Dear Wipeout

Wiping out on the Big Red Balls
Wiping out on the Big Red Balls is never not funny

The following is presented here because it’s awesome. Other than changing the name of the addressee, I have not edited it in any way. By way of background: Ryan loves the ABC show Wipeout, which aired its Season 7 premiere last Sunday. He was unhappy that the final round of the competition, the “Wipeout Zone” has a new format. The last time I wrote about Wipeout, I ended up connecting over email with one of the show’s producers. I told Ryan if he composed an email with his concerns, I would send it to the producer. About five minutes after Ryan sat down to write, he sent me the following:

Dear [Mr. Producer],

The Wipeout zone has to change to the way it originally was for 6 seasons. I absolutely love watching this show. Everyone is falling during the qualifier, and the big balls are hilarious. Henson is so silly; he makes me giggle in my sleep. This TV show is by far my favorite show.

However, my favorite part of this show is the Wipeout zone, which needs to be edited. It needs to be changed to how it was for six seasons, take as many attempts on an obstacle as needed until the obstacle is completed. The Wipeout crew has turned it into a one attempt each obstacle. One reason this must change is because if contestants fall off, they are getting a free swim past the obstacle. This means any contestant can wipeout intentionally on an obstacle just so they can move on. This makes it too easy for the contestants. Also, through six seasons, the Wipeout zone was simply put for each contestant. Right from the beginning, you have the energy to either do well or not do well. That means, usually, how well you do on the opening obstacle of the zone determines how well you’ll do on the course. But now, we turned the zone into a swimming track meet, and the quickest swimmer wins the 50K. But for six seasons, it was the fastest one to finish the obstacle wins, and swimming had no count in our zone. The last reason this must change is because it takes the contestants about 2:30 to run the entire zone. That is too fast, and it has nothing to do with their stamina. For six seasons, the average time for a contestant would finish the course in around 10 minutes. Some would even finish in about 15 minutes. The Wipeout zone is the most critical part of the show, where the winner is decided. Shouldn’t the zone take more time to watch? It shouldn’t be a cakewalk.

Please take my thoughts into action on this T.V. show.

Sincerely, a Wipeout fan

There is so much of Ryan in that email. From the way he follows typical paragraph format, learned over years of practice in school, to his impassioned reasoning for why the Wipeout Zone needs to change, to his exact recall of times from earlier episodes.

Post-script: Both Ryan and I received very nice replies from the producer, who added the following in his note to me:

Thank you for sharing Ryan’s amazing letter. It is really interesting how many letters I get from parents with kids in the autism spectrum. They all tell very similar stories about children that completely open up when watching Wipeout. I wonder what it is about our show that seems to make such a strong a connection with so many autistic kids. Is there something about it that autism researchers should tap into?

His reply got me thinking. There probably are things about the show that are particularly enjoyable for kids on the spectrum. The show follows a pattern a predictable pattern (hence Ryan’s annoyance at this season’s format change. It has just enough variety to provide suspense, but the overall experience is very similar from week-to-week. There are two types of humor in the show. Watching people fall off the various obstacles is always hilarious, but also requires no complex interpretations of context to understand. The same can’t be said about the by-play among the hosts, which is full of subtle jokes. But they are silly enough that Ryan loves that part of the show as well, even if he misses most of the punch lines.

I suspect the predictable nature combined with the obvious humor — when watching Wipeout you never have to wonder if you’re laughing at the correct time — is what makes the show appealing to those on the spectrum.

What do you say? Any Wipeout fans in your houses?


7 thoughts on “Dear Wipeout

  1. Oh my goodness!! Jake was completely thrown by the change in format last weekend, too. He isn’t autistic, but with significant ADHD, he loves the predictability of the show. The new format was tough, and he even asked to turn it off. I loved the letters…and how great that you got responses. Tate also loves the show…and loves that it is okay to laugh when someone falls off of the different stunts.


    1. Glad to hear Ryan is not alone. The producer told me this season has already been filmed so there will be no changes this season, but he would take it under advisement for next year.


    1. It’s on iTunes and ABC’s web site has some recent episodes for free. It’s an adult obstacle course with lots of painful looking falls and snarky humor.


  2. My almost-teenager son had the same reaction. Not too serious, but was annoyed enough to discuss it with us for the rest of the evening. Loved to see your son’s reaction to it.


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