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The familiar face from an extremely daring and challenging show, Fear Factor. Rogan was born on August 11, 1967 in New Jersey. Television viewers mostly know Rogan from his starring role as of Joe Garelli, the resident electrician at WNYX radio, on the comedy series "NewsRadio" (1995-99), as well as his brief appearance on the series "Hardball." Rogan’s television appearances for standup include "Caroline’s Comedy Hour," "MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour," and "Comedy from the Danger Zone," just to name a few. Rogan recorded some of his standup comedy performances on his debut comedy album, "I’m Gonna Be Dead Someday," for Warner Bros. Records. Performing standup comedy in clubs across the United States has helped Rogan appreciate the steady work schedule of a television series that tapes in one city. "Standup comedy is the best job in the world," he says. "I can speak my mind, let off steam and get paid for it, but working on a series allows me a different kind of creativity, and it’s a chance to work with a very talented group of people." Rogan’s boyhood idol, Richard Pryor, continues to be an inspiration to the young actor/comedian in both his professional and his personal life. "Pryor was the first really honest comedian," he says. "My act could be classified as ‘unedited,’ but I try to keep my audience in mind while focusing on the truth. I never want to compromise my act just to get a laugh."
Joe Rogan was born August 11, 1967 in Newark, New Jersy. Rogan was raised in Boston, and now lives in Los Angeles. In his spare time, he enjoys playing pool and honing his standup act at various comedy clubs. In addition, he is an avid martial-arts enthusiast and holds a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do. Joe was the World Tae Kwon Do Champion in 1986. He was a four-time Massachusetts state champion, and was U.S. Open Lightweight Champion and Grand Champion in all weight classes in 1987. Says Rogan: "The martial arts really kept me in focus as an adolescent because of the long training hours."
Judge Tosses Ratty 'Fear Factor' Suit
federal judge in Cleveland has dismissed a lawsuit by a "Fear Factor" viewer who claims an episode made him sick.
In the suit, filed in January, plaintiff Austin Aitken alleged that the Nov. 8 episode of the NBC show, in which contestants had to eat dead rats, caused his blood pressure to rise and made him throw up. He also says he became lightheaded and subsequently ran into a door frame, "causing suffering, injury and great pain."
U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells wasn't having any of it. She threw out the suit Wednesday (March 9), calling it frivolous and advising Aitken, a part-time paralegal, not to appeal.
"We knew that justice would prevail, and we're pleased with the outcome," "Fear Factor" executive producer Matt Kunitz tells the AP.
In his hand-written claim, Aitken said he filed the $2.5 million suit to send a message to NBC that it was sending the wrong message to viewers by having people do "just about anything beyond reasoning" for money.
He had previously told the AP that he was a regular "Fear Factor" viewer and had no problems with the show's other gross-out stunts, which have included lying in a box full of snakes and eating live insects and horse rectum.
Man Sues TV Show Fear Factor For $4M
Show made me throw up. Watching contestants eat dead rats on gross-out show Fear Factor so disgusted a Cleveland man that he has sued US TV network NBC for US$2.5 million ($4.1m), saying he could not stomach what he saw.
In a handwritten four-page lawsuit filed on Tuesday, paralegal Austin Aitken said: 'To have the individuals on the show eat and drink dead rats was crazy and, from a viewer's point of view, made me throw up as well as another in the house at the same time.'
He added: 'NBC is sending the wrong message to its TV watchers that cash can make or have people do just about anything beyond reasoning (sic) and, in most cases, against their will.'
Mr Aitken said the show caused his blood pressure to rise so high that he became dizzy and light-headed and, when he ran away to his room, he bumped his head into the doorway.
A spokesman for Fear Factor said the show would have no comment until it sees a copy of the complaint.
However, the spokesman did confirm that the programme did feature a rat-eating scene in New York's Times Square on Nov 8 last year.
Mr Aitken also refused to comment further, saying: 'I am not at liberty to discuss the complaint unless it is a paid-interview situation.'
Over the years, Fear Factor contestants have eaten some weird things, including ground-up spiders and live worms.
