What are these people running from? They're not! They're running to...the world's most extreme competition in town!
The Original Takeshi's Castle
Takeshi played himself as the Count, defender of a castle under siege by General Lee (Hayato Tani). The General would recruit over 100 contestants to serve as his army for each episode. The contestants would attempt to 'storm the castle' by playing a series of physical games, most involving strenuous physical work and a high risk of injury. The games would whittle down the contestants until only five or six were left for the final battle with Takeshi himself.
The series became known for the bizarre costumes worn by contestants and assistants, as well as slapstick-funny footage of the contestants as they failed in each game. The show finally ended in 1991 after over 130 hours of programming.
When TBS began worldwide syndication of Takeshi's Castle, they sold the rights to two English language markets. The producers who bought the British rights created a straightforward presentation of the programme, hosted by Craig Charles and presented on the speciality digital channel ChallengeTV. It has since became a cult favourite in Britain.
The American producers, however...
Peter Kaikko and Paul Abeyta decided to try something completely different. Their production company selected and edited some of the most painful-looking and bizarrely-costumed scenes into a 22-minute format, then hired four actors from the Los Angeles improvisation troupe 'The Groundlings' to improvise new dialogue. The result is a satire on reality TV/extreme sports programming called MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge! (shortened to MXC in 2004). The show premiered in 2002 on the US cable channel The New TNN (later renamed Spike TV).
Although the format itself is controversial (fans of Japanese culture and J-Pop will cringe at the deliberately-bad overdubbing), the show's bawdy humour and bone-crunching visuals created one of the network's bona fide hits, drawing about 600,000 viewers on a regular basis.
A Change of Character
In switching to the parodic format, the MXC producers naturally jettisoned the original storyline. This has led to a change in how the characters are presented.
|The Takeshi's Castle Character ...||Is Known on MXC as ...||Comments|
|Count Takeshi ('Beat' Takeshi)||Vic Romano (voiced by Victor Wilson)||While both function as main hosts of the series, Vic is more of a host-broadcaster.|
|Sonnemama Higashi||Kenny Blankenship (voiced by Christopher Darga)||A minor character in the original, Kenny is the less-mature co-host and commentator, full of bawdy references and off-colour jokes. He narrates selected footage in each episode in the segment 'Kenny Blankenship's Painful Eliminations of the Day'.|
|General Lee (Hayato Tani)||Captain Tenneal (voiced by John Cervenka)||The captain's name is a play on the 70's pop duo Captain and Tennille. The Count's rival in the UK version, he functions as 'field host' and presenter in the American version. Favourite phrase: 'Get it on!' when the game starts.|
Other changes include:
- Apparently not featured in the British version is a safari-suit clad interviewer. In MXC, he's known as Guy LaDouche and is voiced by John Cervenka.
- Cervenka, Darga and Wilson also overdub the male contestants as they are interviewed, shout to the audience or talk among themselves.
- The voices for all the females (players shouting or being interviewed, any female presenters) are performed by Mary Scheer.
- Instead of one army, MXC's format divides the players into fictional 'teams', usually based on occupation: Circus performers, dairy workers, theologians, former child stars, etc.
- When a player is commented on, his/her name and description are low-brow puns based on their occupation: for example, 'Vichy Chirac, he's a forfeit instructor at the French Military College of Capitulation'.
The Name of the Game
The mainstays of each series are, of course, the games. A select few are listed here, with both British and American names to demonstrate MXC's decidedly different focus. (Hint: Think euphemisms, irony, puns and college-age humour.)
|The Takeshi's Castle Game ...||Is Known on MXC as ...||Comments|
|Knock Knock||Wall Bangers||Players charge through a series of doors. There are four levels with four sets of doors each; one is made of paper while the rest are boarded up. (A player has, on occasion, succeeded in charging through a boarded-up door, but they're usually counted out of the game.)|
|Skipping Stones||Sinkers and Floaters||Players must cross a pond in which there are a variety of stones, only some of which are stable (the rest just float on the surface and won't support the player's weight).|
|Velcro Fly||Wallbugger, Window Pain||Players wearing a Velcro-covered suit must swing across a stretch of water to stick themselves onto a Velcro-covered wall. (The player has to hit with enough of an impact without just bouncing off.)|
|High Rollers||Log Drop||Players must cross a stretch of water by stepping on a series of seven unstable cylinders. This game is a lot harder for shorter people due to the distance between cylinders, and is a challenge because the cylinders are of varying heights.|
|Avalanche||Boulder Dash||Players climb up a narrow passageway while avoiding giant boulders being rolled onto them. The British version also has a 'Boulder Dash', referring to ...|
|Boulder Dash||The Impassable Stones of Mount McKidney||Up to three players at a time move up a hill while being rained on by giant boulders.|
|Gauntlet||Dash to Death||An elevated obstacle course featuring pendulum wrecking balls, whirling skewers, trampolines, swings, a jail cell with game assailants, etc.|
|Wipeout, Fish Food||Rotating Surfboard of Death||Players must avoid various fixed obstacles while riding a rotating surfboard (attached to a wobbly swing arm) over a stretch of water.|
|Poles Apart||Pole Riders||The player must use a pole to vault onto a small platform in the middle of a lake.|
|Rice Bowl Downhill||Irritable Bowl Syndrome||Players must ride a giant bowl down a waterslide without falling out.|
|Mushroom Trip||Eat Shittake||Players must cross a lake by riding a spinning mushroom, hanging onto its 'stalk'.|
|Dragon Lake||Dope on a Rope||Players must make a 90-degree swing across a lake and land on a small platform.|
|Big Bird||Bird Droppings||Players wearing a chicken suit must 'fly' (on wires) over the playing field, pick up a toy rabbit with their feet and drop it into a bird's nest at the other end. Failure results in getting sprayed with carbon dioxide gas.|
|Ride the Wave||Sperm Wheelers||Players manoeuvre through an obstacle course riding a small bicycle with the shell of a whale. This is tricky because the whale body obscures the player's view of his front wheel and the road underneath him.|
The 2004 MXC Almost Live! Special
In 2004, the producers premiered its season with a one-hour special featuring new footage shot in America. Taping at The Universal Experience theme park in Orlando, Florida, they recreated the sets used for four of the series' more popular games and recruited about 150 college students from the Florida area to play. Many students showed up wearing costumes inspired by the series.
The students were divided into two teams captained by professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and champion snowboarder Tara Dakides. Unlike the Takeshi's Castle participants, the students were required to wear helmets and mouth guards due to US liability laws, but otherwise the format remained the same: the producers selected footage from two days' worth of shooting, and the actors overdubbed interview dialogue. (One classic overdubbed line: 'It doesn't matter what I say, you're going to overdub me anyway!')
Should the Special prove to be a success, fans of the original Takeshi's Castle may take heart. Future Specials may result in other Castle games being re-created in the States, in which case the odds are extremely good for a continuation of the Craig Charles-hosted series, perhaps even with a made-in-Britain format.