Star-Bulletin Features

TV host Matt Gallant's a long way from "Animal Planet," as he dives into the goofiness of "Game On," a new video game show that just finished shooting four episodes on Oahu, even though the program isn't carried here.

They’ve got game

'Game on,' a new show
with lots of laughs, does
some filming in Hawaii

By Keiko Kiele Akana-Gooch

What do you get when you cross video games with two hosts from "Animal Planet" and MTV, and production crews from "Matrix II," Entertainment TV and "Temptation Island"?

You get "Game On," a new show full of trash talk, testosterone, goofy hosts willing to date a fish or don coconut bras, and players lured off the street to play games that yield no prizes and possible embarrassment, all for the love of video games.

"Game On" hosts Matt Gallant of Animal Planet and Randy Kagan of MTV spent the past several weeks with their crew members lugging around video games and equipment to various Oahu hot spots including Waimea Beach, Dave and Buster's, Hawaiian Adventures Water Park, Sea Life Park and Hawaiian Brian's.

"Game On" hit mainland TV sets April 30 as a comical variety show featuring contestants competing in video games on behalf of the show's hosts.

Contestants are literally pulled off the street to play games on X-Box, PlayStation2, Sega Dreamcast and other game stations and arcades.

"Game On" host Matt Gallant was forced to don a parka and slide down several Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park rides after his team lost to co-host Randy Kagan's team.

The host whose team loses two of the three challenges faces humorous punishment at the end of the episode.

At Dave and Buster's the crew shot the "Battle of the Hula Girls," in which two dancers competed in video game warfare. Gallant was forced to dance hula in a coconut bra in a hula show the next day as his team's consequence.

At Hawaiian Waters on Friday, the crew filmed people battling in video games near the entrance to various rides. Once again, Gallant's team lost, forcing him to wear an Eskimo suit down the Shaka ride.

Gallant showed a way with animals as the hosts bonded with Sea Life Park dolphins who used their noses to touch the PlayStation controller, simulating competition.

This brought back the crew's fond memories of a "Fish Date" consequence in which a 30-pound yellowfin tuna they named Mari posed as Gallant's girlfriend for the day. The pair spent the afternoon sunning and later flipping around on the dance floor at a local country bar. The crew had a hard time finding a cab driver willing to pick up the odd, smelly couple. They spent the rest of the evening behind closed doors.

A cameraman gets in game-show host Matt Gallant's face as he meets a loser's fate.

"Nothing like a little fin," Gallant said. Lucky for him, he has no sense of smell.

Approximately 80 hours of footage shot here will be edited to create four two-hour "Game On: Hawaii" episodes which will air in the next eight to 10 weeks on the mainland, said producer Don Handfield, who worked on Entertainment TV.

The network currently broadcasts in several areas across the mainland, including Arizona, Philadelphia and other areas on the East Coast. (Oceanic Cable does not carry G4 locally.)

As one of 13 original programs on G4 -- the first and only network in America devoted to video games and their players -- "Game On" and its network, which launched April 24, are breaking new ground in a $10 billion-a-year industry, Handfield said.

RUNNING AROUND with them on their makeshift set at Hawaiian Waters, not a serious moment was to be had. Whether on or off camera, the entire crew shot smack talk and cut-downs back and forth.

"Joke, joke, joke; everything's a joke," said associate producer Brian Mayer after being teased by one of the hosts. Mayer's credits include "Temptation Island" and MTV's "The Real World."

The show has been compared to MTV's "Jackass," but Handfield argues, "It's more like 'Smartass'" because the hosts are genuinely funny and have great chemistry.

And for an idea of the crew's relationship, Gallant likens himself to Keith in the crew's version of the dysfunctional "Partridge Family."

Local contestants play video games for little glory, but lots of laughs.

As Gallant and Kagan rally their players, five crew members shuffle around mixing audio, holding lighting equipment and performing every other production detail.

"We're making broadcast-quality TV with 5 percent of the staff," Handfield said, "and you'll never know the difference."

Before sprinting to the top of the Cliffhanger at the water park, production assistant Michael Leffler said, "This is the only show I know of that you can be a producer and a cameraman at the same time."

Handfield acknowledges, "Our show is demanding," which is why you'll find "young, hungry and energetic" people on board.

The 20- to 30-year-old crew members and hosts mirror their 18- to 34-year-old male demographics, with six males and one female working the show.

And although it's not a prerequisite to play video games, most of the crew does, with a few serious gamers.

"It definitely helps" to have video game experience, said Handfield, who's been playing since childhood.

Gallant, who usually appears clean-cut and wholesome on "Animal Planet," is almost unrecognizable with his punky haircut, tanned body and punchy attitude.

"Game On" hosts Matt Gallant, left, and Randy Kagan, cheer on one of the contestants in a game that involved virtual fighting. She's gauging her performance on a video screen.

"I can be edgier on this show," he said. Still working with "Animal Planet," which involves in-studio filming, Gallant said he likes the opportunity to interact with people on "Game On."

Gallant said it took months for him and Kagan to be chosen. The two never met before the show's auditions when they were paired up and deemed a match.

"Two weeks with this guy, and I have to go into rehab," Gallant said of Kagan. But on a rare serious note, Gallant said he would not do the show without Kagan. "He's quick and he's funny ... superfunny."

Handfield, who helped choose the hosts, said, "I knew what a pain in the ass they'd be to work with, but they're funny."

Although some of the show is scripted, most of it involves on-the-spot ad-libbing.

"That's why they hired us," Kagain said. "We always have something to say."

A host, stand-up comic and producer, Kagan said he enjoyed hiking and bird-watching on this trip. "This island is so beautiful," he said, as this was the first time in Hawaii for both hosts. "I wouldn't call this work," he said.

Handfield and production associate Nicki La Rosa have Hawaii ties: Handfield's girlfriend was born and raised in Hawaii, and La Rosa lived in Makiki for more than a year.

La Rosa, who was a film producer for "Matrix II" and "III," said "Game On: Hawaii" will "bring aloha back to the mainland."

Handfield said the show "definitely highlighted (Hawaii) as a fun place to be."

Highlights for Gallant were the presence of "hula girls and more hula girls," he said.

Hans Heidemann taught the two to surf, and Kagan stood up on his first wave. Never mind that the board was the size of a refreshment stand, according to the crew.

Being on the road with the same crew for days on end, Handfield said they're in each other's faces for hours. Still, "We get along really well," he said, and he already has plans for the neighbor islands. "We'd love to come back here," he said.

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