Dude! Are you serious?!?

There’s a summer reality show on ABC on Tuesday evenings called, I Survived a Japanese Game Show. I was looking forward to watching this, but as usual I forgot about it. Fortunately I was able to watch the full episodes online. It’s a show where contestants go to Japan and participate in a Japanese-like game show, competing in teams to do ridiculous stunts for the chance to win $250,000. The stunts are funny, particularly for Americans as they are fairly unique, like crashing into a wall in a velcro suit to simulate a bug being squashed on a windshield, riding a tricycle on a conveyor belt whose speed is controlled by team mates pedalling bicycles, and becoming a human crane game trying to pick up large stuffed animals. What makes this a reality show is that one person from the losing side is sent home. Team mates conspire aginst each other to remain in Japan and continue to compete for the cash. Drama, drama, drama.

The Japanese game show is called “Maji de” which translates as “Are you serious?!?” In the show, they translate it as “you must be crazy” but mine is the correct one. This is not surprising as a lot of the subtitles are also mistranslated, probably to avoid insulting too many of the American viewers. Of course, it is not a real show. It was made up by Japanese specifically for this reality show, revealing all the crazy ideas they have had over the years. While this may seem fun for Americans, it is rather passe in the eyes of most Japanese. Velcro suits? They were doing that before I came to DC back in 1996. They have another show called Wipeout, which is a knock off of Takeshi’s Castle, where contestants brave an obstacle course of water hazards, punching boxing gloves and large rubber balls.

What is fascinating is the difference in approach by each “culture”. In Japan, most of these shows allow a large number of contestants. Takeshi’s Castle starts out at least one hundred contestants, but when a contestant fails at a stunt, he or she is immediately disqualified and sent packing. In the US version, they can fall in the mud and splash into the water, but they can still continue in the competion in an attempt to qualify either by not being voted out (Survived) or recording a good time (Wipeout). In other words, the Japanese contestant competes against the obstacle–man against a fixed goal, like climbing Mt. Fuji. Conversely, the US contestants plays against one another–man proving he is better than his fellow man. This means, of course, that in the US version, there is always a winner. In the Japanese version, there are times when there is no winner, suggesting once again that in the US, it is the goal, the destination that is important, whereas in Japan, it is the journey. Sorta.

The last leg of Wipeout is held at night with spotlights and flames illuminating the course. This is similar to my favorite obstacle course show, Sasuke, which is aired twice a year as a special in Japan. Sasuke is the name of a famous ninja and so is aired in the US on G4 under the name of Ninja Warrior. The good thing about this is that instead of Americanizing it by changing the rules and contestants, they air it as is, mostly in Japanese with subtitles. However, it is heavily editted to focus on the best or funniest contestants, and divided into segments to show in 30 minute broadcasts. The original is a single three to four hour special. In Ninja Warrior, contestants–beginning with a field of 100–try to complete four incredibly difficult obstacle courses. The contestants include Japanese comedians, firemen, a gas station attendant, as well as former and current Olympic athletes–including US gymnast Paul Hamm twice. In the ten years of this show, only two have completed the course, one of them twice, Nagano Makoto, a fisherman from Miyazaki prefecture, who stands all of 5’4″. The reason for this is because every competition is more difficult than the one held half a year earlier. Another major factor is that no one can test run the course first. It is do or die. If your foot or hand even touches the murky muddy water or if you step out of bounds for even a second, you are eliminated. This seems to be in step with the legend of Sasuke, for a real ninja would have only one chance at any given obstacle himself. Can you imagine crossing a span of 15 feet by clinging to a curtain? Or crossing on a ledge using only your fingertips?!? And the ledge is broken into three sections of different heights so you have to swing yourself over to reach the next ledge… again, on your fingertips. Everytime they introduce a new obstacle, I just sit back and mutter, Dude, are you serious?!? The video below is an example of a level three in the 13th competition. The twentieth is the most recent and all shows are repeated over and over on G4.

They even have one for women now, called Kunoichi, where there is more focus on speed and balance rather than forearm and shoulder strength.

Now I don’t know whch is a better approach, the US pitting contestant against contestant, or the Japanese way of contestant against the course/obstacle/time. Both are interesting and fun to watch, but I must say I prefer the Japanese way. Even if there are often no winners, you know that the contestants gave it their all. They can’t point fingers at each other for their failures, and it even allows for comraderie as they root for each other to do well since they are not in competition with each other.

Query: Which would you prefer? Contestant vs. contestant? Or all contestants fighting individually against a common foe (or themselves)?