The ‘Takeshi's Castle’ reboot welcomes ‘Marites’ energy from hosts Sassa Gurl, Eugene Domingo, and Smokey Manaloto

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The Filipino commentary of Japanese game show “Takeshi’s Castle” involves a sari-sari store and "Marites" tambays. Photo courtesy of PRIME VIDEO

Before I fell victim to the infinite scroll of TikTok, binged “Wipeout” on cable, and queued “Running Man” clips on YouTube, I had already come face-to-face with the pinnacle of entertainment: the early ‘90s Japanese game show “Takeshi’s Castle.”

The premise is essentially a reverse damsel in distress: hundreds of players try to survive a series of absurd physical challenges to get into the castle and defeat Takeshi, originally played by Japanese comedian Takeshi Kitano. It didn’t matter much that the players rarely bagged the prize money — the fun of the game was heftier than a million yen.

So much heftier, in fact, that “Takeshi’s Castle” was dubbed and remade in over 30 countries including the Philippines, which ran it on free TV four times over three decades. Different generations remember different hosts, from Anjo Yllana and Smokey Manaloto of the ‘90s to Mike "Pekto" Nacua and John Feir’s Cookie and Belli of the late 2000s.

The beloved cult classic is back to heal our inner children and charm a new generation, landing on Prime Video in the Philippines on Nov. 16. “Just hearing the name of the show brings up so much excitement and emotion,” Quark Henares, head of Philippines Originals at Prime Video, tells CNN Philippines Life via Zoom. “‘Takeshi’s Castle’ was the first of its kind, [and] it was more massive than the shows that followed it.”

Known for its absurd challenges, Japanese game show "Takeshi's Castle" has become a cult classic. Photo courtesy of PRIME VIDEO

Henares adds that having Filipino hosts who provided localized comedic commentary made the show “10 times more fun.”

As such, when the show’s original network Tokyo Broadcasting System partnered with Prime Video to bring back “Takeshi’s Castle” globally, the pressure was on to find the next slate of hosts for the Filipino version. Not to mention that the Philippines, according to Henares, is the only country in Southeast Asia to have on-cam commentary in place of just dubbing the Japanese hosts.

Bringing back the OG was the first order of business, says Dan Villegas, who produced the show with Antoinette Jadaone under their production company Project 8 Projects. When Smokey Manaloto signed on, the team went hunting for the perfect tsismosas to join him. “Yung concept kasi, yung mga Marites na nakatambay sa sari-sari store at nanonood ng TV. Who would be the perfect tsismosa na magaling mag-adlib at maganda yung comedy? Naisip namin si Eugene Domingo, who’s one of the most talented actresses today. Naghanap din kami ng Gen Z na nakakatawa, at si Sassa Gurl yung kinuha namin.”

The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia to have on-cam commentary in place of just dubbing the Japanese hosts. Eugene Domingo, Smokey Manaloto, and Sassa Gurl are the hosts for the Philippine version. Photo courtesy of PRIME VIDEO

"Naghanap din kami ng Gen Z na nakakatawa, at si Sassa Gurl yung kinuha namin," says producer Dan Villegas. Photo courtesy of PRIME VIDEO

The cast is joined by comedian Jun Sabayton, playing Shitake, one of Takeshi’s henchmen who explains the rules of the game. Each episode also features guest star commentators, such as Maris Racal, Zanjoe Marudo, and Ketchup Eusebio.

The sari-sari store concept, envisioned and brought to life by director R.A. Rivera, is the Filipino reboot’s way of making the game show more relatable for local audiences. “The minute you see the trailer, gets mo na kung ano siya. It’s a bunch of tambays and Marites commenting on the show,” Henares says.

Villegas adds, “Nandoon pa rin yung charm ng original ‘Takeshi’s Castle’ na kapag nanood ka, gusto mong sumali. Then yung commentary and banter ng hosts and guests, very adlib siya. It’s very fun and highly relatable.”

Of course, as someone who also grew up on the series, it’s hard not to be protective of the original. But this is easily assuaged by the recognition that “Takeshi’s Castle” is exactly the type of show that must live on and be spread far and wide.

“I was lucky enough to visit the set, and napansin ko talaga na nagiging super excited [ng mga tao],” Henares says. “[The reboot] is way harder than the original, so out of 300 [players], swerte ka na kung sampu yung makalusot. And when that happens, you can really feel the energy in the room. Everybody’s on their toes. Even yung mga extra, they start looking at the screen and cheering.”