The extreme mini golf competition is back on ABC, branded as Holey Moley II: The Sequel, and there are several changes from season one. Where is Steph Curry, and why is he animated? Why are there more wipeouts and fewer contestants this season? Are Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore’s lines scripted or improvised?
To get answers to those questions and many more, I interviewed Wes Dening, the executive vice president for programming and development at Eureka, the show’s production company, which also produces Netflix’s Dating Around and Australia’s The Chef’s Line. (Dening was also a houseguest on Big Brother 2004 in Australia, so he knows reality TV from both sides.)
Where is Holey Moley’s course?
The show is filmed at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, which has hosted other reality TV competitions, never mind shows such as The A Team and 24.
Fox’s Utopia was filmed there, as was ABC’s Wipeout and Food Network’s Camp Cutthroat. Netflix’s first original reality competition, Ultimate Beastmaster, was one of the few sets spared from a 2016 fire that destroyed most of the ranch and its sets.
Dening said Sable Ranch offers the production “acres and acres of space,” and the production knew they wanted to return there to film season two.
For Holey Moley season three, it’s also an ideal environment for filming in this era: “it’s all outdoors, we build the set all outdoors, and under tents that have great ventilation,” he said.
The course was constructed starting about eight weeks before filming began, with the last two to four weeks including testing and adjustment of the holes and obstacles.
The show is filmed at night, starting around 7:30 and ending between 2 and 4 a.m.
Why did some holes come back?
Season one filmed in early April of 2019, but the set didn’t just sit there for a year until production resumed in February 2020. “Everything from season one was packed down and went into storage,” Dening said. “When we started talking about season two, we knew we wanted to shoot on the same site,” and “we knew what assets we had.”
Producers looked at those set pieces from season one and decided “if it was a good hole from season one, that could be re-imagined or repurposed, we wanted to bring it back.”
There was “a mix of finance and creative decisions as to how we could repurpose some of these existing set pieces that we carried through from season one. And it wasn’t purely just based on the cost, but it was, How could we make them better? And if we could, then we decided to bring them back.”
“And everything that came back, we gave it a tweak,” he added.
Why do the Holey Moley windmills, Double Dutch Courage, now have more blades?
The windmills at the hole now known as “Double Dutch Courage” (it was “Dutch Courage” in season one) now have an additional blade, and are also 10 feet above a pool of water. The reason, of course, is those tweaks add more wipeouts to the hole.
Dutch Courage “really was a fan favorite and we wanted to find a way to elevate it,” Dening said, hence the decision to “give it a bigger fall.” But producers didn’t add the extra windmill blade until the very last minute.
“When we were testing, even when we increased the speed, all of the testers were getting through,” Dening told me. “So it was literally just before we started filming that we were like, How do we make this harder? It wasn’t something that we decided well into pre-production, it was while we were out in the field that we decided we needed to add an extra blade to make these harder to get through.”
Why did Holey Moley add 10x more wipeouts?
The simple answer, of course, is that it’s amazingly fun to watch people bounce off things into water.
“All of the research and feedback from season one indicated that people wanted more wipeouts, so we absolutely enhanced the amount of thrills and spills for season two,” Dening told me.
“I was telling people, if in season one, we had 10 great wipeouts to tease throughout the series, in series two, we have 10 great wipeouts to use in every single episode. There would be exponentially more wipeout thrills and spills,” he added.
Last season’s “Mt. Holey Moley” has been repurposed into a hole called “Polcano” that had an episode-one wipeout that made me yell out loud in my living room. Contestants take a zipline and then attempt to grab onto a large, padded pole, but typically end up bouncing off it in spectacular ways.
Polcano, Dening said, “was a good hole, but we all agreed it wasn’t great and it wasn’t perfect, and the simple tweak of adding a pole that people fly into just made it feel so much fun and physical, and would give a better reward.”
