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Making the splats safe in Splatalot

Competition shows made for kids but inspired by adult-targeted reality TV series like The Amazing Race and American Idol have been growing in number over the past five years. But Toronto, Canada's marblemedia may just have raised the bar with its new laugh- and thrill-laden series Splatalot.
October 22, 2010

Competition shows made for kids but inspired by adult-targeted reality TV series like The Amazing Race and American Idol have been growing in number over the past five years. But Toronto, Canada’s marblemedia may just have raised the bar with its new laugh- and thrill-laden series Splatalot.

Taking a page from the extreme obstacle courses depicted in Japanese cross-over hits like WipeOut, the prodco’s new medieval-themed game show appears to place kids in palpable peril. Just as adults on the aforementioned show plummet from the heights of the big red ball into a trough of water in a way that makes viewers squint and say, ‘that’s gotta hurt,’ so do Splatalot’s contestants (ages 13 to 15) traverse a 100-foot-long, 10-foot-deep moat in each episode – and that’s just round one. And we had to wonder how marblemedia made something so prone to peril safe enough for kid contestants, viewers and broadcasters, while maintaining the extreme stunts and thrilling dramatic tension invoked by their perceived danger.

To begin with, marblemedia appointed a challenge director to develop the obstacles for the co-production with Canada’s YTV, the BBC and ABC Australia. All contestants are outfitted with personal flotation devices, helmets and goggles, which are integrated into the show’s costumes. And for the 26 shooting days planned for this fall, a safety officer, paramedic and lifeguard will be stationed on-set.

‘But kids will be kids,’ notes co-creator and marblemedia

partner Matt Hornburg. ‘So the question is how we mitigate as much risk as possible.’

To that end, Hornburg says the prodco succumbed to paying a high insurance premium to underwrite the production, which is standard for programs of this nature. And in addition to the mandatory signing of waivers, Hornburg says the kids, who come from all walks of life and are a variety of different shapes and sizes, are required to do a swim test to make sure they are comfortable in the water.

Before the run-throughs started, though, marblemedia also spent a year in preparation, building and testing the world of Splatalot. The giant, permanent three-storey castle with a large moat and separate pond, located on an outdoor set north of Toronto, was created and built by a team comprised of engineers who have designed theme parks. Hornburg explains that most of the ‘splats’ in the show’s obstacle course come from the inevitable, less-than-glamorous trips and tumbles from large moving obstacles into the water hazards. But there are also catapults and slingshots loaded with water and paint balloons that a recurring cast of castle defenders hurl at the kids as they try to make headway.

Hornburg says a big part of overcoming challenges surrounding design and potential hazards included prototyping all of the obstacles and weaponry to iron out the mechanics and test their safety. In fact, Hornburg says the prodco spent approximately US$100,000 making prototypes for things eventually cut from the show, such as two giant 500-pound swinging hammers that, while safe, didn’t quite fit into the game plan in the end.

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