In the world of television, everything old really is new again (and again and again). Five years after “Fear Factor” and its gross-out stunts fell off prime-time’s radar, the show is back and, NBC promises, bigger and badder (and, we can assume, grosser) than ever. Even original host Joe Rogan returns, albeit with a little less hair. The question is whether audiences will have the same appetite for bug eating, endurance tests and innards-swallowing they’ve had in the past. I mean, audiences other than 10-year-old boys, of course.
In some ways, “Fear Factor” is classic reality TV. Our competitors must simply outdo one another in difficult and disgusting tasks for a shot at $50,000. But, with the exception of ABC’s “Wipeout” and NBC’s “Minute to Win It,” reality competitions seem to have moved away from merely difficult challenges to focus on gameplay (the fancy word for stabbing other players in the back) or talent, with shows like “The X Factor” and “American Idol.” We expect competitors to not only jump over tall buildings and eat rancid rat flesh (and maybe sing a Celine Dion song), we also want them to be exposed for the narcissistic, shallow (or in some very rare cases, honorable) people they are. And for the shows that do focus on the physical, the emphasis is clearly on family entertainment. No one’s eating cow penis on “Minute to Win It,” at least not that we know of.
Of course, maybe in these difficult economic times there’s some appeal in seeing how desperate people are for both their fifteen minutes and fifty grand. For competitors, there’s some advantages to picking “Fear Factor” over other shows as well. After all, footage of yourself being dipped in cow’s blood is actually less humiliating than being singled out as the dimwitted villain on, say, “Big Brother” or “Survivor.” The reason the show is coming back at all is because reruns have garnered strong enough ratings on Chiller for it to seem like a good risk for NBC, which really has little to lose (reviving the relatively cheap and easy show also probably seemed like a grand idea during the NFL lockout). I have to admit to doing a double take after seeing one woman’s long, blonde hair being shaved off as she sobbed. But will I watch? Only if I haven’t recently eaten anything, that’s for sure.
Are you going to watch “Fear Factor”? Are there shows you’d like to see come back to prime time? Do you remember any of the gross-out challenges of the original (and still get the creeps just thinking of them)?