Mirth at the physical humiliation of another, I was brought up to believe, is unsporting. To see a fellow fall over, to see him take a spill, and then to laugh at him, coarsely and without sympathy – it bespoke, I was always told, a rather bestial level of humor. One did it, of course. One still does it. And one does it with particular energy and application on Wednesday nights, at 8 o’clock, when one watches ABC’s “Wipeout.” Here, it would seem, glowing in the twilight of network television, is your authentic ignoble audience-grabber, your race-to-the-bottom production. “Fear-Factor”-meets-a-Japanese-game-show is the format: 24 contestants in padded vests and helmets taking on “the world’s biggest obstacle course” for a prize of $50,000. Saps. Headcases. “Ordinary men and women.” Hooting and floundering they launch themselves onto huge articles of cushioned, vibrating machinery – the Spiked Fenders, the Trampoline Hurdles – and cling there for ludicrous instants before being tossed into a bath of foam, water, mud, or paint.
more from James Parker at The Boston Globe here.