Producers discovered what would produce the best reward, i.e. wipeout, while testing, just like with “Double Dutch Courage.”
“It was a different zipline system from what we used in season one,” Dening said, “but initially, the zipline was going to stop right before the pole, and we realized people weren’t letting go, and they were just holding on. So we made the zipline run a little bit longer so you’d always have some sort of impact with the pole.”
In episode one, one contestant didn’t hit the pole, and the zipline basically pulled her back and sent her flying at the pole again. “We actually discovered in testing that if they don’t let go they’re just stuck there, and they’ll hang and dangle,” Dening said, so they added the ability to fling the contestants back at the pole. “To be honest, the second time they go at it, it’s almost more scary/thrilling/ridiculous because they almost come at it with a bit of whiplash or extra speed. If they don’t go into the pole the first time, they nearly always do the second time.”
“I could watch the testers on Polcano all day long. It was just so much fun,” he added. “Even a couple of the producers had a go at Polcano.”
While the new hole “Uranus,” pictured above (which is repurposed into “Putter Ducky”), seems to be an homage to Wipeout with its big balls, that isn’t intentional. “Nothing’s intended to be an homage or pay tribute to Wipeout,” Dening said, though he said there are “definitely some similarities there.”
How is actual mini-golf balanced with wipeouts?
As I wrote in my review of Holey Moley season two, while the show has added far more wipeouts, it’s also managed to focus more on the actual golfing game play, which makes it much more satisfying to watch.
I asked Dening about this, and he said it was necessary to have a “counterbalance” to the wipeouts: “better golf. Even though there’s a chance to be knocked in the water or spun out of control or face some sort of obstacle on the hole, there still needs to be an element of skill on the golfing in order to win.”
The contestants are “an even stronger batch of amazing miniature golfers from around the country,” and Dening promised some “amazing match-ups,” such as a “junior world champion and a professional golfer [who goes] up against a scrapbooker from Boston.”
One shift the production made in order to keep the golfing strong was separating the challenge from the putting. “What I don’t think worked in season one is when someone was trying to hit the ball as they’re doing a challenge,” Dening said.
He cited “Log Roll,” on which contestants ran up a hill, putting while padded logs rolled down at them. “It almost became so frantic that as a viewer it’s hard to track. So what we’ve tried to do this time is make sure there’s always a golf element or a challenge element, and then the golfing—not trying to do two things at once.”
“One happens and then the next, and I think it actually makes it more entertaining as well—and we can film it better, too,” Dening said.
“It’s almost like baking a cake with children. You’re making this wonderful thing, and at the heart of it, there’s this beautiful, tasty cake, that’s delicious. But on the outside, we’ve got sprinkles and chocolate chips and all these ridiculous things that kids want to add to a cake,” he said. “We give our producers the opportunity to make things fun, tasty, and as ridiculous as they possible can.”
How did Holey Moley change its structure for season 2?
There are two major structural changes in Holey Moley II: The Sequel: fewer contestants (more about that in a moment) and a bigger variety of holes.
“Probably the best thing about what we learned from season one, going into season two, was that variety is really important,” Dening said.
“In season two, what we had is 18 holes and in every episode you only ever see seven holes,” he told me. “We’ve designed it so that in every episode, there’s a different hole to finish, and in every episode there’s a different mix of holes.”
“Some holes you’ll only once, some you only see twice, some you only see three or four times,” Dening said, while others will return up to eight times. “We want to give that element of surprise.”
Dening said “The Distractor” will show up five or six times, Polcano six or seven times, and “Double Dutch Courage” and its windmills should be in eight episodes.
What’s interesting is that mix is about the holes themselves and the order, meaning that the final hole will change each episode. That’s a big shift from season one, when “Mt. Holey Moley” hosted each final showdown.
My least-favorite hole in episode one was the final hole, “Frankenputt,” and I was disappointed, thinking that it would be the finale for each episode. It will not.
