Is there anything celebrities can’t do? Acting, singing, ballroom dancing, ice skating and now diving. “Splash,” ABC’s new reality show featuring yet more remarkable talents of famous people, puts ten celebrities in a diving competition coached by Olympic champion Greg Louganis. They are judged by 2012 Olympic gold medalist David Boudia, Australian Steve Foley, a three time Olympian and a director for USA Diving and the studio audience. The two divers with the lowest scores have to compete in a dive-off with the judges deciding who to save. You probably think that you don’t need to see 400 pound comedian Louie Anderson in a camouflage wetsuit swan dive from a 7 meter platform or basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar try to bend his 7-foot-2 body in half before horizontally slamming into the water but I’m here to say: You do!
“Splash” has all the qualities of my favorite kind of sports story where the determined underdog defies the odds to accomplish a remarkable feat of athletic skill. It’s like “Rudy” or that movie with Mark Wahlberg where he’s an ordinary guy who tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles and actually makes the team. Ok, it’s not exactly like that. It’s more like watching an episode of “Wipe Out” with super sincere people who are on the celebrity B-Team. But, there’s something about the act of trying to somersault into the water from 23 feet that I appreciate even when the landing is straight out of a slapstick comedy.
The show is all about showcasing the celebrity divers’ “heart” and determination and bravery and I think it is brave to appear in a sequined cut-out bathing suit as Keshia Knight Pulliam did in episode one. It also took courage for Katherine Webb, a former Miss Alabama, to unexpectedly go up a platform height. When I wasn’t distracted by how perfect her hair was, I was crossing my fingers that she would glide into the water without a ripple.
Extreme skier Rory Bushfield appears to have the contest locked-up, he did his first dive from the 10 meter platform with impressive twists and turns, but the judges aren’t just about the skill. They know this is a competition about the “journey” and no one is on a bigger journey than Louie Anderson.
The contestants spent six weeks in diving boot camp so there is plenty of footage of cringe worthy crashes into the water and a few meltdowns, most notably Kendra Wilkinson telling off Louganis, but the award for most sympathetic contestant has to go to Anderson. The pool is tricky when you weigh as much as Anderson does. Serenely bobbing around in the water after a dive attempt is one thing. Trying to heave 400 pounds out of the water is another. During camp, Anderson had to be pulled out by his fellow contestants, including defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who said taking hits in the NFL is easier.
So to see Anderson on the 5 meter platform was a big deal. When he called an audible and decided to dive from the 7 meter platform, despite having never done so in practice, his fellow divers held their breath. It was a great piece of theater on Louie’s part and worked like a charm. Judge Foley described his dive as starting out like Tarzan but ending like George in the Jungle. He gave him a good score anyway as did Boudia. Louie, all teary-eyed gratitude, said he was diving for the troops. Rudy would be proud.
“Splash” is on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.