Sickened viewer sues NBC over Joe Rogan's ''Fear Factor''
A viewer who claims the reality show Fear Factor made him ill is suing the U.S. network NBC for $2.5 million U.S.
Austin Aitken, a 49-year-old paralegal in Cleveland, says he became ill after watching an episode of Fear Factor in which contestants ate rats mixed in a blender.
Hosted by Joe Rogan, the show features individuals or teams competing for a $50,000 U.S. prize by performing various stunts, such as jumping between moving trucks, and endurance tests, like eating insects.
A frequent viewer of the show, Aitken said the rat episode went "too far."
"It's barbaric, some of the things they ask these individuals to do," Aitken said in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday.
Aitken's lawsuit argues that viewing the rats being eaten resulted in a boost in his blood pressure, which made him dizzy and light-headed.
As a result, he vomited and bumped into a doorway, "causing suffering, injury and great pain."
Asked why he watched the segment, Aitken said he was unable to shut his television off in time before it aired.
Simulcast in Canada on Global, Fear Factor is broadcast with viewer-discretion warnings.
NBC responded to the suit with a terse statement, saying Aitken's claim is without merit.
Aitken said his motivation in filing the suit is simply to send a message to NBC and other networks. He said the point of the legal action is not to win a large cash settlement.
"I just put any figure," he said. "You really think I expect to get $2.5 million?"
The three faces of Joe Rogan
Fear Factor Have No Fear, Joe Rogan's Here. If Joe Rogan's life were made into a movie, it might be called "The Three Faces of Joe."
First there's Rogan the comedian, a foul-mouthed rogue from Boston who still surfaces from time to time on "The Howard Stern Show" and in raunchy comedy videos like 2001's "Joe Rogan: Live From the Belly of The Beast."
Then there's Rogan the actor, whose portrayal of slow-witted electrical savant Joe Garrelli on the hit 1990s series "NewsRadio" turned the comedian into an instant sitcom star.
But the new-millennium-edition Joe Rogan, and perhaps the face for which he will be remembered the most, is the one who teases and encourages six contestants from all walks of life on the reality-challenge game show "Fear Factor."
"It was a short list of people that they wanted to talk to about doing it," he told online martial-arts site Sherdog.com after landing the job. "They wanted someone to look like they were in shape, someone who could think on their feet, preferably someone who's funny. So it was me and couple other dudes who sucked, and I got the gig."
Last month, Rogan started moonlighting as the host of Comedy Central's testosterone-driven "The Man Show" for episodes that will air starting this summer. Meanwhile, the 35-year-old seems to be getting used to his ever-increasing celebrity status.
"With 'NewsRadio' it was, like, maybe one out of 20 people would notice me," he said. "But with 'Fear Factor,' it's like everywhere I go I'm a f***ing side show."
Joe Rogan's car on display at the Grand National Roadster Show
The 56th Annual Grand National Roadster Show Showcases Hollywood Hot Rods And Their Stars. Cars and Stars from American Graffiti, Austin Powers, the Great Biker Build-Off, Overhaulin' and Rides Headline at Hot Rodding's Super Bowl -- January 21-23, 2005
Dan Cyr Enterprises, Inc. (DCE) announced that its 56th Annual Grand National Roadster Show at the Pomona Fairplex January 21-23, 2005, will be awash with famous celebrities and their rides. From Cindy Williams and Paul LeMat of American Graffiti fame, accompanied by the movie's famous yellow '32 Milner Coupe and the '55 Chevy driven by Harrison Ford, to six custom cars from the hit TV show Overhaulin' and their creator, chief designer and legendary hot rodder Chip Foose, the cars of the stars will take center stage.
Vern Troyer, who portrayed Mini Me in the Austin Powers films, will be on hand to sign autographs Saturday and Sunday, along with stars Cindy Williams and Paul LeMat, who will also be available for autographs both Saturday and Sunday. Troy Trepanier, guest designer from the TLC's Rides will showcase the 1967 "Fast Forward Fastback" Mustang he created for eBay Motors, a custom-bodied, supercharged, 550hp monster, which subsequently sold for more than $150,000 and the 1970 Barracuda designed by Foose and owned by Joe Rogan, the host of Fear Factor, will also be on display.
