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ListsDecember 15, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year of Terrible Television Stunts


Alex Casey wrestles with the anaconda that has been 2014’s stunt television disasters. //

It’s been a hell of a year for television moments. Lest we forget, it was only early this year that Travolta said “Adele Dazeem” and sent me into a laugh coma that I am yet to rise from. Since then, we have been privy to a plethora of equally entertaining and misguided TV events. I’m talking about the rising trend of ‘stunt television’ – the broadcast of a one-off dangerous death-defying act performed by a man who, more often than not, looks suspiciously like an alien in a human costume. Just saying.

Because we are ‘all about that stunt’ here at The Spinoff, we have tried to cover each of them. From my abysmal midday live blogging of Nik Wallenda’s Chicago tightrope walk to Duncan’s enragement at the terrible William Trubridge Deep Dive record attempt coverage, it’s only natural that I tuned in to Discovery’s Eaten Alive or Watch Paul Rosolie Not Really Get Eaten By a Snake At All programme this weekend, hoping for some redemption from the disappointment of Stuntsmas Past.

As I was lazily half-watching, a realisation coiled around me like an angry anaconda being prodded to eat a man in a Daft Punk suit: all 2014’s TV stunts have been giant failures because they have all been essentially the same.

Here’s what constituted the perfect bad TV stunt in 2014:

sssssspitting truths

Oodles of PR and Mega-Hype

Eaten Alive is the clear frontrunner in the category of uproar. And rightly so. Proposing to get fully eaten by a snake and then pulled out with a bungy cord like some Alien-style AJ Hackett, Paul Rosolie came under hot fire from animal rights groups in the lead-up to the show.

It was great PR, with everyone tuning in to see not only if he would get eaten, but how he would frame it in a way that didn’t feel like Thomas Edison electrocuting an Elephant for a bit of a laugh. He tried to swing it like some big conservation effort, highlighting the deforestation of the Amazon due to mining, logging, and giant camera crews filming some idiot getting eaten by a snake.

Promo for the Deep Dive went to absolute Steinlager town. Plastered all over buses, billboards and small bewildered children was this powerful Jaws-like image for the event. For Wallenda, after the Twitter-flurry of last year’s Jesus-based canyon cross, he didn’t need to do much more PR than plan a suitable hashtag (#skyscraperlive).

A Much More Entertaining Subplot

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Wallenda’s skyscraper attempt was being able to peek into the apartments directly below the tightrope. It was like a real life Rear Window, there was one party apartment that grew from a relaxed couple to a marauding little group that were up to all sorts. Cracking open beers, having a laugh, smoking a cig.

take my breath away
take my breath away

One of the most tense moments, in my humble o, was not when Nick was on the tightrope at all – but when an apartment dweller lit a cigarette next to a gas canister. Now, if that had blown up – I assume it would have set the tightrope alight, which would have then spread to both buildings and eventually the city of Chicago would have burnt to the ground. That would have been a lot, lot better.

As for the others, the more entertaining subplot in Eaten Alive was the plight of the excellent and hilarious animal the Cabybara, which was unfortunately eaten in a flash by a school of Piranha whilst having a little swim. It was real sick, but far more interesting than his lazy slowdance with a snake.

As for the more entertaining subplot in the Deep Dive… probably just the ebb and flow of the waves eh.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 3.22.51 pm
tooth fashion

Stunt Man Signature Apparel

There was no denying that having a signature style was key on the bad stunt TV catwalk. I was particularly taken with ‘snake man’ Paul Rosolie’s (shark? snake?) tooth necklace. Great to see his consistent commitment to harming animals in the name of both entertainment AND fashion.

As the proceedings went on, I couldn’t help but notice that the necklace was growing very tight. To the point where I believe the anaconda wasn’t even squeezing him that hard, it was just the damn choker necklace that made his heart nearly explode or whatever.

Nik Wallenda led the tracksuit game with his iconic Barkers-style “Wallenda” trackpants, scrawling his last name down his leg. The trackies don’t appear to be for sale, but he’s got your tshirt and key ring needs absolutely covered. As for William Trubridge – his defining look was definitely this promotional Steinlager Pure tshirt, which I’m sure he has probably popped on Trademe already.

Throw in an Exciting or Unecessary Twist

you can't see me
you can’t see me

Nik Wallenda promised to traverse between the Marina Towers in Chicago on a tightrope, without a harness. Fine, you may think. No need to do anything else, you may think. Wrong! Wallenda had to whack on a blindfold for whatever reason, using the grace of god and his mighty trackpant tracking instincts to get him across. Next time he will probably do it WITHOUT FEET!

Paul Rosolie also decided to take things up a notch in choosing to rip off the lower arm panels of his “snake proof suit” in Eaten Alive. Approaching the enormous snake like an astronaut on the moon, he tore them off with the ill-informed confidence of a Capybara going for a quick dip. It hilariously backfired as the snake slowly began to break his arm.

Absolute Failure to Deliver What the People Want

Finally, the most consistent trend of them all. Each stunt failed in it’s own spectacular way. The giant drawcard of Nik Wallenda’s Skyscraper Live was the potential for him to fall, or at least do a little comedy wobble. Or drop a coin. Just, something cool. Instead, he whizzed across the wires like the consummate professional that he is, leading to a successful outcome for him and a true waste of time for everyone else. I hate to say it, but if he had worn a harness – nobody would have bothered tuning in.

who ordered the snakebite?

Paul Rosolie obviously failed the objective in Eaten Alive, a stunt which promised internal snake-belly shots and instead delivered a snake licking the top of his head and Paul screaming “argh! me arm!”. After a one hour preamble trying to find the perfect snake, the actual event itself is one of the stupidest things I have seen on TV.

Lying there, with the snake instantly coiling around him in an attempt to crush him to death, Rosolie and his team members genuinely acted like they didn’t know that was going to happen. The snake’s jaws expanded like crazy, but don’t seem to get very far over his giant football helmet. Just put a Go Pro on a mouse next time guys. Or you know, just don’t bother.

where's the fail whale?
where’s the fail whale?

The Deep Dive failed to deliver not only a triumphant result, but even adequate coverage of the event itself. As Duncan wrote in his deeply disappointed recap, the record-breaking attempt was a disaster: “No commentary though, so no context. No sense of the drama, of whether he was looking great or failing abysmally.”What we had, essentially, was a dude going for a swim. He didn’t quite make it to the top, falling unconscious several metres below the surface. Successful or not, the whole thing could have been jazzed up with some infographics and Rawdon Christie having a better understanding of the human anatomy (we don’t have gills Rawdon).

So there we are, a year in bad stunts.

The good news is that every guilty party I have mentioned here has pledged to be back in the future. After what we’ve seen, I think they should join forces in 2015. Wallenda tightropes along an anaconda whilst it swallows Paul Rosolie, high above the Amazon river – where Trubridge deep dives into a piranha den. Now that would be good TV.

Keep going!