Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 10, 2011

Wipeout! contestant does it for her girls

TV show competition turns out to be exciting but painful

by Katie Lyness

"Wipeout," the ABC TV show where contestants endure extreme water obstacles that seem to get more difficult as the season progresses, is one of the few television programs that entertains a wide variety of viewers. Though it is popular among many families, most working mothers would never consider actually competing on the show themselves -- but that is exactly what happened to Ananda LaBerge.

LaBerge would sit with her two young daughters, Annika, 9, and Tasha, 6, every week to watch the show, which was a favorite of theirs. Because her daughters loved the program so much, they dared their mom about one year ago to just submit an application to be a contestant.

Not thinking anything of it because the show receives so many applications, LaBerge went sent in hers. In fact, she learned that the show receives about 75,000 applications, so she assumed that they would merely pass right over hers. Until they called her down to Burbank for an interview.

Then she realized she might actually have the chance to participate on the show. They also told her to make a videotape, where she answered many questions. LaBerge says that she answered the questions intentionally with some crazy responses because she knew the show was looking for people who would be entertaining.

Weeks later, she was again contacted and asked to fill out lots of paperwork, to sign liability waivers, and to receive a physical examination. LaBerge describes all of that as just being "easy" because all it required was time.

Finally, almost a year later, the show contacted LaBerge to say she had been chosen to be a contestant, and that she had to go down to its set in the Santa Clarita mountains near Los Angeles. She was given $10 to pay for gasoline and, other than that, she was on her own in terms of finding a place to stay and a way to get down there in about a week.

She was also told she could not bring her children and family because no one is allowed on the set other than the participants. This was a disappointment because she had intended to bring her daughters along to motivate her.

Because she was given such late notice, LaBerge did not have much time to prepare, she said, but she did exercise at her local gym, Break Free Fitness. She noted that she worked on her oxygen therapy, assuming that it would come in handy.

Going into the show, LaBerge thought she could win. She knew that she was in great shape. But it turned out to be much harder than she anticipated.

The first of the three days of filming, the contestants were required to arrive at the set at 5 a.m. The contestants were told the order for competing, and LaBerge found out she would be 14th.

Then the crew checked the participants' outfits to make sure they were appropriate, and next LaBerge filmed an interview with "Wipeout" host Jill Wagner.

All of the participants were given nicknames to go by and props to reinforce their specific personalities to the viewers. Ananda LaBerge became known as "Anaconda" for the three days and stood up at her interview with a fake snake.

Excited and scared, LaBerge completed the obstacles, but she said it was nerve-wracking because there were hundreds of cameras surrounding the course to capture the contestants at every angle.

Afterward, she said it was awkward because while the contestants were waiting to find out if they could move on to the next round, they were confined to a trailer, not allowed to discuss their own experiences or watch the other contestants. This was done to keep everything confidential prior to the airing of the show.

"All you see on TV is the obstacles, but in reality the set was like a graveyard of older obstacles and sets," LaBerge said, explaining that made it surreal and unusual. It also was incredibly muddy because it had just rained.

The obstacles themselves, LaBerge described as painful.

"They are actually these huge sets, the water is about 47 degrees, the obstacles are 10 feet from the water, and after falling off them it feels like you've hit cement," she said. "It's exhausting and brutal."

The obstacles are also full of soap suds to make them slippery, and on TV so much is edited out that it does not actually portray the amount of time the courses actually take, she added. The initial course takes about five to six minutes per person, but it feels longer, and the second course had the remaining contestants stay in the unbearably cold water for almost 25 minutes.

LaBerge said going into it she had no idea how painful the experience would be. Afterward she had bruises covering her body and had difficulty walking for about three days, and she assured herself that she would never repeat this experience.

But it was not completely negative. Actually, there were many positive aspects, she said. For instance, at her daughter Annika's insistence, she brought Girl Scout cookies to sell for her -- Jill Wagner bought three boxes, which was perfect because her daughters were the reason she participated on the show in the first place.

LaBerge also said she believes everyone should "go for the brass ring" and her experience helped her to reinforce her motto to her children. She showed them that if you set a goal, you should take the chance and not be intimidated by its difficulties. Also, just because she's a mom, she doesn't have to shy away from fun and challenges.

Her daughters love telling people that their mom was on "Wipeout" since they love the show, and they are especially excited to see it when their mom's show airs, probably this summer.

Would LaBerge recommend participating on the show to anyone? She warned, "Only go for it, if you're into pain."

--Katie Lyness is a youth correspondent for the Pleasanton Weekly. She just completed the eighth grade at Pleasanton Middle School and will attend Amador Valley High.

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