Rogan, Joe - of Fear Factor and News Radio
Stand up comedian or actor? Joe Rogan from the television show News Radio talks about the nature of comedy, working with Phil Hartman and why he prefers stand up to acting.
DM) You are recently engaged. Do I know who she is?
JR) No, no, no. I do not do "the celebrity" thing. I have a "no head shots" policy. I enforced a "no head shots" policy a couple of years ago, and I have been happy ever since.
DM) Why did you enforce it?
JR) I got tired of actresses. Man, they are brutal--always problems, dramas, call backs and stupid $#!+. It is boring.
DM) You are officially a "celebrity" though. Do you ever get in that mode yourself?
JR) No, dude. My interests are so far outside of show business. I do show business for the cash.
DM) So this is a job to you?
JR) Yes, acting is a job to me; but stand up comedy is what I do. If I had one calling in life, it would be a stand-up comic.
DM) When I first got your bio, I admit I had no idea that you did stand-up; I only knew you from television doing the comedy show, "News Radio."
JR) Yeah, most people do not know. The worst thing is when people do not know, and they come to see me in a comedy club. They expect me to be like the guy from TV.
So, there are all these warnings saying, "This show contains the most extreme language and material you can ever imagine." There are all kinds of warnings that I make them put up because there have been so many problems with people coming to the show and saying, "Oh my god!"
It is not even foul; it is honest and unedited. I think all of the best comedy is unedited because your mind is unedited and uncensored. The uncensored thoughts are the ones that are really going to ring true in your mind because they are honest.
I think Jerry Seinfeld is a very funny comedian, but it is a different kind of comedy than... say, Richard Pryor. When Richard Pryor would tell you something, you would know 100% what he was thinking. There are no filters or barriers between his mind and yours.
Here is the world from my eyes--that is what I do. I am 100% honest on stage. Sometimes when it comes to things like sex or people that piss you off, or whatever, some people are not equipped to deal with pure uncensored thoughts. Some people can handle it and love it; but some people cannot.
DM) Why did you do "News Radio" then?
JR) For the cash. It is a lot of money, dude--and it's fun. I would not do a bad sitcom for the money, but a good one is a lot of fun.
DM) The reason I jumped on that question is that you are known for one--and you love the other...
JR) You know what, I am known slightly for the other. People who are comedy fans know me as a comedian, although not as well. What television does do is it gives you more exposure for people to see your stand-up--that is how I look at it.
News Radio was also a helluva lot of fun. That was one of the most fun experiences of my life. It was a dream job. To do a show where you get along with everybody and it's fun--well, that is rare.
DM) You also had such talent on the cast.
JR) Well it was an unusual cast. To get a cast like that together is probably a once-in-a-lifetime proposition.
DM) You must have learned a lot about comedy for your stand-up from the cast. Like from Phil Hartman for example...
JR) Phil was never stand-up.
DM) But he's known for his comedy...
JR) Well, he was a very funny guy, but he was never a stand-up comedian.
DM) Then what is the major difference between the two then?
JR) A comic is somebody who goes on stage with his own material, his own thoughts and expresses himself. Phil Hartman just had excellent timing and was very funny. There is no doubt in my mind that he could have been an excellent stand-up comedian.
DM) Well, the reason that I phrased the question in that way was that originally I thought the skills of comedy were the same.
JR) Comedy is just saying whatever is funny?
DM) Right. To me, I thought that the elements of one aspect of comedy could be transferred to the other.
JR) For example, what I learned from Phil, is that he was very professional. He was very studied. He was very methodical about going over his lines. It was very inspiring actually. I mean, I did not learn anything about comedy per se, but I did enjoy working with him--and I certainly enjoyed watching him. He was hysterical. His comedy and my comedy are very different.
DM) Are stand-up and sitcom comedy that far apart?
