Thursday, April 29

Sometimes You Forget: GUTS

Nickelodeon was a refuge for many adolescents such as myself in the early 1990s. The network produced outstanding programming during that era: Pete and Pete, Salute your Shorts, Ren and Stimpy, and many more. While some of its shows had athletic themes to it, the creation of GUTS in 1992 was the first Nick show centered around athletic competition. Double Dare had physical challenges but was more about trivia and making a mess (neither of which is a bad thing), Finders Keepers was not phyisically demanding enough, Nick Arcade was more about video games and mastering a green screen and Legends of the Hidden Temple was athletically challenging but also included a history lesson from a large caricature of an Aztec statue.

GUTS was based on the premise that you could take awkward young teens and make them perform athletic stunts that were awesome in theory yet rarely rewarded the viewer with the artful display of biomechanics. Still many impressionable young minds tuned in and dreamed of having a chance to compete in the Extreme Arena and take home a glowing piece of the Aggro Crag.

Mike and Mo

The host was Mike O'Malley. His Wikipedia page lets you know he is of Irish decent. If you needed further confirmation on that his kids' names are Fiona, Seamus, and Declan. It also states that this was O'Malley's first big break into television. After GUTS he had his spot as "The Rick", a hapless Boston sports enthusiast. Unfortunately I could not find the classic "They're not dolls, they're figurines" spot. Bear in mind this was the late 1990s, when Boston had no attained the level of annoying unbearable persona that enjoy now. Up until this point, they were hokey annoying fans that had teams that they claimed never won anything, even though their teams had enjoyed success in the past. Speaking of late 90s ESPN cartoons involving Boston, how great was the Cam Neely spot for when ESPN News first came out.

O'Malley did the job well as host, injecting enthusiasm and doing his best to create drama within the events. At some points his narration of the action in the arena rose to Gus Johnsonsian levels. Mike never broke character, even when a kid failed horribly, he never put the kid down or gave an indication to the audience that it was a pathetic display of non-athleticism. It's amazing considering his work after GUTS was almost all based on his low-key sarcastic humor. He had his longest run in the sitcom Yes,Dear which I have never seen. Lately I see him in commercials for Time-Warner Cable. His character in the commercials resemble what the Rick would be like if he grew up, got married, and moved out of his small apartment.

Next we have the indelible Moira Quirk. Affectionately(?) known as "Mo", she was co-host and "official" for the show. I put official in quotations because she really did not do any officiating for the show. The only thing that remotely made her resemble an official was the striped shirt she donned faithfully each episode. She did not rule on any of the events, just a conduit of information. While O'Malley used the standard hand-held microphone Mo was on the cutting edge of technology, utilizing the Madonna-style head microphone. I'm guessing that Mo was hired more for her voice than anything, not that she was hard on the eyes. If you look at her work, it is mostly her voice being used. She did some other projects for Nick but aside from her voice acting, GUTS was her time to shine on TV. Now many people are fans of Mo and I have nothing against her, but he place on the show was rather superfluous. When a game began Mike, who was perfectly capable of explaining a game would "toss if over to Mo for the rules!" at which time she would explain the game. After O'Malley finished doing commentary on the event it was "let's get the official results from Mo!". I never understood why they tried to make her an "official" instead of just a regular co-host. She was probably not the first but definitely not the last in a long line of female commentators inserted into game shows to gender balance the field. A Moira tribute can be seen here, and damned if I don't sense some sexual tension between Mo and Mike.

The Game

The show existed during the genesis of "extreme" sports in America. The country suddenly thought they had a notion that the old roll the ball out there sports were not enough. It had to be "to the extreme!" like Poochy used to say. Basketball is not good enough, let's attach a bungee! Swimming in a pool is not crazy enough, here's a paddle and a raft! Try running on this track...sideways in the air!!! Almost every event involved hanging from a bungee and jumping off a platform.

This line of thinking led to many of the neon fashion crazes of the 90s, Dan Cortese and surfer talk becoming popular. In the next step of this evolution MTV's Sandblast(Summer Sanders, mmmmm) took what GUTS did and MTV'd it and used older, college age kids. The show came to being a few years after American Gladiators and was crafted in that form, but of course without the brute force. The results were somewhat more desirable and now in present day we have Survivor, Road Rules/Real World Challenge, and Wipeout. The problem again with GUTS was that these were awkward teens who were usually all elbows and knees working on bungee apparatuses that only made them more gangly and austistic-spider like. Once in awhile there would be a kid who was just naturally athletically gifted, and when that happened it was over. The other competitors looked like ostriches with sprained ankles while the good kid breezed through the competition and made the games look silly.

The Competitors

An interesting factor guys and girls competed together. A friend of mine once referred to that as purpling, because of the mixing of blue(boys) and red(girls). Oddly enough the 3 colors for the contenders were blue(really teal, remember this was the 90s!), red and purple. Since girls mature physically faster than boys (it's science!), some of the time the girls did win. In fact, some of the more dominating performances came from the girls side and when it did, you could see the humiliation and the expectation of the taunting to come by the male counterparts.

The best part of the hokey nature of the show were the "Spill your guts" segments. Each competitor would give themselves a nickname. Now for me this would be the toughest part of the show. Do I go with an alliterative animal in relation to my name? A generic use of the words awesome, crush, radical, or power? O'Malley would dutifully refer to each player as their nickname throughout the show. At first, the profile would just list the player's age, hobbies, and nickname but after awhile it became a short video segment filled with early TV production value. Slow motion chops and great voice overs while the contestant performed a physical activity on camera. The international kids did it even better, because of the accents. All it was missing was a few star wipes.

