For my autoethnographic research project I have decided to focus on the obstacle course reality tv show titled Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC to its fans). However, MXC’s main footage is taken from the Japanese reality show Takeshi’s Castle, which was a runaway hit from 1985 to 1990 on Tokyo’s NHK network. Surprisingly I was able to stream the full 20 minute MXC episodes on YouTube. I had previously seen brief segments of this show on free-to-air television, it was an amusingly dubbed English narration where players were eliminated until an “army” of 100 survivors remained.
I began by viewing Season 1 Episode 1 titled ‘Meat Handlers vs. Cartoon Voice Actors.’ The first thing you notice is the hilariously English dubbed voiceovers when introduced to the two hosts, Kenny Blakenship and Vic Romano. Their sub-par banter is barely tolerable dominated by bad puns and sheer silliness that often veer into the crass and sexual. I was then introduced to the shows Field Reporter, Guy Le Douche (the name really says it all), whose role was to interview contestants either before or after their attempt of the course, usually with the same sexual undertones as the main hosts. The final member of the team is the Field Marshal, Captain Tenneal, dressed in a tacky parody of a military uniform, his role is to “encourage” (and I say this very loosely) the slow contestants to enter or complete the course. I couldn’t help but think of the similar reality show Wipeout aired in Australia, America, and the UK.
In this episode, the competitors were faced with four courses to complete. The first being Sinkers and Floaters where contestants would have to run across a series of rocks, some being solid and others being “sinkers”. As each competitor attempted the course, there was live commentary produced by Kenny and Vic as well as cuts to Guy interviewing contestants. This same format was used for the other three courses: Log Drop (large spinning barrels), Wall Buggers (a velcro wall that contestants must swing and stick too whilst dressed as a butterfly), and Boulder Dash (an uphill course with the aim of avoiding large stones that roll down). Producers use what they call “Impact Replay” to show, over and over, a contestants hitting the mud face-first or plummeting into a pond. Summarised by the final segment of the show Most Painful Elimination of the Day where they countdown from ten the contestants that injured themselves the most.
After about the twelfth or so MXC contestant’s grimace of pain, I began to wonder the enticement that would lead anyone to submit to such physical debasement and injury? According to MXC’s American publicist, the prizes are decidedly banal offerings like oven mitts and trays of food. So I am left, then, with the same uncomfortable impression created by seasons spent watching average citizens debase themselves on American and Australian reality TV shows: Humiliation on national television is itself the big prize. Perhaps Warhol’s prediction was only slightly off, and what contemporary American’s and Australian’s really demand is their 15 minutes of shame.
What I found interesting about the episode, focusing more on the original Takeshi’s Castle footage, was how the intense shame that, in Japanese culture, is though to result from failure is not only externalised and ritualised into a game, but perhaps relieved. The show’s imported mayhem and subsequent emotional release seem particularly well-suited to our own era of high anxiety.
By the end of the episode, I started to appreciate the entertainment value of the sitcom. I found myself laughing at awful one liners like “Nothing more painful than trying to pass a stone that big” during the Boulder Dash course. MXC’s humour often relies on frontal assaults to the groin and sexual double entendres. Although, sometimes I felt as though the commentary was pushing the boundaries at moments. I enjoyed experiencing this infusion of Japanese and Americanised culture and would like to analyse this more in my next blog post.
‘Meat Handlers vs. Cartoon Voice Actors’ MXC S1E01
The Original Takeshi’s Castle EP1