For fans of ABC's obstacle-course competitive reality show "Wipeout," 2011 has been a very good year. Not only was there "Winter Wipeout," a snow-covered (actually, mostly soap-covered) edition of the show, which normally runs only in summer, but following that was a flower-bedecked spring version.
That comes to an end on Thursday, May 19, but fans won't have to wait even a month for "Wipeout" to return on June 16 for a sneak peek episode. The regular time period premiere is Tuesday, June 21.
Of course, that means production never really stopped, and that means the show needs contestants, and that means casting.
On an unseasonably hot, sunny February day, "Wipeout" hopefuls are lined up in the parking lot of a nondescript office building in Burbank, Calif., the headquarters of MysticArt Pictures, which works with production company Endemol to find suitable candidates.
Some of the people slept in makeshift beds outside the building the night before to get a good place in line. Many are dressed in costumes -- including some not instantly recognizable as any particular thing -- which they hope will catch the casting directors' eyes.
"They come sleep out on our stoop," says MysticArt CEO and President Katy Wallin. "They're exhausted, but it's how badly they want it."
MysticArt employees do preliminary screenings on ground level then send groups of the most likely folks up the stairs into the offices. There, they work their way through a multistep process designed to see if their personalities, energy and enthusiasm are a good fit for the show.
"You've got to have a charismatic personality," Wallin says. "You've got to be able to brand yourself."
Of course, you can have too much personality.
"We weed people out," Wallin says. "Usually I can spot the crazies. There are crazies that we've had to escort out of the building."
Those who make it through all these steps get put on tape, and that's where Endemol casting chief Rich Leist comes in.
"The background check process is a 10-year search history," Leist says. "it's very in-depth. Then there are the medical requirements. You have to be in at least fit enough shape to pass an EKG."
While most of the people standing in the sun, hoping for a chance at the $50,000 ultimate prize, are ardent fans, surprises can happen. When Wallin and Leist are outside enjoying slices of pizza, a man on a bicycle comes by. Having heard from the people in line that they're hoping to be on "Wipeout," he stops and asks what the show is about.
Intrigued by what he hears, he hops off his bike and gets into line. While he ultimately doesn't make it inside, there is a chance he made a new pal.
"If people don't get on the show," Wallin says, "it's a great experience. They become friends."
Leist will also be with the lucky chosen few at the "Wipeout" shooting location at a former ranch north of Los Angeles. Even if competitors fail to win, they don't always leave empty-handed.
"At the beginning of the day on set," says Leist, "when I talk to the contestants, I say, 'If you look around this room, nobody is like you. And if nobody is like you, that means we did our job. But all you guys are tied by one common thing: You all have outgoing personalities. I guarantee you that you guys will all be friends at the end of this. I find it weird you guys will be friends, because you guys are all competing for $50,000. One of you will have a $50,000 friend.'
"They're all like, 'Yeah, totally.' "
'Wipeout' signs off, but not for long
The season finale of "Wipeout" airs Thursday on ABC.
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