“Every episode the seven holes change, and there’s never the same order of holes in any episode,” Dening said.
As to my criticism of “Frankenputt,” Dening said, “it’s a really fun hole, but you make a good point. We really wanted to test people’s ability to hit high-pressure puts. The shock at the end is a lot of theatrics—the gag is we’re sucking all of the energy from the Holey Moley set. I see your point; it does play as more of a punishment than a challenge. A lot of the other holes are more challenge-based as opposed to punishment-inspired.”
But as I told him, knowing it won’t be the final hole in future episodes makes it much more tolerable for me. And because of the new mix of holes, “Frankenputt” will only be in about four episodes.
Why there are eight instead of 12 contestants—and why it’s sudden death
In season one, Dening said, “we had 12 contestants, and there was so much golf to play, that we actually couldn’t fit it all in a show, and we were montaging two holes in every episode.”
Instead of doing that for season two, they cut the number of contestants to eight in each episode.
I asked why round one is sudden-death competition: lose once and you’re out. “We tested multiple holes and it didn’t have the same sort of gravitas as one knockout hole,” Dening said. “Nothing’s as good as that one hole where everything’s on the line.”
“The thing with Holey Moley is, I’ve always said: it’s a serious competition set in a silly world. I think that’s really really important, because you can have all the silliness and all the wipeouts and all the fun, but without real competition and a serious competition, I think the whole thing comes undone.”
Why is Steph Curry animated in season two? What happened to Caddysmack and the robot?
Stephen Curry is Holey Moley’s golf pro, and an executive producer on the show. He was part of one of the season-one holes, “Caddysmack,” where the contestant with the best putt chose between Curry and a robot to have their ball chipped over some water.
But “Caddysmack” is gone, and Curry is conspicuously not on the Holey Moley course during season two—very conspicuously, because he now mostly appears as an animated character.
The Golden State Warriors star broke a bone in his left hand during an Oct. 30 game, and was out until early March. Curry returned to play for the Warriors in early March, just after Holey Moley filmed its second season.
But it wasn’t that injury that kept him from returning to the set. It was a pandemᎥc.
“Steph’s been awesome to work with on season two,” Dening told me. “He was scheduled to be on the course in person.”
Caddysmack “worked great for season one, but it was one of the holes that we wanted to refresh for season two. There was never intention to bring that one back. And to be honest, we wanted to find a new way to use Stephen, too. He’s so enthusiastic and passionate about it that we wanted to find a way to have him in every episode—he wanted to be in every episode.”
The plan for season two was for a bit that’d extend throughout the entire season. Dening explained: “The runner for season 2 is that Stephen Curry is building the ultimate golf hole, his ‘Tomb of Nefertiti.’ The original creative was that throughout the entire [season], we’re going to see Stephen on the course, and he’s constantly working on his hole. It’s behind large walls, and you can see lights, and we go to Steph and he’s there with hammer and nails.”
However, Dening said, “The day we were meant to shoot with him, Stephen was unwell, so we scheduled a few days later for him to come back, and that’s when the coronavᎥrus stuff all went down. We shut down the set, we couldn’t get anyone on, there was a complete lockdown.”
Producers asked themselves: “How do we deal with that in this show, where Stephen wants to be in every episode? We talked about all different options, and we were only eight weeks from going to air.”
They considered filming Curry at his house, but “we felt like Holey Moley isn’t a show where we wanted to make it feel like it was” self-shot or filmed away from its set, he added. “If we’re filming him on his iPhone or in his house, then all of the sudden you’re being taken out of this magical, wonderful place that is Holey Moley.”
That same consideration is why the show doesn’t show contestants at home or in their real lives. “It takes you out of the Holey Moley world,” Dening said.
That’s when animation came in.
“If we can’t bring him to the set, and we can’t shoot him anywhere because everything’s shut down, why don’t we animate Stephen Curry?” Dening said. “The truth is, that was actually an idea that we had for season three—was to create an animation within the series that’s about the series. So that what we decided to do at a very quick rate is create an animation runner” “constantly describing how he created all these holes.”