JR) Oh, they are different worlds, and many comics cannot make that jump. A lot of stand-up comics cannot make the jump because they cannot act. And the big difference with acting and just regular stand-up is that acting is immersed. People are talking to you, and you have to react properly. It is not all about you; it is about the moment. It is about creating a scene. It has to be realistic. It has to flow together, and you have to work off each other. Many comics are very selfish people, and they have a hard time working with other people. They have a hard time with other people doing lines with them. They want to overpower the situation and be the center of attention.
DM) Do you find yourself better skilled at doing stand-up or sitcom comedy?
JR) I certainly have a lot more experience doing stand-up; I have been doing it for 12 years. I do like stand-up better, but acting is not that difficult for me. I am an aware and objective person; I can see while doing a scene what needs and does not need to be done--I am good at figuring that out. To me, it is a different thing; it is like a different part of my brain.
Fear Factor 100th episode with Joe Rogan
It started out with a nine-episode order in June 2001, a modest beginning for a show that would come to pioneer a genre. As it reaches the 100-episode milestone Monday, NBC's "Fear Factor" has come to represent the gold standard of reality programs that convince contestants to walk a high beam in the sky, chew on cow intestines, endure scorpion-filled pits -- and emerge with their wits more or less intact.
The former summertime gimmick is now a mini empire: Not only is "Fear" still a cornerstone for NBC's primetime fortunes, it's also the first of the current primetime reality crop of shows to find wide distribution and success in national syndication (it has garnered strong attention on FX since launching in September; see related story on page S-2) and become a licensing and merchandising phenomenon. Now available in more than 100 countries, "Fear" actually has its roots in a Dutch series called "Now or Neverland."
But while the Dutch may have been swallowing this sort of programming before "Fear" premiered, the show is unlike anything else ever seen on American television. CBS' "Survivor" had beaten it to the gross-out stunt punch, enlisting contestants to chow down on indigenous bugs and barbecued rats, but "Fear's" producers proudly boast they took disgusting and vulgar to the next, lower level.
"When we started producing this show, it's safe to say that none of us knew exactly what we had," admits David Goldberg, president of Endemol USA, which produces "Fear." "We knew that it was different, but none of us really knew how successful it would be. And I'm not sure we would have been had (NBC Universal Television Group president) Jeff Zucker not seen the show's potential early on and promoted it relentlessly before its premiere throughout the NBA playoffs."
Zucker credits "Fear" for its "tremendous accomplishment" in hitting 100 episodes. "It continues to dominate its time period, which isn't something you can say about any other reality show," he notes. "'Fear Factor' has a lot of steam left in it and shows no signs of losing its grip. Plus, the demographics are still really broad."
When "Fear" first launched, it averaged a surprisingly strong 5.6 rating, with an 18% share of viewers ages 18-49 and 12 million weekly viewers overall. Five seasons along, it still wins its time period -- and in that key demo -- but ratings are down 19% (as of mid-October, compared to the previous year). Some erosion is, of course, understandable for a show that produced an unheard-of 39 hour-long original episodes last season. Excluding newsmagazines, not since the 1950s has a program generated so many original segments in a single broadcast year.
That's a lot of "Fear" to spread on a weekly basis. But executive producer Matt Kunitz doesn't mind -- though there's irony here. "I don't even like dog slobber on me," he admits. "This show really does represent everything that's in my own worst nightmares."
Kunitz's success trip has been a strange one. Having landed a production deal at NBC four years ago, he was pressed into service as a producer on the Endemol-produced show "Chains of Love," which got canceled before it even left preproduction. ("I was probably the first network producer to be thrilled that his show was yanked," Kunitz quips.) Still, NBC was stuck with owning nine episodes of some kind of Endemol USA show and needed an idea. Kunitz asked what other programming the company had in its reality arsenal that NBC might be able to snare, and WMA executive vp Mark Itkin, who represents Endemol in the United States, suggested a version of "Now or Neverland."
Kunitz liked it, but he had a concern: "The show was pretty extreme, and I wanted to make sure that NBC wouldn't make us water it down too much. Once I had that assurance, I was onboard."
