'TKO' is a total knock-off of other competition shows

TKO: Total Knock-Out. Kevin Hart

What do you get when you combine Wipeout, Splatalot! and American Gladiators? TKO: Total Knock Out

When it comes to reality-competition shows, there are a few categories that many of the formats fall under. There are the singing shows such as American Idol and The Voice, the dancing shows including So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance, and a category that has soared in popularity over the last decade, the obstacle course shows.

Currently, the top spot in the obstacle course category definitely belongs to NBC's American Ninja Warrior. With the popularity of American Ninja Warrior sweeping the nation, it was only a matter of time before another network created their own obstacle course show to compete with the likes of the "Warped Wall" and the "Salmon Ladder." Well, this summer, CBS debuted their new show about falls and ever more falls, TKO: Total Knock Out.

Here's how the show works. Five everyday Americans attempt to complete four obstacles in the shortest length of time. If they fall off an obstacle once, it is considered a "Knock-Out" they are allowed to go back to the start of the obstacle and try it again.

However, falling off the same obstacle twice is considered a "Total Knock Out" meaning the contestant receives a one-minute penalty that is added onto their final total time and they have to move onto the next obstacle. After all five players have taken on the course, the person with the fastest time wins $50,000.

At the end of the season, the five winners with the fastest course times will square off against each other in the "TKO Battle Royale" for the chance to win $100,000.

Oh, there's one more aspect of the show that should be noted. When one of the contestants is running the course, the other four are positioned at individual battle stations. Each is designated to an obstacle and features a weapon contestants can use to try and "Knock Out" or even "Total Knock Out" their opponent running the course.

TKO: Total Knock Out
Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS

Despite having an Executive Producer like Mark Burnett, best known for developing the phenomenon known as Survivor, and despite having a global superstar in Kevin Hart hosting the show, TKO: Total Knock Out is a disappoint to the reality-competition scene.

The inaugural season is currently more than halfway through it's run, with new episodes airing Friday nights on CBS, but one thing that any obstacle course obsessed person will realize is that TKO is basically a combination of three former television formats.

In today's age of television, originality is hard to come by, especially in the reality-competition genre. On every competition show, you are almost guaranteed to find at least one element that is very similar to an element from another competition series. In the case of TKO: Total Knock Out, the three former reality-competition shows that bare resemblance are Wipeout, Splatalot! and American Gladiators.


When CBS first started promoting and airing commercials for TKO a few months ago, as soon as snippets of the course were being shown, the first thought that came to mind was, "this is just an indoor version of Wipeout!" After watching the first episode and seeing how the show works, it was safe to say that TKO is indeed just an indoor version of Wipeout.

Wipeout is one of the most successful and popular reality-competition shows in television history and was a summer line-up staple for seven seasons on ABC. From 2008 to 2014, millions of viewers watched everyday Americans fall, slip and slide their way across obstacles like the "Sucker Punch," the "Sweeper," and the ever-popular "Big Balls." While it may not be nice to admit it, but it was always fun watching athletic, as well as non-athletic, individuals getting punched into the mud, getting knocked off a tall platform and completely embarrassing themselves on giant red balls.

There were shows prior to Wipeout that featured obstacle courses, but this was the show that started the current trend of watching people get wet, get muddy and get hurt on simple looking but very challenging obstacles for pure enjoyment. TKO is basically CBS's attempt to resurrect a Wipeout-styled show four years after ABC deflated the "Big Balls."

Think about it, is there really a difference between the term "wipeout" and "knock out?" "Wipeout" more reflects the action of a contestant falling due to their own demise while "knock out" relies on a contestant getting hit by something. However, in the end, both involve contestants bending their backs and hurting their egos in an attempt to win a cash prize. Speaking of the cash prize, Wipeout offered the same cash amount to the ultimate winner as TKO does, $50,000. Now, $50,000 is a standard figure offered on many self-contained competition show episodes, but it's worth noting that it's an additional similarity between the two shows.

The TKO battlefield is pretty much a variation of the final round of Wipeout known as the "Wipeout Zone." In fact, each obstacle on TKO is referred to as a zone, so there's another similarity. Taking place under the night sky, The "Wipeout Zone" consisted of three or sometimes four obstacles designed to test even the toughest of competitors. Each season typically featured the same course over the length of the season just like TKO is employing the same four obstacles for each episode. Despite having the same obstacles, it was really intriguing watching each and every "Wipeout Zone" contender attempt the course, but watching the same course episode after episode on TKO has been pretty morning and monotonous. This could be due to the grander scale of the "Wipeout Zone" compared to the studio that the TKO obstacles are situated in, as well as the "Wipeout Zone" taking place over a giant swimming pool filled with cold water.

TKO: Total Knock Out will never come close to the excitement and enjoyment Wipeout brought to the summer television season for seven years. However, TKO will certainly be viewed as the copycat of Wipeout.


Speaking of copycat, back in 2011, our neighbors to the north decided that it was time for kids to have a shot at slipping and sliding on a giant obstacle course because apparently, it's just as fun watching 12-year-olds fall face first into a pool of water as it is watching 40-year-olds do the same. That's why Canadian television introduced its viewers to Splatalot! Actually, Splatalot! not only aired in Canada but also the United Kingdom and Australia, and some of the contestants throughout the two season run were from those two countries.