Why was there an EPCOT and Walt Disney homage in episode one?
Watch Walt Disney introduce plans for Disney World in Florida, and then watch Holey Moley II: The Sequel’s season premiere, and you’ll see a lot of similarities, right down to the pointer Rob Riggle holds in his hand, never mind the Spaceship Earth-like dome in the center of Holey Moley’s set.
I actually missed the reference on my first watch, despite living in Central Florida and being a Disney fanatic as a kid.
The idea for the reference came from Holey Moley showrunner Charles Wachter. “He literally said to me one day, What if we open the show and it’s Rob Riggle?” Dening explained. “Absolutely, that’s a bloody brilliant idea! Him and I, we started watching these old videos, and we shared a bunch of imagery with ABC, and they just fell in love with it as well.”
But that bit required a lot of work, including building a scale model of the set. “The crazy thing is, while we’re under the normal time pressure that you are creating any show, we’re building this huge amazing set, we’ve got an entirely other crew that’s designing and building this miniature set,” Dening said.
“When you go on the Holey Moley set, it’s unbelievable because of its size and its scale,” but Dening said the model itself also “gives you goose bumps, [because] the miniature set of Holey Moley is absolutely spectacular.”
The physical set on which Rob Riggle is standing also includes several references. “All of the walls are filled with drawings and art that related to some of the ideas and the concepts that we were building for the show,” including “huge maps of the site, done in the Disney style,” Dening said.
“It was Charles’ baby, and I just think it adds such great value. We always want to surprise people with this show.”
Why does Holey Moley make fun of itself?
In episode one, Rob Riggle relentlessly mocked one of the new holes, “Beaver Creek.” I loved the shows willingness to break the fourth wall and laugh at itself, but many shows just wouldn’t even go there. I asked Dening why Holey Moley does.
“There’s truth to it. The hole was okay, and I remember watching it it in the control room and we were like, How do we make it better? We were already shooting, so we’re like, let’s just lean into the fact that it kind of sucks.” (Beaver Creek will only appear in the season about three times, “because it just didn’t work that well.”)
Dening said that “we do that a couple of times” during the season, including with a hole called “Diving Range,” which is a repurposed version of last season’s “Teed Off.”
“We lean into breaking that fourth wall when it makes sense. I think that’s always been this show. It’s very meta. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. You want to cheer for the contestants and root for them, but you also want to laugh at them as well, and that’s where Rob comes in,” Dening said.
“There’s something nice about telling the truth,” he added. “Why try to fool our audience that something is bigger and better than it is?”
Are Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore commenting live? Is it scripted or improvised?
Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle are on Holey Moley’s set “every single minute of taping,” Dening told me, when I asked if they were live or recording commentary while watching clips.
“I think that’s why you get the funny moments that you see on screen. They’re there all the time,” he added. “The stuff that often makes the show let their guard down, or Joe loses it and starts laughing, or they’re talking between holes.”
Their lines are a mix of scripted and improvised. “We do have producers in their ears,” Dening said, referring to earpieces that allow the hosts to hear from the producers in the control room.
Those producers may be “teeing them up with some facts or some jokes,” Dening said, but “Rob just punches them up in an instant. It’s a real blend of Rob’s improvisation with some writing and gags from our team as well.”
“Joe is such a pro that he always knows all the contestants extremely well. Rob obviously has the freedom to riff with him,” he added. But there are no second takes. “Everything’s done live. We don’t go back and redo things, we don’t go back and recall things.”
“I think viewers want to see that, too. It goes back to the idea of the holes that don’t work so well, owning it and finding the humor in it. Because that’s life, right? We’re all imperfect. And this show doesn’t pretend to be perfect in any way,” he said. “We celebrate imperfection on Holey Moley.”