Renamed for American audiences, "Fear" was an immediate, surprise hit, and part of that, Kunitz says, comes from the way the show draws viewers in. "The production quality of the show makes people feel like they're there in the moment. The mini-POV cameras really put audience members in the moment. With the music we use and the editing and the multiple angles, we make viewers feel like they're right there with the contestants; that's what separates our show from the others. I mean, you don't feel like you're Bachelor Bob when you watch (ABC's) 'The Bachelor.'"
From Day 1, "Fear" has pushed the envelope of production innovation, particularly with the use of the POV cameras. A hundred episodes down the road, the increasingly cheaper cost of those cameras has even given the team more latitude to use -- and destroy them -- with impunity, which has also led to greater production flexibility. "The technology keeps improving," Kunitz points out, "and as it does, we're able to do bigger and better stunts with every passing season. Our physical stunts, for instance, are 10 times bigger and more grand now than they were when we started."
Early episodes tended to shortchange the game element, Kunitz acknowledges. "There was initially nothing quantifiable about the stunts, and we realized that we needed that element to make the game exciting." Plus, contestants just weren't able to physically do some of the stunts at first. "But as we progressed and saw the stunts could be done safely, we were able to expand (their) scope. This season, we're having people literally landing helicopters on moving trucks."
According to Itkin, "Fear" is unappreciated as a force in television, especially considering the imitations it has inspired and the effect it has had on NBC's schedule. "Viewers appreciate it, but the show isn't one that's looked at among executives in the TV business as being one of the more upscale reality shows. My feeling is that this show could have been a real bomb if it weren't so well-produced and directed."
Kunitz disagrees that the show is underestimated by executives. "The only place I think 'Fear Factor' may be underappreciated at this point is in the mainstream media, which still tends to think of us as 'that gross show.' But network presidents appreciate what a show like 'Fear Factor' can do -- and don't sell us short at all."
Talk to director Thompson though, and one will find a man who clearly appreciates his job. "It's just awesome," he says. "For a reality director, 'Fear Factor' is the best because you get such variety. We have a different stunt and a different location every day. There's always a challenge and something new and fresh to think about. Every morning, I scratch my head and wonder how we're going to pull it off. Then every night when I'm driving home, I'm giggling and thinking, Oh, my God, we did it!"
Not that it's ever easy. For the 100th episode, Thompson says they shot a final stunt in New York in front of the Statue of Liberty during a rainstorm. "Everybody bore down and got it done," he says. But stunts can have hidden hazards, Thompson says. "We had a stunt where they had to transfer cow hearts from one huge trough to another as it was draining liquid sewage on the ground (along with) bugs and bile and the most revolting stuff imaginable. You can't even describe the smell. It was so horribly foul. My crew had to wear surgical masks, spray air freshener and burn incense to mute out that odor." "You can't get away from that smell," host Joe Rogan agrees. "It just knocks you on your ass."
Rogan -- a stand-up comedian by trade -- is pleasantly surprised that the show has thrived through an episode count that has reached triple digits. "I thought it would be canceled immediately, that it just wouldn't go," he says. "The show was pretty bad in the beginning. The stunts weren't as well-thought out; it wasn't as much about accomplishing real tasks. But the gross stunts are far more disgusting now. The bar has really been raised -- or lowered, depending on how you view it. The kind of stuff we're doing now is really shocking to me."
Yet, while the stunts have grown bigger and flashier, Kunitz says "Fear's" budget has always remained in the $1 million-$1.2 million range for each hour episode. (There have been modest increases in the funds each season, he adds.) "We've always been one of the more expensive reality shows because of the insurance costs and the ambition of our stunts," Kunitz says. "Yes, we've been able to spend a bit more money and use more cameras as we've gone along; that's one reason why even our gross stunts seem far more extensive and involved. We can't just have them walk beams anymore. Now, we have to have them flipping a car over a moving train. Eating eyeballs by itself no longer cuts it.
"But it's not just about the money involved. It's more a case of having to keep topping ourselves and making sure the audience continues to be dazzled," Kunitz continues. "That takes imagination as much as financing."
