Dodging the Big Balls
Chico duo navigate zany obstacles on Wipeout game show
Jordan Saldano calls it the most random text message he’s ever received:
“Hey, do you want to be on Wipeout?”
A few weeks later, Saldano and Aaron Mathrole, ambulance partners for Butte County Emergency Medical Services, were in Burbank competing on Wipeout, the ridiculously fun- and painful-looking television game show on ABC that pits contestants against an obstacle course laden with giant gizmos—large cartoonish bouncy “Big Balls”; padded doors timed to pound participants; off-balance platforms—designed to knock them into the chocolate-shake-colored water below.
Mathrole, 42, had initially applied in March to do a couples episode of Wipeout with his wife, Sheila. Minutes after sending his online application, the show’s casting department called him to say they were instead filling slots for an episode featuring teams of co-workers. So, he texted Saldano.
“I thought he was just messing with me,” said the 25-year-old Saldano. “After I realized he was serious, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m down for an adventure.’”
Mathrole and Saldano would seem perfectly suited for Wipeout. As co-workers, the partners rely heavily on each other in a physically and mentally demanding work environment. Plus, they’re really affable and fun guys, often complementing their easy-going personalities with a sort of gallows humor that many in the emergency professions possess.
Before being considered for the show, though, they had to show up at the studio for an in-person interview. After surviving the high-energy meeting—part of which required them to memorize outrageous answers to questions and pretend they were the most amazing questions they’d ever been asked—they were told they’d be notified of their fate in anywhere between seven and 60 days. A month and a half later they were told they were chosen.
They were also told they were on their own for travel expenses. So, the enterprising pair decided to have some fun and do a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the trip (which ended up being two trips for two tapings). They chose Booster.com, where the user designs a shirt and gets profits from the sales of it for their cause. Mathrole put together a shirt featuring the silhouette of a man falling off a red cross, with the words “Wipeout Support Team” on the front, and “Go hard!! Get wet!!” on the back.
“A buzz started at Enloe,” Mathrole recalled. “Doctors and nurses in the emergency room, co-workers in the ambulance department, Chico Fire, Chico PD, friends, family.”
Overall, 125 shirts were sold.
“I never expected anyone to help us out,” Saldano said. “But when it comes to getting your butt kicked, everyone wants to see it.”
Per their contracts, they have to keep mum about their episode, which airs Sunday, Aug. 24, at 7 p.m. They stand to receive up to $50,000 if they win both their episode and the Tournament of Champions.
What they can disclose, however, is how utterly beat up and filthy they got. They were shot at with cannons full of slime, flung through the air like discarded toys and thoroughly coated in the stagnant brown goop that covers the grounds of the course.
“There’s no way to avoid getting blown up. It’s going to happen. And if you want airtime, you have to let it happen,” Saldano said.
“When you watch it at home, you think, ‘You can’t see that?’” Mathrole said about the moving obstacles. “But your adrenaline’s pumping so fast, and they’re throwing things at you and shooting you with goo—you just want to survive. There’s nothing like it.”
Mathrole and Saldano are throwing a viewing party at The Graduate on Sunday, where their episode will be shown at 6 p.m. (one hour before air time). They’re also kicking off another fundraising campaign. Those who visit www.booster.com/wipeoutfundraiser can purchase one of their Wipeout shirts (or just donate money), and the funds raised will go to both the Ray Head Fund (which provides financial assistance to victims of fires in the Chico area) and the Enloe Foundation.
“Jordan and I have always wanted to raise money,” Mathrole said. “The publicity from Wipeout gives us an opportunity to reach the masses, do something meaningful to us, and help our local community.”