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Fear Factor: The First Season
Since the year 2001, "guilty pleasure TV" has had one reliable name, and we call it Fear Factor. It doesn't require a single brain cell to sit down and get a few kicks out of Fear Factor, which might help to explain why the program is about to enter its seventh successful season.
Call it a game show; call it "reality television," but the concept is pretty simple: Each episode presents six contestants, three men and three women, and they'll be required to suffer through three arduous tasks, and the last wo/man standing, well, s/he wins a cool 50 grand.
Hosted by News Radio's Joe Rogan and entertaining in a completely "popcorn" fashion, Fear Factor generally starts out with a physical challenge (one that usually deals with dizzying heights or watery depths) before moving into the "gross-out" challenge (which usually involves either the eating of something disgusting or the lying in a box filled with creepy-crawlies) and the final event: a timed physical challenge.
Some of the "stunts" really do require a lot of bravery, but most of them deal with the defeating of squeamishness or the usage of simple motor skills. But I guess a title like "gross-out factor" or "endurance factor" doesn't have the same zing as Fear Factor. As with most reality shows, much of the fun in FF comes from watching the interplay between the contestants. Sometimes they're supportive cheerleaders; sometimes they're opportunistic schemers who are apt to make gagging noises while a competitor tries to choke down a pig's liver.
Taken in small doses (and only if there's nothing better on at the time), Fear Factor can be a perfectly colorful little time-waster, but when watched in a multi-episode stretch, the show starts to feel more than a little redundant. Plus, and I know this is going to sound weird coming from a hardcore horror fan, I could probably do with less of the downright nasty "gross-out" events. Basically I don't consider it all that entertaining to watch a bunch of strangers chewing on live beetles, and that's kind of a shame, considering that the "physical" stunts are usually pretty creative and/or exciting.
And there's some weird icing on this cake, at least in the show's first season: Just about ALL the contestants are downright beautiful. Call it the "titillation factor" if you like, but I wouldn't mind seeing a few dumpy middle-agers competing for the cash. (Apparently the Fear Factor crew agrees with me; subsequent seasons included celebrity and family-centric episodes.)
#1 -- Horse Drag, Rat Pit, Slippery-Car Crawl
#2 -- Truck Jump, Worm Coffin, Catapult
#3 -- Jet Ski Leap, Beetle Bowl, Rope Crawl
#4 -- Net Jump, Wormtinis, Tunnel Crawl
#5 -- Dog Attack, Snake Pit, Beam Walk
#6 -- Sub Dive, Cricket Crunch, Speed Drop
#7 -- Hotel Jump, Sheep's Eyes, Water Tank
#8 -- Wrecking Ball, Testicles, Baby Rescue
#9 -- Trapeze, Pig Feast, Traverse
Bonus -- Season 2 "Best Of" Clip Show
Video: The episodes are presented in the original fullscreen format. Picture quality is quite good, especially for a doco-style show that's shot on location and off the cuff.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with optional English captions. Audio presentation is perfectly fine.
Extras: In addition to the first season's nine episodes, you'll also get a "greatest hits" bonus episode from season two. (Apparently there was a "clip show" in season one as well, but it's not included here.)
Brainless, silly, and sometimes pretty ridiculous, Fear Factor might be a lot of unflattering things -- but it sure isn't boring. I had a fairly good time sifting through the inaugural season's nine episodes, but I highly doubt this 2-disc set will deliver much in the "replay value" department.