To that end, Kunitz claims that he and his production team are coming up with yet more ways to ensure that "Fear" remains fresh (and more disgusting) as it looks to the next 100 episodes. Plans include mutations of sushi and doughnuts. "Instead of filling the doughnut with jelly, we load it with worms and beetles and blood and rotten squid guts," Kunitz says proudly. "Because people can so relate to eating a doughnut, it's probably the grossest thing we've ever done. We feel that as we get past 100 episodes, it's important to take this show to the next level to make sure it doesn't run out of steam." More blood, guts and creepy-crawly things: A grossed-out America is clearly licking its chops.
Everyone loves Fear Factor and host Joe Rogan
What do hip and fashion-conscious parents of children today buy for those shining faces? "Fear Factor" licensed merchandise, of course. And the kids love it. Kids can cover their notebooks in "Fear" sheets, write in "Fear" notebooks and binders, lounge in "Fear" jammies and T-shirts, carry books in a "Fear" backpack, ride around on a "Fear" BMX stunt bike, download "Fear" ringtones and wallpaper, work a "Fear" board game and glow-in-the-dark puzzles and eat, uh, distinctive "Fear" novelty candy.
The candy alone is spectacular: "Fear" has sanctioned sweets such as Super Sour Black Cherry Candy Sheep Eye, Super Sweet Bubble Gum Candy Pig Snout (complete with snot emerging from the nostrils, natch), Yummy Gummy Octopus and Sticky Candy Ooze, Blue Raspberry Slimy Shark Acid Bath, Crunchy Insect Larvae and, of course, Super Gross Gummy Frog Legs with Crunchy Bones and Gooey Dipping Sauce.
Considering that "Fear" is the fifth-highest-rated primetime show with children 2-11, it makes plenty of business sense. "Mothers have no problem putting their kids in 'Fear Factor' stuff because of the core message of believing in yourself," Endemol USA vp marketing and new media Elizabeth Sherman says. "The bottom-line message with the brand -- besides the gross aspect -- is overcoming every mental and physical obstacle. But it plays to the outrageous personality of the show as well."
More than 100 licensed "Fear" products have flooded the marketplace ("Fear" Mad Libs alone have two volumes; the second had 750,000 units ordered). A Game Boy Advance title coming out for the holidays this year features a character randomly assigned a phobia as well as a "Vomit Meter." Also available are downloadable "Fear" cellphone ringtones. Coming soon: online lottery products and slot machines, as if the show itself isn't enough of a gamble. "Licensees have truly embraced the brand in a big way," Sherman says. "It's one of the most successful licensing programs in primetime TV. And it's only going to get bigger."
This job makes me sick
Writhing worm dinners. Body bag handcuff escapes. Horse rectum entrees. Cars plummeting to the concrete down the side of a building. Believe it or not, there are specialists whose jobs involve brainstorming ever more disgusting repasts and terrifying stunts. And NBC's "Fear Factor" has the best in the business. "Fear" assistant production coordinator Josh Silberman is behind the intestinal dishes, the buffalo testicles, the flies-and-blended-maggot liquid concoction -- he taste tests everything.
"If I can't keep it down, then maybe it's not edible," Silberman says. "(Also), I need to do it for camera-blocking purposes. I'm not allowed to vomit, or it's not right to expect that the contestants won't." Of course, adds Silberman, "If they puke, my stock soars." Silberman claims not to use recipes for his gross-out cuisine. Instead, he works with his "gross-stunt team" and "gross producer" Scott Larsen to work out a particular show's needs. Then he goes shopping.
"If they say we need to use cow eyeballs this week, I'll go and pick them up at a USDA-approved slaughterhouse. Then, I'll just use my imagination." Larsen explains that his department's job is to come up with the worst and foulest imaginable idea and then tone it down, so that it gains approval from NBC's standards and practices department.
Consuming human placenta, drinking human urine or blood or bobbing for objects in blood (rather than water) "just freaked people out too much," Silberman says. "But you can't do what you can't do." Everything else, however, is fair game, and Larsen boasts that everything the gross department does "is either a delicacy someplace in the world or certified as safe by professional entomologists."
