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TV Review: Be afraid - be very afraid of truly awful 'Fear Factor'

Monday, June 11, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Just when you thought TV couldn't sink any lower, it plummets precipitously. NBC programmers got scolded by their corporate bosses last summer when they took the high road, ignoring the "reality" TV trend. With tonight's premiere of "Fear Factor," NBC strives to remedy that, but the network that brags about having "the quality shows" succeeds only in lowering itself to the level of Fox, home of "Temptation Island" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire."

But social institutions aren't trashed in "Fear Factor," which instead appeals to prurient interests in more primal ways.

'Fear Factor'

When: 8 tonight on NBC.

Host: Joe Rogan.



Mixing elements of MTV's "Fear" and "Jackass" with the tribal dynamics of "Survivor," each week "Fear Factor" pits six people -- all twentysomethings in the episode sent for review -- against one another in a series of dangerous and sometimes gross stunts. The last woman or man standing each week earns $50,000.

First they take turns getting dragged by a horse. Later they climb around on the hood of a car that's suspended in the air by a crane -- with water pouring over them just to make it easier for them to slip. (They're attached to a harness so they won't fall to their deaths ... if everything works as it should.)

But the piece de resistance is the "rat pit." Each person must spend four minutes in a pit as 400 rats are poured over them. Participants got tetanus shots in advance, which is a good thing since the camera lovingly shows rat bites to the flesh afterward.

This is entertaining? Maybe to the rats, but not to viewers (except masochists and fans of cock fighting).

"Did you get a good night's sleep?" asks host Joe Rogan ("NewsRadio") before the rat challenge. "That's good because tonight's experience might haunt your dreams for the rest of your lives."

It's not clear if he's talking only to the participants, but he might as well mean the audience, too.

Rogan later offers some helpful advice to one of the contestants as rats squirm over and under her body: "Keep your butt cheeks clenched!"

Rogan, who acts and sounds like Joey from "Friends" ("How're you guys doin'?"), warns viewers that the stunts on "Fear Factor" are "extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone, anywhere, anytime."

That's the same sort of disclaimer MTV uses on "Jackass," which hasn't stopped idiots from copying the stunts on that show. NBC may be legally in the clear when it airs "Fear Factor," but it's only time before the network's moral culpability gets called into question.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Thursday, June 07, 2001

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