Confession: I love Fear Factor. Always have. Why? Because I love seeing people suffer, and this was always the one place I could go to get a weekly dose of Someone Else’s Pain. Eating horrible foods? Being immersed in disgusting substances? Making the PTC wish for the collective deaths of the stunt design staff every seven days? Bring it on. It’s base-level entertainment, yes. Really base. It doesn’t get much more base than this without overloading every litmus strip in a six-mile radius. But it works. The contestants are there and They Are In Agony. Every week for one hour on Monday night, someone’s going to hurt. And since that’s part of the reason most of us watch reality TV at all, it’s nice to see a pure dose of it reach the screen without any of those pesky alliances, twists, or votes. Suffer through it or go home: that’s the Fear Factor way. And, ideally, suffer through it, and then go home.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out quite as planned. Sometimes, people just refuse to suffer, board the S.S. Osten, and head off for parts deservedly unknown. We laugh at them and move on. And on very rare occasion, someone suffers with such grace and determination, or sucks it up and bulls on through that people actually start rooting for them to hang around as long as possible and suffer more – and we don’t even feel that bad when they ultimately win, because we’re convinced they’ve suffered enough to earn some kind of reward. (See ‘Jackson and Monica’ for details.) But on the whole, what we have here is People In Pain, and the fact that they signed on for the show in the first place is enough to make them deserve it.
But this isn’t just any Fear Factor. This is a special Fear Factor. This is Fear Factor for reality stars. They’ve been on shows before this. They’ve starved and bled, been berated and humiliated, twitched twice, rolled over and died for our amusement. Some of them may have even stripped down for peanut butter and chocolate. These are the world-class DAWs. These are people who, more than any other Fear Factor contestant, deserve to suffer. And they love the spotlight so much, need their DAW time so badly, that they’ve come to this show just to entertain us with their suffering, because any amount of agony is better than the withdrawal pains that come from being out of the camera’s eye.
In other words, this is gonna be fun. Roll opening credits.
‘Welcome to a world where your worst fears become reality’, the announcer intones. (Quick, automatic check – no, still NBC and not FOX. Whew!) This is somewhat more accurate than usual. High on the list of my worst fears is the concept of certain reality ‘stars’ coming onto this show and not suffering enough. Breezing through. Quitting every non-elimination stunt. Squirming out through a loophole in the rules. (It’s the main reason I haven’t sent Bluehair an invitation yet – that and I’m not sure who he can find to read it to him.) I can only hope they haven’t ramped down the stunt difficulty for their pseudo-celebrities. I’m not too worried – they never did it for their D-list actor shows – but with this group, you never know who might try to sue their way out of the boilerplate.
And there’s the first question: who was a big-enough DAW to come back for this, anyway?
A quick pause so Joe Rogan, our host, can deliver his mandatory opening statement – ‘The stunts you are about to see were designed and supervised by trained professionals. They are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone, anywhere, at any time, unless you happen to be a former contestant on Forever Eden, in which case, go for it.’ – and the camera focuses on six people walking along a harborside road.
Our first contestant is Ryan Sutter, and his title shot tells us he was the winner on The Bachelorette, which explains why I have no idea who he is. I don’t watch that show. Never have, never will. Fortunately, I’m on RTVW, so finding out who he is just takes a few fast summary readings…
(much link clicking)
(stares of disbelief)
Okay, now I hate him. Much better.
Ryan is known as the firefighting rose guy, but after this show, he wants to be known as the slime-sucking, worm-eating guy. This shouldn’t be a problem. When you negotiate with Disney to have your wedding televised, you’re halfway to slime-sucking already, and when it came to the DVD rights, I’m sure worms were involved somewhere.
Next up is Nikki McKibben, who’s short, has two-tone hair, is a single mother from Texas, and apparently finished third on something called American Idol, which means I really have no idea who she is and don’t care enough to try and find out. She does note that after dealing with Simon Cowell for six months, anything Fear Factor could throw at her is going to be pretty wimpy. This is a legitimate point and puts her in the early running for Person I’d Like To See Suffer Least. (Simon himself would be near the top of the ‘most’ list.)
