Quite often, the rules of game shows can be quite tricky to get to grips with. Explaining The Chase to someone who’s never watched it can be a challenge, detailing just how ‘push backs’ and the ‘money ladder’ work.
Luckily, the rules of Rylan Clark-Neal’s The Wave on W are really simple. To win, you just have to try not to die.
In this new and can-you-actually-believe-this-was-commissioned show, contestants (victims?) are tasked with swimming out to pontoons in the Atlantic ocean, winning money via multiple choice questions and then swimming back. Easy, right?
Oh, if only it were that simple.
At the beginning of the first episode, contestants Natalie and Josh from Essex had all the exuberance of spring lambs. In their VT the fun-loving duo were excitedly explaining how they wanted to “bring home the bacon” and win enough money to go back to Thailand.
Rylan – perennially wearing sunglasses throughout the whole episode, possibly in an attempt to evade detection – explained the rules.
The pontoons, which look like emergency lifecraft from a cross-channel ferry, are situated at increasing increments out in the ocean off the Portuguese coast. The first one is 200m from the shore, the last one 325m away.
A multiple choice question awaits on each pontoon. Get it right and there’s a wad of actual cash sealed in waterproof wrapping up for grabs, which the contestants have to fervently stuff in their ‘money belts’ before jumping back in the sea as if they’re drug dealers trying to evade the police.
Get it wrong and the capsule contains a 1kg lead weight which they have to strap around their waist. “We do not want that,” adds Rylan, helpfully.
Yes, you really did read that correctly. The consequence of answering a question wrong will result in the contestants, who have no flotation aid other than a wetsuit, being forcibly weighed down as they have to swim solo in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Former Olympic open water swimmer Kerri-anne Payne, wearing a headset from the 80s, is commentating from a dinghy. Presumably she’s also the emergency lifeguard.
Competing pairs are split up; one to face certain death on the Portuguese coast, the other to sit with Rylan at a bar (well, a crudely painted wooden panel where they can watch their loved-one perish). They can also help with answering the multiple choice questions, but it’s their sole job to answer general knowledge to earn their partner much-needed time on the clock. Because apparently it’s not enough for these poor sods to have to make it back to shore without requiring CPR. They have to do it within a time limit, too.
After answering some questions correctly and some incorrectly, Natalie and Josh had won £2,500. But increasingly finding himself further and further away from the shore as he travelled to each pontoon – and being weighed down with some lead bullion – Josh made the very wise decision to call it day. Partly because he was freezing cold and knackered, but also because a rather dangerous ocean mist had descended that was leaving visibility at near-zero.
But there was one final decision in store for Josh. In order to aid his swim from the pontoon to the shore he could opt to buy stuff with that hard-won cash that would help him, from a pair of goggles to small flippers, big flippers and even a bodyboard.
Portugal is clearly suffering from skyrocketing inflation, as these life-saving items cost anywhere from £300 for goggles to £1,000 for a bodyboard. Josh rather sensibly opted for goggles, although you can’t help but feel as though he should’ve been provided with these at the very minimum from the get-go.
Anyway, as he prepared to swim back to shore Rylan asked if he was feeling confident. “I can’t see the beach,” said Josh. At least we think it was Josh. It was hard to see through the mist.
“Strong currents can push him off course,” said Rylan in his best serious voice as he detailled what Josh was about to face in the next few minutes. “Then just as he’s getting seriously exhausted, he hits the fierce power of the crashing Atlantic waves.
“Finally with any energy he has left he faces a punishing uphill beach.”
It sounds more like a seal’s desperate struggle on Planet Earth II than a lighthearted gameshow. Watching felt like perpetually teetering on the precipice, tightroping between light entertainment and SAS: Who Dares Wins.
I’m sure all of the forms on the health and safety sheets were filled out and the risk assessments were watertight.
But then you see Josh desperately trying to reach the shoreline, his head in view, then not, then back again as the waves crash around.
He’s still 109m away from dry land, Rylan is saying “he’ll be feeling very tired now”, the visibility is non-existent, the waves are thrashing and the next shot is of a life buoy being smashed around in the waves, with no-one attached. You have to wonder about the show’s insurance.
Rylan then chips in “I think we’ve even lost him on camera,” his veneers belying the worry painted on the rest of his face. Behind the sunglasses there was genuine concern. Natalie, too, looked terrified – the pair of them scanning the horizon.
“I don’t want to alarm you, but I think the mist is even getting thicker,” Rylan cheerfully adds.
And then, phew, here’s Josh – out of the sea and attempting to run up the beach to make it back before his time runs out.
Collapsing on the floor at the finish line, he’s gasping for air, looking like he’s going to throw up. Eventually Josh says it was “tough. Very tough. The waves are so unpredictable…I can’t speak.”
It’s nothing short of an ordeal and you can’t help but think surely – surely – there are ways to make a couple of grand that are less dangerous, not as painful and carry fewer risks than this. Selling a vital organ, perhaps?
Limping off into the distance after being peeled off the sand, at least Natalie and Josh are going home with £2,200. Which will just about cover the psychotherapy course he will need to cure his new crippling phobia of the sea.
The Wave airs all this week at 8pm on W.