Originally created 06/11/04

Comedians recycle odd game show



LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes television shows are like old meatloaf: They become stranger as time goes on.

Paul Abeyta serves up those leftovers as something fresh. He's producer of Spike TV's "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge," which fuses a late-1980s Japanese stunt show with new English dialogue: non sequiturs, pseudo-sexual double entendres and other assorted rudeness and buffoonery.

The result is an under-the-radar hit for the cable channel, drawing an average of 814,000 viewers - up 75 percent from last year.

"It's sort of like the "Iron Chef" meets "[filtered word],"' Abeyta told The Associated Press. "I was looking for a foreign game show of some sort, where people are active and on their feet, doing something. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for, but I knew when I saw it, it would be right."

When people stumble across "MXC," as fans call it, befuddlement is the standard first reaction, Abeyta said.

Who are all these Japanese people with goofy Anglo names like "Hugh Grunt" wearing flimsy helmets and shouting things like "I like soup!" or "I pee with my leg raised!" before swinging from a rope and slamming face-first into a wall?

They're contestants on "Takeshi's Castle," which at the height of the Nintendo craze was a "Fear Factor"-style show featuring live players performing video-game tasks.

They run across a row of suspended rolling logs, slide down a chute and land on a floating pad or run across a ledge as giant pendulums try to knock them on their butts - or spines.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Abeyta, whose show is in its third season. "These people are killing themselves for a toaster oven or something!"

Players tend to land in muddy water, which the joke commentators usually describe as some colorful and toxic sewage byproduct. Those "announcers" are Vic Romano and Kenny Blankenship, voiced by Victor Wilson and Christopher Darga, respectively.

On a recent Friday morning, the gang of performers gathered in their modest office, munching Jack in the Box sandwiches and improvising gags as they watched footage assembled by Abeyta.

Would it help to hear a translation of what people actually say on the show?

"No. We don't want to know," Wilson said as one on-screen character - the perpetually overjoyed field commentator Guy LeDouche - soundlessly capers around, grinning and singing a song while twirling a pink umbrella.

"It's 'Moulin Rouge!', the great movie musical. That's what he's doing there," said John Cervenka, who voices the sniveling, oversexed Guy.

The only thing off-limits is Asian jokes. Abeyta said it would be too easy - and it's more fun to ignore the fact that it's a foreign show.

On the screen, contestants now are staggering about in a new "elimination challenge," each wearing a helmet with a massive jigsaw piece atop it. The "MXC" spin: Each piece is a slab of Italian blue-vein marble.

"Each of those pieces weighs about 300 pounds," says Darga, as players on-screen stagger together and create an image of a tiger.

All the female voices on the show are recorded by one person, Mary Scheer.

"I'm 'Every Girl,"' Scheer said. "Originally someone had written 'Every Woman' but that sounds too much like bad '70s Helen Reddy stuff. But 'Every Girl,' I kind of like that credit."

What's it like being the only female concocting rude jokes in a roomful of guys?

"I thought it would be much worse, and it's turned out to be an enjoyable job," Scheer answered. "It's very fun being the only 'chick."'

Immediately, each of her colleagues begin coughing seizures underlaid with the phrase, "She's lying!"

Later, in an adjacent room lined with soundproof foam, the writers line up to record their dialogue. Before them is a giant TV screen with images of the show. On top of the TV is an unopened package of baba ganoush, a Middle Eastern eggplant spread.

Baba ganoush is mentioned in every episode, usually as a contestant's made-up last name, Darga said. "It's a bit of trivia."

Why baba ganoush?

Darga shrugged. "My mother was Lebanese."

On the Net:

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