'AGT: Extreme' recap: Simon Cowell chokes up over 'crazy' wheelchair jump triumph after a wipeout
"America's Got Talent: Extreme" lived up to the outer-limits hype in NBC's premiere episode Monday night, with extreme athletes leaping over speeding cars, pulling a motocross wheelie between moving cars, and being shot from cannons through rings of fire.
There was even a surfboard ride through flames.
But the most jaw-dropping moments in the heavily edited "AGT" spin-off dropped with extreme wheelchair athlete Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham gutting out a front flip off a 100-foot ramp and painfully wiping out — only to get back on top of the ramp and perform the jump again.
The second time, Wheelz stuck the landing.
It didn't need to be two hours, but you couldn't script a better ending to the first of four "AGT: Extreme" episodes, as contestants vie for $500,000 and prime-time glory in front of judges Simon Cowell, WWE superstar Nikki Bella and X Games legend Travis Pastrana.
The oft-blistering Cowell's voice quavered with emotion reviewing Wheelz's performance.
"You define why we made this show in my honest opinion," said Cowell. "This is what we were looking for. You are an amazing person. You have every chance in winning this."
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Wheelz, 29, who has endured 23 surgeries to correct physical disabilities due to the spinal condition spina bifida, is a seasoned extreme athlete and has performed the front flip before. But the difficulty and Wheelz's clear lack of overall confidence in hitting the jump again was nerve-wracking.
"That's a pretty big ramp and I don't always land it," he said shakily.
The judges added to the drama by climbing the steps on the outdoor Atlanta set to judge from a literal birds-eye view. Cowell made no bones about his fear of heights just gripping the handles walking up the steps.
"You are crazy, it's terrifying," Cowell said at the top.
The helmeted Wheelz showed the reason for concern, over-rotating during the flip on his jump and skidding face-first in his landing. But he immediately got back up and determined to fix the mistake, insisting the only thing hurt was "my pride."
The second jump resulted in the perfect touchdown from the front flip.
"After landing on your face, you land a perfect front flip in a wheelchair," said Pastrana. "That made my day."
Bella cut through the red tape and threw down a Golden Buzzer free pass for Wheelz. "You're going to the finals," she said.
Aaron Evans rocked jump somersault over moving car
"AGT: Extreme" got right into the business with its first act featuring parkour athlete Aaron Evans, 33, a cable company fiber technician from Milwaukee. Evans performed jump somersaults over successive speeding cars coming towards him, calling it "the most epic jump of my life."
"If I don't perform the jump right the first time, there will not be a second one," Evans said.
As Evans' head sailed just inches over each successive car before his feet found the ground, it was clear this was a supreme audition.
"In the words of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, that was electrifying," said Bella. All three judges gave Evans enthusiastic "yes" votes.
David "The Bullet" Smith, a professional human cannonball with six Guinness World Records, aimed to fly through a flaming ring after being shot from the cannon. With a flair for drama, and during a stunning night shot, Smith flew through flames onto the net. Pro wrestler Bella noted the "showmanship. It ticked a lot of boxes."
"I've seen some cannon acts," said Pastrana. "But never so high. You're basically on a 10-story building that's on fire."
"Is it rude to say you have big balls?" said Cowell, in the cannonball comment of the night. "You have enormous balls."
Motorsports competitor Pastrana was particularly intent on judging Leeky Da Bikestar, 31, a stunt rider from Queens who pulled a mega-wheelie riding his motocross bike between moving cars. The pad-less competitor then danced on his bike mid-wheelie, before ending his audition standing on the seat, arms in the air.
Pastrana checked that there was not an extra handbrake on the bike ("We call that cheating, I don't do that," Leeky Da Bikestar said), Pastrana then raved, saying "that balance is incredible" giving a "big fat 'yes!' " The other judges concurred.
Leeky Da Bikestar, Evans, and Smith will next face a panel of superfans to see if they make the "AGT: Extreme" finals on March 14. Cowell also gave a Golden Buzzer direct-to-finals pass to the engineer-led Verge Aero Drone Show Company which pulled together a stunning synchronized show of more than 150 drones.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Simon Cowell reacts to crazy wheelchair jump on 'AGT: Extreme'