Despite there being a clear resemblance to Wipeout, one thing Splatalot! had in the uniqueness was the overall theme of the show. The courses were designed with a medieval theme and each contestant was hoping to claim the title of King or Queen of Splatalot! On each episode, twelve new teenager contestants attempted to successfully navigate three stages of obstacles.

First, their assignment was to "Cross the Moat" by making their way across several easy looking obstacles, just like Wipeout's first round employed. The second stage, called "Escape the Stockade" during season one and "Ditch the Dungeon" in season two, involved the remaining six contestants trying to complete around three styled Wipeout obstacle attempting to grab one of the four flags to advance to the final round. The final four then go for the glory in the "Capture the Crown" round where it's a free for all race across several obstacles to the top of the courtyard where the crown awaits.

However, unlike Wipeout where the contestants are mainly just concerned with their opponents and their overall time, on Splatalot, all the contestants must artfully dodge the Defenders on each of the three courses. Who are the Defenders? Well, they are six costumed "characters" with unique names and personalities whose goal is to make it more difficult for the contestants and their quest for the crown. The first two courses feature three Defenders while the final round features all six defenders. Each defender is armed with a weapon, from water hoses to paint squirters to foam balls, and use them to slow down the contestants and make them go splat.

Defenders trying to hit contestants running the course using various weapons ... doesn't that sound familiar!? Yes, this is the main comparison to TKO: Total Knock Out. Although the Defenders are not contestants and on TKO the battle stations are being manned by $50,000 hopefuls, both formats have individuals aiming at contestants with projectiles in an attempt to knock them down and have them fall. In fact, TKO's entire premise and it's separation from other competitions like American Ninja Warrior is that contestants have the chance to knock their opponents off the course using specialty weapons.

While the concept of purposely trying to knock people off obstacles is technically on the newer side for American reality competition shows, it has been used before elsewhere, and when you make the comparison between TKO: Total Knock Out and Splatalot!, the similarity is very noticeable.

American Gladiators

Sure American Ninja Warrior is all the craze now, but back in the 90s, one of the most popular shows on television involved everyday Americans competing against some of the most elite athletes this country had to offer. It was an exciting, captivating, competitive series that both kids and adults can watch for some fast-paced, action-packed entertainment. The show was American Gladiators, the ultimate David vs. Goliath styled competition. The original 7-season syndicated run lasted from 1989 to 1996 and the show was revived for two seasons in 2008 on NBC. In addition, it was recently announced that actor Seth Rogen is attempting to create a new revival of American Gladiators.

On each episode, two male contenders and two female contenders compete in various physical events trying to earn as many points as possible. Some events required attributes like speed and agility such as "Powerball", "Pyramid" and "Gauntlet," others relied on grip strength like "Hang Tough" and "The Wall," and others tested the contenders will power such as "Joust." The goal for the contenders is to gain as many points as they could in order to secure a bigger head start going into the "Eliminator." The "Eliminator" is a side-by-side race across a number of obstacles from a hand bike to an inclined treadmill. The first contender to cross the finish line wins and moves onto the next round, continuing their quest to become American Gladiators grand champion.

Trying to stop the contenders from earning points throughout the episode's events are the actual American Gladiators, accomplished athletes with chiseled bodies, muscles galore and a competitive fire burning within them. During each event, the spandex-wearing superhumans with names like "Nitro," "Zap," "Laser" and "Ice" from the original run and "Wolf," "Venom," "Titan" and "Hellga" from the revived version, would square off in head-to-head combat with one ultimate goal, to win. Whether it was by tackling them to the ground, using a pugil stick or pulling them over a swinging ring, the Gladiators made sure to let the contenders know who was boss in "Gladiator Arena."

A fan-favorite event since season one, episode one in 1989 has been "Assault." In this event, a contender has to maneuver their way to different stations, each of which has a weapon. The goal is for the contender to use those weapons, which included a cross-bow, a rocket launcher and a cannon, to hit a target placed above the Gladiator's head. However, the Gladiator has a weapon of their own in the form of a gun that shoots out tennis balls at 100 miles per hour. If the contender is hit by a tennis ball, the game is over and the Gladiator is victorious. If the target is hit by the contender, the Gladiator goes up in smoke, or during the revival, gets catapulted into the water. You can see how it works by watching the clip above.

Firing weapons at different stations ... balls flying at contestants running a course ... see where this is heading? Yes, TKO: Total Knock Out is basically a drawn-out version of "Assault" from American Gladiators. When each contestant is running the course, four other contestants are, in a sense, the Gladiators, trying to hit the runner and ruin their chance of winning. In fact, one of the TKO weapons is like the "Assault" gun in that the contestants aim and shoot balls. The balls are a bit bigger and each one needs to be loaded separately, but a contestant bullseye is still the goal.

To the normal viewer, TKO: Total Knock Out is a brand new concept in reality competition shows as, instead of just competing to see who has a faster time, contestants are trying to knock their opponents off of an obstacle course using weapons at battle stations. However, TKO is really a combination of three past competition formats. As expressed by host Kevin Hart, the show is supposed to be a mixture of dodgeball and obstacle course, but television savvy watchers can see for themselves that it's really a mixture of elements from WipeoutSplatalot! and American Gladiators. 

Brad Fact: TKO was also the name of an unsold game show pilot from Mark Goodson Productions back in 1989. The show was hosted by Press Your Luck Whammy wrangler Peter Tomarken and the TKO pilot aired as part of Buzzr's "Lost and Fun" week in 2015.


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Bradley Clarke

Writing Intern