Written by Joe Lane
Published: June 6, 2005 at 11:17 AM
When I think about the NBC/Universal merger, I'm fondly reminded of this little piece of satire I posted in May of last year. The article poked fun at some rather outrageous synergy opportunities that presented themselves now that the two entertainment giants had become one.
Funny how things work out for the best sometimes.
Thursday, June 2. A cloudy, damp, gray morning marked the beginning of technical rehearsals of Universal Studios Florida newest hybrid attraction: Fear Factor Live, a stunt show based on the popular NBC hit reality series.
What makes Fear Factor Live unique among its brethren is the interactive aspect. Six guests are chosen prior to each show to participate in three stunts in a fashion similar to that of the NBC show. Audience volunteers (usually young kids) participate by triggering distracting elements such as wind or water.
Between each stunt, additional volunteers are submitted to skin-crawling encounters with a selection of spiders, snakes, roaches and scorpions. Others compete in a drinking contest of the worst kind, involving stomach-churning concoctions.
And the formula works. TV junkies are a highly voyeuristic bunch, and Fear Factor Live fulfills that desire by placing average, everyday individuals into extraordinary situations, from hanging 30 feet in the air to throwing dead squid.
And while traditional stunt shows feature a rotating cast that follow a script, Fear Factor Live becomes a new experience every show with the guest competitor element. There's no way to tell how each fresh face will react in a given situation--or who will win.
Sadly, the show is still slightly constrained by its theme park environment. Creative Director Jennifer Sauer talked about the design of the show and its stunts. In late May of last year, the Universal Creative team sat down with members of Endemol USA and "Fear Factor" producer Matt Kunitz. Together, they went through hours of "Fear Factor" footage, trying to come up stunt ideas that were not only interesting but repeatable.
Sauer said that while the show format will remain unchanged for an undetermined amount of time, there is a possibility of introducing a variety of different stunts in the future, depending on the attraction's popularity.
As theme park attractions aim for bigger thrills, the need for safety rises as well. A crew of trained stunt people check and double check all the safety equipment, while in the technical booth, computers run redundant safety checks. Guests who volunteer go through a very serious casting procedure to be sure they are in good health. Visit the Universal Orlando website for details on casting requirements.
And if you don't qualify for the physical stunts, you could always gulp down a Fear Factor smoothie.
Fear Factor Live makes it home in the San Francisco/Amity portion of the park, in the old Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show theater. Long-time Universal fans will get a hint of nostalgia upon entering: the facades of the old western buildings have been refurbished and the mulch-covered ground is now paved with rubber surfacing.
Almost immediately, guests will notice two yellow convertibles parked on either side of the set and the large video screen built on the wall of one of the buildings. During the show, a mounted cameras help guests get better views of the action. There's also a live cameraperson getting close-up shots during the gross-out portions of the show, executed in a fashion similar to Disney-MGM Studios' Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show.
At the first preview of Fear Factor Live, Universal President Bob Gault, Endemol USA President David Goldberg and "Fear Factor" executive producer Matt Kunitz made some introductory comments before the show began.
Among the six contestants slated to appear in the first performance were Dean and Ashley Molina, winners of this season's "Fear Factor" Couples' Competition, and Eric and Stacey Knox, winners of the "Fear Factor" eBay charity auction. Also competing were Wendy and Kirby, two park guests who were selected to round out the six necessary for the show to go on.
In the end, Dean won the competition, proving for a second time that fear is not a factor for him. I asked him afterwards what Fear Factor Live was like compared to the real thing.
"I like having the audience there," he said, mentioning the fact that you forget millions of people are watching you on TV, "I was able to look and see my family and you get pumped from that."
Rumor has it that the delay in the Universal Hollywood version of Fear Factor Live stems from the extreme nature of its stunts. If this May 6 article from the Chicago Tribune is true, then the stunts planned for the Hollywood version will make the Orlando show look like child's play. Good news for Universal Hollywood guests; bad news for Universal Orlando visitors.
On the TPI Rating Scale, I'm going to give Fear Factor Live a 7-Good for execution of theme and entertainment value.
That and the fact that the painfully uncharismatic Joe Rogan doesn't appear once in the show. Thank you, Universal.