GUTS goes Global

After awhile on the air, Nick must have decided the show was growing stale. They then unveiled a Global GUTS competition which pitted kids from 8* countries against each other in GUTS competition. Perhaps they were trying to catch the wave of the coming Atlanta Olympics. In a horrible home-field display, the United State finished 3rd in the medal count, behind Mexico and the winner United Kingdom. That's right, we let those limey bastards come across the pond and take the glowing piece of the rock away from us. They had 8 golds overall. The finish to each episode contestants were put on the podium like they always were but in Global had the winning national anthem played.

*one country was the Commonwealth of Independent States and included Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Kazakhstan(very nice..). Just like communism though, they failed and finished last. They did not even land a single gold medal.

The Aggro Crag

At the conclusion of each episode, the contestants had to tackle the Aggro Crag. The Crag was basically a fabricated mountain that contained a winding path to a flag of your color at the top. During your trek you had to hit 6 "actuators" before you could hit the final one at the top, all the while dealing with snow(falling glitter), nuclear flying crystals(yes, really, in the form of confetti), avalanches(paper mache rocks), and lighting(flashing studio lights). Some conquered the task easily while others got lost in the mayhem. Players could get eliminated for a wide variety of reasons and sometimes did. The good thing was that if you had a sizeable lead there was no way you could lose as long as you finished, which was not always the case in American Gladiators if the reverse treadmill or handbike ate you up.

After a few seasons the Crag became known as the Mega Crag and in Global GUTS it was the Super Aggro Crag. I can just see the meeting room for that one:

"So what should we name the Crag now?"
"We have to go beyond Mega Crag."
"A tough task to be sure, we really have to make the Aggro Crag stand out, what do you think Chad?"
"Umm, Super Aggro Crag?"
"By golly that's it, give yourself a raise!"
"Sweet, more coin for O-town hookers and blow!"

/high fives

The other unique feature for the winner is that you would not just get a gold medal, but a glowing piece of the rock as well. This rock always intrigued me and was my main motivation for the desire to compete on the show. What was it made of? It couldn't be that heavy because the winners could hoist it over their heads. What made it glow? What was the shelf life of the glow? If I ever meet someone who has a piece of the Crag I would bow down to them and buy them a shot.

Well Known Contestants

Some famous stars got their start in Extreme Arena, the most notable of which may be A.J. McLean of the Backstreet Boys. His nickname was A.J. "Mean" McLean. Quite crafty my young lad, however young AJ was no match for Jamie "The Jackal" Mendelsohn. That's right, A.J. lost to a girl. This might explain his alcohol and drug addiction later in life. Just kidding A.J., you were always our favorite Backstreet Boy.

Other notables include a stuntwoman named Anna Mercedes Morris, who I have never heard of but she was born in Charlotte and is America Ferrera's stunt double in Ugly Betty. She used the nickname "Roadrunner" and also won the show, beating out a guy who despite his ultimate humiliation had a sweet nickname: Paul "Running Man" Battson. What happened to Buzzsaw? He had to split.

Actor Mike Vogel of Poseidon, Cloverfield, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fame came in second in his run. His nickname was "Flea". I wonder if it was a tribute to the bassist.

Houston Dynamo(it's an MLS team[MLS is Major League Soccer]) defender Bobby Boswell competed as "Lightning" and also finished second...against two girls. Clearly the girls who went on this show were not messing around.

Now for the interesting one. Ashley Drane, an actress won the silver in her episode. She nicknamed herself "The Face", and I have no earthly idea why. She has had small roles in a bunch of different flim-flam, but the real eye-opener is that she is married to...David Eckstein, 2006 World Series MVP and current San Diego Padre. I guess you could say Eckstein got her "in the face"(/shows self out).


GUTS had a revival in 2008 with a family version hosted by Ben Lyons. It was a tournament format and they redid the Crag like American Gladiators where your lead in points gave you a timed head start.

A SNES GUTS video game was created.

Especially with the ability to look back on GUTS now, the show was hardly a paragon of athletic achievement, but it captured the attention of many young kids of the 90s who dreamed of glory in Extreme Arena. That was what Nickelodeon was successful at during this era; it took ideas and concepts that young people aspired to and presented them in a healthy and intriguing manner. Though I never was fortunate enough to race up the Aggro Crag, I would like to think I could answer the question posed at the start and close of each show. Do I have them and by them meaning guts? I believe I do, I believe I do.


the EPA said...

I just lost 20 minutes of work time fondly recalling my youth where I would have murdered just about anyone to get on that show. I always thought to myself. These people are sooo awful. I must break them.

Speaking of Ivan Drago lines that Russian kid on the trike; In mother Russia Recumbent bike crashes you.

I'll go back to work now.

Cleet said...

I also would have drawn human blood to get no GUTS, but honestly if I had to make Sophie's choice of Nick shows, I would go on Double Dare.

the EPA said...

Back in the day my family went to a live taping of Double Dare at the Five Seasons Center in my home town. I can only assume it was some sort of cross country tour. Either way by God my brother and I wanted to be in that show. One family had already been picked and they picked another family from the audience. As an adult I realize the family from the audience was pre-chosen but damn I was ready to brawl any kid out there for a chance to be on that show.

Didin't the host of DD kill himself or am I thinking of the guy from Family Fued.

Cleet said...

Yeah, you're thinking of Roy Combs of Family Feud. The best host of FF I dare say. Marc Summers hosted DD, he had a real bad case of OCD, but he is alive and kicking. He went on to host the Nick show What Would You Do, which contained the Pie Pod, the best pie slinging contraption ever made. He then hosted a show on the Food Network.

My wonderment at a lack of girlfriend has all but vanished after I finished that paragraph.