Standing to Nikki’s right is Ethan Zohn, the winner of Survivor: Africa, wearing a Grassroots Soccer T-shirt. (Anything Ethan wins on Fear Factor will go directly to his charity, which promotes AIDS awareness and prevention in Africa using sporting events for kids. Ethan’s a DAW, and a world-class DAW, but he’s a world-class DAW with a cause and as such, he gets the occasional fractional second of not-hate here and there.) Ethan has brought his determination, his convictions, and the fifty thousand insect species that live in his hair, ready to help their host out in any way they can. He’s also brought his belief that there’s one person here he absolutely has to beat, because his Survivor was tougher than herSurvivor, they argue about it all the time, and in some oblique way, if he finishes ahead of her, it’s a little more ammunition for his season. This is sort of like ‘My prison camp had more land mines around it than your prison camp’, but whatever makes him happy…
Of course, who makes him happy – if not any of us – is his current girlfriend, Jenna Morasca. (Ethan only dates people who have been on Survivor, which gave him a potential pool of 1,586 at last count.) This, of course, means Ethan wins the argument, because Africa was harder than the Amazon edition, which Jenna won by – by – actually, we’re all still trying to figure that out – and Jenna has no valid debate whatsoever. What she does have is a massive need for attention, with occasional bouts of misplaced nudity in the name of free food. And if that’s what Ethan really wants in a girlfriend, who are we to argue? Answer: the people who’s been laughing at him for the last few years. And you know, Jenna’s presence in Ethan’s life just proves that no matter how many tortures we plan for these people, they’re capable of finding something worse all by themselves…
Jenna, for what it’s worth, feels that she and Ethan are tougher than the other contestants because Survivor is harder than winning a girl (debatable) or a race (really debatable), and she’s here because she wants to rub her win in Ethan’s face for the rest of his life. Okay, Jenna, but personally, that’s coming way too close to his hair for my comfort.
And speaking of (master) races, here comes Dehr Reichenfurher – Reichen Lehmkuhl, co-winner of The Amazing Race, former life partner of someone equally Teutonic, male, and now divorced from OberstDAW, and here because it’s a chance to get his shirt off in front of the cameras again and if that doesn’t jumpstart his social life, nothing will. He feels that the Race is harder than Survivor, so he’s got the competitive edge here. And if all else fails, he knows he can have Ethan assigned to a camp, and Jenna sent with him for daring to cross the forbidden boundaries.
Okay. That’s three men and two women. A normal Fear Factor is six people and gender-balanced. So there’s just one to go, and walking on Reichen’s right is –
-- oh, no…
I said I wanted to see people suffer. I didn’t mean me…
Okay. Deep breath. I can get through this. It’s only a – migawd, it’s a two-hour special edition, I’m gonna die – no. No, I can do this. I have the strength. I watched Who’s Your Daddy. This should be easy. On Reichen’s right, we have –
This is harder than I thought. I named her. It was the only lasting contribution to the community I ever pulled off, and it was a complete throwaway. ‘She Who Must Not Be Hired’, I said, and it not only caught on here, it spread to other boards. By that she became known, and her real name – her real name just isn’t said. But She Who Must Not Be Hired is too much to use for an entire summary – and that means I have to use her actual name now, and all the way through the show.
I have to.
(ginger beer and lots of it)
O – Om – Omaro – Voldemort!
You have no idea how hard that was.
Voldemort, who seems to have lost a lot of weight since her Apprentice days – feeding on the life force of others is a high-energy activity – feels being on Fear Factor is more intimidating than being fired in front of America. (The second may still wind up being more satisfying than the first.) She also thinks Donald Trump and Joe Rogan have a lot in common in terms of ego (huh?), although Donald has a lot more hair. (This last part is true. Joe is balding from the front and doing it honestly: no hair tricks for the camera, just a receding hairline that he wears with pride. Donald is – we don’t know what Donald’s doing.) And she believes that after she’s done here today, Fear Factor will have a new host, and it’ll be known as The Voldemort Show.
Wrong. Joe is actually one of the best hosts in reality television, and here’s why: he’s a slightly snarky cheerleader. And a cheerleader is exactly what Fear Factor needs. Someone who can push you to your limits, encourage you to reach for what you never thought was possible, swallow what you never thought was edible. Someone who supports you, gives you drive, and never, never looks like he’s really enjoying the pain he’s putting you through – but he is, he is… with just enough snark to get on you when he knows you’re not giving your all. Voldemort would do very well at the ‘making people suffer’ part – previous and current experience: we’ve all seen it and we’re going to be seeing it for as much as two hours – but people would quit stunts rather than feed her with their pain. No one’s ever given up just because it was Joe asking them to do something. With Voldemort, a request to continue breathing would send people in the opposite direction. Joe is the host, now and forever, until the series goes off the air. And Voldemort can’t possess him under the rules of the legal boilerplate, so he’s safe – for now.