy IX, the inspiration behind my daughter's name. My striking T-shirt with him on definitely was a plus at the audition.

It was the morning of the audition and I still didn’t know what I was going to say. I chose my ‘outfit’, which was some plain black jeans and a discrete yet important weapon – a top with Vivi on it. Vivi if you didn’t know is a character from Final Fantasy IX, probably my favourite video game of all time. I named my daughter Vivi after this character, not because she reminded me of the little boy in the game (Vivi is male in FF9, but I think it’s a nice name for a girl) but simply because I liked the name. The t-shirt I wore was black and had an outline of the character Vivi in white. It may be a black and white shirt but it was a striking image in a not-so obvious way. On my way to London, I jotted notes down on paper about what I thought I was going to say and why I applied. I applied because I was a fan of the show, and for a laugh, I didn’t expect to get this far! It was odd. So very little actually got onto paper and barely what I wrote actually was said in my ‘audition’.

I arrived at South Kensington station and I knew where I needed to go, according to Google Maps. Applying that in person however wasn’t easy, and I soon got lost. I asked around and had different answers to where the part of the University was. I went up a hill and left of my actual destination, I was going to be late. Luckily I turned round and tried the right way to see a large group of people queuing outside a door. They were dressed in ridiculous costumes – I was in the right place. I looked around me and noticed I was one of the most under-dressed people there. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Nearly three months later I’d know the answer.

As the queue shifted forwards we had to sign a piece of paper basically saying that whatever happened the BBC and Endemol would own our souls (just kidding, but it was the basic spiel you find in these forms). When the queue actually got into the building I realised I was one of the last people there. The queue behind me was minimal, and the total amount of people ahead of us huge. How many people were at the audition? They estimated over 300. And I was in the knowledge that there was a morning audition as that was my original time, so presumably there were 300 people there. There were also other auditions in London before mine and possibly after. There were also auditions in the North. I don’t know how many people actually got to the audition stage but I’d estimate at least 2000 people got to the audition stage, maybe more. So I’d imagine they’d probably had well over 10,000 people apply to be on the show, maybe much more. For me to get to this stage was amazing, and that was my thought there and then.

So the group of 300 people slowly perched into a large room, where they were then slowly sifted into another corridor. The corridor leads to a gymnasium. It was cut off by a large curtain so that only about a quarter of the gymnasium was used. The queue was slowly turning into a desk, where some people were taking in the applications and passports. Little did I know that these people were the researchers, cameramen and even, the actual producer of the show, Andy Rowe. They were dressed up in random fancy dress, one was a ballerina girl in a tutu, someone was in an Egyptian costume, and Andy was dressed in a tiger suit. They looked as bonkers as most of the other people at the audition. I looked around me and saw some really odd costumes; there were a lot of girls dressed up as bumblebees. That really annoyed me as it’s so unoriginal, but it increased my chances in the end. A lot of guys wore printed t-shirts with nicknames or phrases that they would say if they got that far on the show. There were a lot of capes and superheroes, and there was a guy who tore up half his smart suit and wore half a businessman suit, half cycling gear, presumably to emphasise his hobby and profession. I looked around me and I was easily one of the biggest people there, I’m a pretty big guy, and seeing all of these slim people made me feel like my chances were slim.

I also noticed that I was the only person with a beard. Sure there were people with facial hair; some stubble or a little goatee, but I had a beard. The last time I shaved was the morning of my wedding, June 11th, so by the start of August my beard was around two months old and was getting pretty big. I never thought about shaving out of pure laziness; I was close to shaving but for some reason I thought against it. I thought having my beard shortened, something I usually do once every month or two, made me look a little more like everyone else. My beard was decent in size and made me stand out even further. For some reason my mind starting thinking about beards. Should I mention that I’m the only properly bearded person at the audition? It was like a light bulb went on in my head. What’s wrong with beards, and having a beard? Is everyone discretely a pogonophobe? I was only teasing the idea; these aren’t my true feelings on people. But this oddity was in the end the basis on which I planned my audition and participation on Winter Wipeout.

At the front of the queue was one of the researchers I assume, although I can’t be sure as I didn’t see him in Argentina, and he looked like Lewis Hamilton, and dressed, like Lewis Hamilton presumably as he knew this observation. It soon became apparent that the people at the auditions will be going through this curtain in fours, and he’d take the next four people and pump them up. He did this by making them jog on the spot or shout random things like “Total Wipeout!” or other even more crazy things.

About two thirds of the people at the audition had already had their sixty seconds to determine their fate. All of a sudden everything went quiet. I don’t know what happened but something occurred on the other side of the curtain. My guess is someone fainted or got injured, but this gave all the researchers a few minutes to compose themselves before continuing with the auditions. After things started to go back to ‘normal’, it was announced that auditions would then be shorter, as people are hesitating and running out of things to do or say. Basically the majority of the people at the auditions sucked, so to get things a bit more interesting and therefore exciting, they announced that the rest of the auditions were going to be 45 seconds long! Fourty-five. It really shook me as I realised that I had even less time to convince them to even consider me for their next series of Wipeout.

I finally approached faux-Hamilton and as I said, there weren’t many people behind me so I was one of the last people at the audition. I and three other randomers did all these random things he did with the other people, shouting random things and doing random jogging movements. What I soon realised was that this really helped. Why? Well it got the blood pumping and made you relax a little. In the end, Total Wipeout is a very silly show with silly contestants falling over in silly ways. It really wouldn’t be good to be so uptight at this stage. So I relaxed a little, before they pushed me into the deep end.

On the other side of the curtain were four tables with four researchers. As I said, the gymnasium was closed off for about a quarter of the place, the other three quarters were used for these auditions, meaning that there was a LARGE hall with nothing in it, but these four tables. Me, I had to run across the entire hall because I was chosen to go towards that table. The other three had less time to run and get stuck into their audition. I ran to this far table where the researcher dressed as an Egyptian sat. I don’t think I saw her again, I don’t think she was in Argentina.

Want to know what my audition actually went like? Come back here tomorrow to find out in Part 2 of 6 of My Winter Wipeout Experience!

If you haven't seen it yet you can see my performance, which was edited by Episode 5 contestant Gemma Murdock below!

You can read part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here and part 5 here and part 6 here!

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