Thursday, December 11, 2008
What an amazing trip we had!!! An experience of a lifetime, for sure! It has taken me a while to post about it, because I wanted to give it the time and attention it deserved. And then my friends starting asking when it was going to be on the blog...so here it is! Better late than never, right?
The week before we left for California we were ALL sick. It was rough around the Halbert house. Jack missed an entire week of school for sickness before we took him out for 3 days for our trip! Good thing it's just Kindergarten, right? Luckily everyone at school was so supportive of this once in a lifetime experience. We flew out on Saturday morning and spent the day flying (both kids did amazing!), car rental, grocery shopping at Whole Foods, and then the hunt for our hotel. Much to our relief, the hotel was quite nice. We had 2 adjoining rooms with a kitchen. Jack enjoyed playing the onboard trivia game on the plane. He thought that was fabulous and was quite disappointed when the return flight did not have the same individual screens.
Sunday we went to Disneyland, courtesy of abc. It was disorienting to feel like you generally know the concept (since we live and breathe Disneyworld) but have no clue where anything is, having never been there before. Jack enjoyed the "new" rides but quickly decided that he likes Disneyworld better (and mentioned this loudly often while walking through the park.) We stayed until dark and then headed back to get a good night's sleep before heading North to Canyon Country.
We drove north of LA and found the set location with ease. No traffic either! We arrived just before 11a to an inconspicuous set.
Corbin, the Executive Producer's Assistant, met us and introduced us to Matt Kunitz, Executive Producer and man that made it all happen and Scott Larsen, Co-Executive producer. (They worked on Fear Factor together.)
The qualifier was already in progress, so we were immediately taken over to the set. To be honest, I expected a decent greeting and then some sort of "Sit here, enjoy yourselves and try to be quiet" kind of experience. Instead, the guys introduced Jack to everyone, showed him the qualifier and explained the obstacles, and then grabbed his hand and took off! Tommy, head of Safety, had Jack running all over the set, following the contestants as they completed the course, explaining as he went. He was amazing and kind and Jack warmed up to him, and the rest of the crew, easily.
We watched about 10 contestants complete the qualifier. Most did fairly well, but one had to be pulled out of the water on a backboard (as a precaution) after he complained of pain after falling off the big balls! Here's Jack watching a contestant...he just loved every minute of it and laughed loudly when anyone fell (as did the rest of the crew!)
We walked over to meet Jill Wagner. She was very nice. She was sweet to Jack and really paid him a lot of attention. She had him pose like he had just completed the qualifier. He loved that!
Jack handed out these cards to each of the people he met, as his way of saying Thanks. Everyone really liked the little postcard.
Jill said she was going to put hers up on her refrigerator. Way to go, Jack!
Tommy and Scott Larsen took Jack up to the ramp that each contestant stands on at the start of the qualifier. That was super cool! Doesn't he look adorable? He was having such a great time!
Here are the boys hanging out "wipeout" style. Pretty cool day for us all!
Then we went in the production trailer. That was really cool. Rupert had Jack sit beside him and let him talk into the production mike (I don't know what that thing was called, but they could hear him out there on a loudspeaker.) He counted down the contestants from 5 - 1 and then "go" as each one started the course. Jill was talking to Jack thru her mike into the trailer too. Jack acted like he'd been around this stuff his whole life!
Once all 24 contestants had completed the qualifier, they determined who were in the Top 12. Matt asked Jack to go with him to the contestants' trailer area where they were all waiting. Jack read each name of the Top 12 to the group. He did amazing! Everyone was impressed with this Kindergartener!!!
Then we had lunch, catered by Craft Services, in the wipeout trailer with Matt, Corbin and the Black & Blues. Who are the Black & Blues? They are a team of 2 guys and 2 girls who are crazy enough to try each stunt when it is created. Cousin Kenny, as he's called, was super cool and chatted with us throughout the day. It is rumored that there isn't a stunt that has been created yet that Kenny can't handle! Here's a couple of pics of Jack posing with the Black & Blues!
Scott and Jack got a tour of the Art Department, where every obstacle is made, and then we got a tour of the new Wipeout Zone from Matt. I'd show you this, but I think I'd get in trouble since the season hasn't started yet. Know that it's harder than last year, that's for sure! Matt says that they aim for a 90% fail rate for each obstacle. No wonder everyone falls! Before Jill left the set, we got some pictures with her. You'll see Scott's most prized possession of the trip as well...perhaps a 20 x 30 in his office for Christmas??
Matt took Jack to see the Dizzy Dummy 2.0, a new and improved Dizzy Dummy for Season 2. And, yes, Matt was still with us throughout most of our visit. Did I mention how nice everyone was?? He put Jack on the Dizzy Dummy and spun him, just a little. Jack posed for a few pictures and then went on the obstacle that the contestants are supposed to race through once significantly dizzy. Here's Jack diving through the lower hole. Later Matt and Scott were discussing a safety issue with this obstacle and Scott tried to go through the smaller hole on the bottom. Everyone was cracking up!
The contestants all came out for obstacle #2, which is called King of the Mountain. This replaced the former "Sweeper" obstacle. Here the Top 12 compete for 6 spots. Those 6 head on to the Dizzy Dummy 2.0. and from there the final 4 compete in the Wipeout Zone. The Dizzy Dummy and Wipeout Zone are taped on a second day of filming, so we didn't see those. The contestants were read the rules of King of the Mountain. We got to hang out. Isn't this cute?
They called Jack over after the rules were explained and Jack got to reach into a bag and pull out the contestants' names, one at a time and read them to determine their placement on the podiums of the obstacle. He did amazingly well again! He's a natural born assistant!
We sat at the edge of the obstacle's pool, beside the Black & Blues. The crew would laugh so hard (and so did we!) as the contestants were falling off of King of the Mountain! It took a long time to complete this obstacle...14 minutes or so. There's a lot of editing involved in television! I'd love to show you more, but again I'm not sure what we can show in advance of the airing of the episode next Summer! Finally, the top 6 made it to the top and it was complete! And that ended taping for the day.
We walked back to the executives' trailer and said goodbye to Matt and Scott and their staff. The day ended rather abruptly and we were having such an amazing day that ending it was a little difficult to swallow for Jack. He cried a bit and I think everyone felt bad for him. They said that they had one more place to show Jack and they took him into what was like a "war room" for Wipeout. All obstacles were drawn and hanging on the wall in order by episode. I'm sure a lot of show planning goes on in this room. Someone handed Jack a stack of Power Point style pages. Each bundle of pages is an episode and all the stunts that appear in that episode, in order. He got 4 episodes of these stunt sheets. Jack was told that this is "Top Secret", so we can't show them to you just yet. Man, are they cool, though! We sure do feel special after all of this!
So we headed back to Anaheim to the hotel and Jack reminisced about the amazing day he'd had. Later that evening he said to me, "Do you know what the worst part of the whole day was, Mommy?" When I said that I didn't know he said "the leaving." Such a sweet boy.
Jack's already asked when can we go back to California to go to another Wipeout. How exactly do you explain to a 6 year old that he just experienced a once in a lifetime event? And one that will be hard to top? I just smile and change the subject, usually.
People ask me all the time, "How was Wipeout?" My most common answer..."It was like Make A Wish without the terminal illness." It was exactly that amazing. We felt special, important, and cared for by people who don't know us from just about any other of the millions of viewers. They made a little boy so completely happy. And for that I am so grateful! Wipeout crew, you are good people in my book! We love you!