TV Week: Total Wipeout, Krypton Factor and Gladiators

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By Dan Owen

Game-shows are a cornerstone of television, and they usually come in two forms: physical and mental. 

In recent times, mental/psychological quizzes have dominated the format (from the revived Mastermind to the iconic Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) But now, physical game-shows are making a comeback – exemplified by the recent Hole In The Wall, where lycra-clad celebs jumped through cut-out shapes in moving walls. 

The silliness proved to be surprisingly popular Saturday fare for BBC1, despite derision from snooty critics. In 2009, the trend towards physical fun in game-shows looks likely to continue, as you can see...

BBC1 are following the cult success of Hole In The Wall with another Japanese-influenced gameshow, based on a format currently dominating global entertainment: Wipeout. Or TOTAL WIPEOUT as it's been rebranded in the UK, because of a titular clash with a '90s gameshow fronted by Paul Daniels.

The premise is stupidly simple: twenty people try to get across various obstacle courses, with the fastest competitors progressing to the next course, until an eventual winner is decided. What sells Total Wipeout is the enormity of the courses; giant water pools, oversized rubber balls, swinging ropes, tumbling platforms, rolling barrels, treacherous ledges, unstable towers, trampolines, spinning platforms, etc. What entertains is the incontestable truth that seeing people fall over, slip, slide, splash into water, or get a face-full of crash-mat makes most people laugh.

The show's presented by Top Gear's Richard Hammond, but he's mostly reduced to sarcastic voice-over duties, as his on-camera links appear to have been recorded weeks later, and possibly in a different continent (the courses themselves are located in Buenos Aires, Argentina!) Former Big Breakfast host Amanda Byram is the face on the ground, mostly reduced to gawping at people as they splat into mud, or stumble into water after being spun into dizziness.

To be fair, Total Wipeout was unchallenging fun to watch, but once the novelty of the courses wears off it'll rapidly start losing its appeal. There's only so many times you can chortle at someone falling off a podium when a rotating arm sweeps their legs from under them. And I don't think there's the budget to create brand new courses every few weeks, is there? Mind you, if the low-budget Hole In The Wall can find an audience, the big-budget Total Wipeout shouldn't have much difficulty. BBC1, SAT, 6.10PM.

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Over on ITV, they've decided to bring back legendary gameshow THE KRYPTON FACTOR, with GMTV's Ben Shepherd replacing Gordon Burns as host. Go figure. A physical and mental challenge, this new series stayed true to the spirit of the original (i.e., the challenges haven't been dumbed down.) Indeed, a round with contestants having to answer questions based on a jumble of words and letters, but always about the previous jumble they'd just seen, sent my mind into gooey meltdown!

The classic rounds were back, but given a generally disappointing polish. The iconic Assault Course is now filmed with multiple-cameras and lacks the simple, linear structure of the original. Therefore, you lost the ability to tell who was winning with a quick glance, or fully comprehend the layout. And is the absent Flight Simulator round considered passé in the age of the home computer flight sim? I hope it comes back. Forgiving these changes to the blueprint, the general feel and atmosphere was present and correct with the dark studio and green neon décor. ITV have wisely refused to stray too far from what made the original a long-running success, and even the presence of personality vacuum Shepherd didn't detract too badly. ITV1, THU, 7.30PM

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Finally, Sky1's GLADIATORS are back to thwack people over the heads and send them flying into water pools. Interestingly, there are a few cosmetic changes to the revamped show in its second season: original Gladiator Wolf now has a token role as the Gladiators' "manager", Kirsty Gallacher has been replaced by Caroline Flack as co-host, cult referee John Anderson has been replaced by boxing ref John Coyle, there are three new events, and six new Gladiators have been added to the muscled line-up.

My opinion on this revival hasn't change too much from last year, but it's certainly finding its own identity slowly. The new Gladiators are still less charismatic than their '90s predecessors, and much of the squabbling in-between events looks blatantly staged. Maybe it always was, but I didn't notice it when I was a teenager? Whatever, the problem is exacerbated by the return of panto-villain Wolf, and it's quite disappointing the new Gladiators are often overshadowed by a bald, fiftysomething Klingon look-alike. Fundamentally though, the new Gladiators series is good fun (tucked away on Sky1, where it'll never equal the popularity as the '90s original), and there are plenty of bronzed men and buxom ladies for couch potatoes to lust over.  SKY1, SUN, 6PM.

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Dan Owen is a self confessed TV "obsessive" and passionate film buff. Check out his blog at danowen.blogspot.com

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