TV with a bang

2010-03-13 00:00

JONATHAN Tippett, one of the two hosts of the Discovery Channel’s new series, Breaking Point, happily admits to being the kind of child who took things apart to see how they worked.

“When I was a kid, I had a rock in front of my house that I called the ‘smashing rock’, and I would take a hammer out there and I would smash things just to see how they disintegrated or how they broke,” said Tippett, who was born in Johannesburg. “That’s kind of what led me into engineering in the first place.”

But moving into television work wasn’t something Tippett, a mechanical engineer who now lives in Vancouver, Canada, ever planned. He became involved in Breaking Point only when his co-host Christopher Hackett, who had done two seasons of Junkyard Wars, put his name forward to the producers.

“It actually goes back to my art pursuits … back to a giant machine that I made about four years ago called the Mondo Spider, a 1600-pound mechanical spider that you sit in and ride,” Tippett explained.

“They [the programme makers] wanted a mechanical engineer who would have more of a focus on data collection and more of a systematic approach, and were actually having a really hard time finding someone who did well on television and got along well with Hackett.

“They asked him if he knew any mechanical engineers or any engineers who he thought would get along well with him on the show. He had built his own giant walking machine several years ago, and in his research he contacted the Mondo Spider Project …

“So he suggested that I and another fellow, Leigh Christie, who was one of the principal designers of the Mondo Spider, auditioned, and I got the part.”

During the show Tippett and Hackett do a series of experiments and stunts to test the sturdiness and stability of a range of things we all take for granted, including boats, houses and cars. And once they figure out just what it takes to break the object, they engineer ingenious ways to make the items safer, proving that sometimes the only way to improve something is to destroy it.

Asked what has been the most surprising moment of filming Breaking Point, Tippett said it came when they were experimenting with water heaters.

“We had the hot water heater on the main floor and were expecting to maybe blow out the floor and drop the living room into the basement or take out the roof, but we actually levelled the entire house,” he said.

Breaking Point is on the Discovery Channel (DStv channel 121) at 9 pm on Wednesdays.

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