'Top Gear's' Rutledge Wood on Season 3, US Versus UK and Adam Levine
August 28th, 2012 10:30am EDT
Top Gear host Rutledge Wood is one of the nicest people on the planet. The Georgia native always has a smile on his face and an incredibly warm personality. How is he so positive? Maybe it's because he has not one, but two dream jobs: first as a NASCAR analyst for SPEED Channel, and then as one-third of the hosting trio for History's American incarnation of the world's most popular motoring show.
I recently re-connected with Rutledge to get the scoop on season three of Top Gear, the comparisons between the US and UK versions, and Adam Levine's contentious celebrity lap from season two.
"Everything's just rolling along with all of us," he said, catching me up on what he and co-hosts Adam Ferrara and Tanner Foust have been doing since I visited the set last December. "We only had a few months off between last season and the start of this one, so Adam toured around and did some stand-up, Tanner was off racing and doing stunt work for the Bourne movies, and I was traveling with SPEED for NASCAR and spending as much
time with my wife and daughters as possible."
"To be honest, I just feel so blessed and lucky every day," he said. "What blows my mind about being on this show is how many people connect with it. I had no idea how many families would sit down together and laugh and learn. That's humbling. A guy sent me a picture on Twitter last week during the premiere and he was watching with his two teenage daughters, and he was ecstatic that they could all watch it together. I hope that when my little girls are teenagers they'll want to watch a TV show like Top Gear together."
A pause, and then: "Actually, they watch it with me now as they're four and two, but I have to fast forward it because sometimes Daddy has a potty mouth."
It's a perfectly understandable one, given that Rutledge is the most likely of the Top Gear trio to get banged around. In season two, he needed medical attention after rolling a truck during a race, and so far this season he's already been subjected to tear gas and had crawfish running rampant in his car. Yet while he might squirm and occasionally get sick along the way, he is always game for the next adventure - and there are plenty more coming in the currently-airing third season.
"We did so many things this season that I've always wanted to do," he explained. "We tried to see who could go the farthest on one tank of gas, I got to do donuts in a police car, but the most fun I had was when we picked
up three rentals cars in the desert and tried to get them from Monument Valley, Arizona to Moab, Utah, which is
almost all off-road. It was the craziest thing we've ever attempted I think. It's the final show of this first
part of the season, so I can't wait for everyone to see it."
"I really like cars that are different, so for me this was a really fun season with all the weird cars I got to
drive. I got to drive some wacky old cars, some rare cars, some teeny tiny cars, and one of the fastest off-
road monsters I've ever seen," he continued.
But Top Gear isn't always fun and games. As mentioned previously, he legitimately scared Adam when he rolled that truck multiple times and spent some time in the hospital. Later on this season, Rutledge also confronts one heck of a challenge, about which he remains understandably mum: "In one show, I ended up doing something that scared the absolute hell out of me. I was in something that was incredibly loud and all of the camera guys said they could hear me screaming for my life over the roar of the engine. That was really surprising."
As anyone who watches even a few minutes of Top Gear knows, the show is one-part love letter to cars and one-part absolute mayhem. Rather than just the good and bad of what's new on the market, you're liable to see breakdowns, wrecks and even things on fire as the hosts push vehicles to their absolute limits and take them into wild situations. The hosts are all a little bit crazy, and the producers are willing to risk the hosts' safety in the name of our entertainment.
How much damage does Rutledge think they've caused in season three? He plays it coy. "I'll sum it up like this," he said. "Number one, you can't prove anything. Number two, when you take the Loss Damage Waiver for a rental car, it covers everything. Number three, see number one."
For all the things they've tried, though, he tells me there's one thing he'd never do: "Skydive. My ass isn't planning on jumping out of a perfectly good airplane," he insisted. "I can't think of a reason why they'd want me to skydive, but the moment they find out about a weakness, they explore it."
