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TV Series Review

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And heights. And bugs. And snakes. And cow blood. And …"

Oops! My mistake. Our on-staff Plugged In historian tells me that while FDR had a great deal to say about the economy and the Nazis and New Deal economics, he rarely spoke on the pressing matter of swimming in big vats of cow blood. He was apparently saving that subject to be thoroughly, exhaustively and nauseatingly explored by another bully pulpiteer: reality television.

After a five-year hiatus—initiated, we assume, to let fans' stomachs settle a bit—NBC's venerable, vile "competition" Fear Factor returned to the air in December 2011, promising to be "bigger, badder and more intense than ever before." Why, you ask? Perhaps network executives felt that reality television, what with shows such as Wipeout, was becoming too classy and urbane. Or perhaps focus groups clamored to see more people throw up in their living rooms. Maybe someone just lost a bet.

Regardless, host Joe Rogan is back with a disturbing array of colorful contestants who seem willing to do anything—and really, I mean anything—for $50,000.

"In the past we would have covered someone with 100,000 bees," Matt Kunitz, the show's executive producer, told The New York Times. "Now we'll cover one of them in 200,000 bees. Their partner, in order to get the bees off of them, has to eat 20 live bees, then retrieve an ax to cut his partner down."

Then there's that little matter of vomit. For someone like me, who signed a prenuptial agreement stating that I'd never have to deal with such substances, even my own kids', the idea of willingly sitting down to watch total strangers upchuck is a little mystifying. And, for the record, swimming around in cow's blood or falling through five-story buildings isn't as much frightening as it is dumb. "Just because some people are willing to do anything for money doesn't mean society should allow it, or networks should program it," USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco writes. "[Do] we think so little of our fellow men, we're willing to have them subjected to any humiliation for our entertainment?"

And it's not just the stupid human trick-style stunts that are problematic. Fear Factor is filled with too much skin, swearing and bad attitudes. Contestants primp, boast and squabble for the cameras, making national statements out of their mangled marriages, sexual proclivities and hard-partying habits.

What would be really scary? Watching a whole season of Fear Factor from start to finish. Now that would give me nightmares.


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Episode Reviews

FearFactor: 12192011
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