As for the creeping critters on "Fear," rest assured they weren't just scooped up from the back of cabinets in the NBC commissary. These are bugs with a destiny. "Our insects are all lab-raised," Larsen says. "These are good-quality, clean maggots. They aren't dangerous to you but healthy." The point being: Nothing fed to contestants on the show will hurt them. "I'm not saying it tastes good, but you won't die from it," Larsen says. "Most of the illnesses from our contestants are psychological. No one's been hospitalized."
It's easy to imagine why impressionable viewers haven't copied the recipes cooked up for "Fear," but thus far, the show also has escaped any such issues regarding its physical stunts, too -- a problem that dogged a show like MTV's "Jackass." That's no accident, stunt producer Perry Barndt says. "We make our stunts idiot-proof and bigger-than-life. You aren't going to see too many kids who are going to be able to get ahold of a helicopter or an airplane. We're always conscious of what can be duplicated. We're also keenly aware of making sure it's completely safe before we attempt it on the show."
Safety comes up frequently with "Fear's" producers and is at the core of every stunt attempted. "The show is designed to look a little haphazard," Barndt says, "but we spend anywhere from a month to a year getting the safety criteria just right before any given stunt goes into development. There have been several times where we've pulled a stunt at the last minute because it just didn't feel perfectly right." Coming up with those stunts is a team effort, Barndt emphasizes. Everything is tested first with stunt professionals to get the bugs out (as it were). Next, a crew member volunteers to be a guinea pig, whose reaction helps determine if the stunt is right.
"An average person is always a better barometer of how a stunt works than a stuntman," Barndt says, "because a stuntman isn't scared like a normal person." One of his favorite stunts also was one of the most technical, involving a car spiraling off of a parking garage, doing a 360-degree corkscrew in midair and landing atop 24,000 cardboard boxes.
"It seemed almost impossible before we did it," Barndt says. "But as I've found, a lot of the stuff we have on this show now would have been deemed impossible a few years ago -- like our beam walk between two helicopters. It was pretty amazing that we pulled it off." True of most of the segments on "Fear," at least for viewers. The irony here is obvious: In a show designed to give viewers a sense of hazard and calamity, the one constant that reigns above all else is keeping it all as safe as possible.
There's nothing to fear but ''Fear'' itself
So you want to be a contestant on NBC's "Fear Factor"? Well, besides having an iron stomach to tolerate all of those gross-out meals and an inflated level of courage, a larger-than-life personality helps. Indeed, with some 50,000 contestant applicants per season and fewer than 200 accepted to appear, there's no room for shrinking violets in this mix, "Fear" supervising casting producer Rebecca Shumsky assures.
"We don't have these people on for these long arcs," Shumsky explains. "It's just one episode, and they're off. The audience has no time to get to know them. So, viewers have to clue into them right away: 'That one's the jerk. That's the nice one who I want to win.' People watching need to be able to take ownership of these contestants pretty much immediately; that requires extreme personalities."
What works best for the show, Shumsky has found, is a variety of different types: easygoing, difficult, brave, frightened, focused, neurotic, insecure, overconfident. All have a place as long as their mouth is moving and what's going on inside is being worn on one's sleeve. "We're looking for far more than just bravado," Shumsky says. "I mean, if you get a bunch of thrill-seeking meatheads, that's no fun. We want to see people going through their process and facing their fears. Some vulnerability is good because that's what the audience can relate to."
Plenty of diversity in geography, appearance and ethnicity also is sought in the "Fear" contestant pool. Shumsky aims for physical disparity between the six cast on each show, though for safety reasons, no one can be overweight (the show's height and weight limit is 6 feet, 2 inches and 200 pounds). "You basically have to be in shape to get on," she says, "for both safety reasons and because of what's required stamina-wise for the physical stunts. Being smart helps, too, though not for the gross stunts. On those, you shouldn't be using your brain at all, or you won't even do them."
To recap: The perfect contestant is at once fearless and fearful, intelligent and brainless, charismatic and vulnerable, confident and insecure and extroverted and modulated. No wonder only 178 contestants made the cut for Season 4. And what is Shumsky's greatest fear factor? "That people will appear one way when trying out and then come across totally different once they get on the show," she says. "It's an occupational hazard. You just hope you can keep it to a minimum by developing an instinct for the warning signs -- and being really lucky."