Like their British counterparts, it took the American Top Gear some time to find the right hosts. Only Tanner was part of the original NBC pilot for the show; Rutledge and Adam came aboard when History revived the concept. They seem an unlikely trio - Rutledge the big-hearted racing analyst, Adam the sharp-witted comedian and the slightly cocky professional racer Tanner - but over three seasons, they've found their chemistry and today the three of them work like a well-oiled machine, albeit a very competitive one. Now it's impossible to imagine any of them not being part of the show.
"Like any relationship, we've all grown closer together so we know more about each other," said Rutledge. "We have more fun each time we get to do something together, and we also know better what sets each of us off and drives us crazy. It's like being at camp every week - the producers put us through these insane challenges where we get pushed to our limits. Luckily, we all really like each other so it makes it that much more fun when we survive and can look back and laugh about it."
Given the lengthy history and huge popularity of the British version, the US Top Gear has had to exist in the long shadow of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. For what it's worth, Hammond has been complimentary of the American series, even if the fans haven't been. Die-hard supporters of TGUK couldn't help but compare TGUS to its much older, more established sibling from across the pond. Yet as Top Gear USA has found itself, Rutledge thinks that the fans are coming around to accepting the American edition on its own merits.
"For sure," he said. "I think it just took people some time to realize that we weren't trying to be the three hosts of the UK show, and that we were going to use the formula that they created to make a truly American version of the show. If you asked people who really understand the concept and how both shows work, they're usually quick to point out that the shows are totally different and that there's absolutely no reason that you can't love them both."
He did explain that the US version's re-use of several UK challenges in the first two seasons, a point of criticism amongst fans, had a purpose. "The producers wanted us to remake some of those challenges in our own way," he told me, "because honestly, some of them were just incredible ideas that lots of people loved, and since there's a huge population here that never saw them the first time when the UK show did them, they wanted to try it the TGUS way."
One of the concepts the American edition has brought over from its predecessor is the 'Star in a Reasonably Priced Car' segment, renamed 'Big Star, Small Car' for the stateside audience. In that segment, celebrities set their best possible lap time. One of the more interesting laps on the show came when Maroon 5's Adam Levine visited, was frustrated with his decent showing, and vehemently insisted that if he were given another half-hour, he'd take the top spot on the celeb leaderboard. Rutledge said he'd be open to letting Adam take one more shot at the Top Gear track.
"I would love to!" he enthused. "Adam was one of my favorite celebrities we've had on. He was so passionate about his lap and driving, and he really did have to leave early to make it back to LA in time for [his appearance on] Piers Morgan. If he had time to run another lap or two, I think he would have done a lot better. Plus, if he comes back, I know the ladies will watch. I just hope he brings my NASCAR loving buddy Blake Shelton with him next time. That's one hilarious guy right there." Now if Top Gear could only wrangle either of them away from The Voice...
As for Rutledge, he remains one of the most lovable folks on television (unless you ask the drunk guy who tried to pick a fight with him in New Orleans during the filming of the third-season premiere). He does his best to keep in touch with all of his fans, whether it's through his website, on Twitter, Facebook or the fact that he and Adam Ferrara have taken up live-tweeting with fans during Top Gear airings, entirely of their own volition. Unlike other shows, the Top Gear boys don't live-tweet once or twice a season as a promotional tool; they do it nearly every week, just to hang out with the fans. That's the good guy that Rutledge is.
If that's not enough for you, take it from me: he and I were strangers when I arrived on the set that day in December, yet I left with a new friend, one who's as excited to talk to me again as I am to talk to him. It's hard not to like someone who genuinely likes everyone and who has such a love for life. "I can't believe this is my job," he told me, but we're lucky to have him.
Top Gear season three continues tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on History. Be sure to join Rutledge, myself and other Top Gear fans on Twitter for a live-tweet during the episode.
You can follow Rutledge on Twitter (@RutledgeWood) and visit his official website. For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my Starpulse writer page and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
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Photo Credits: History