Created by Endemol USA
Country of origin United States
First episode date 11 June 2001
Presented by Joe Rogan
Genre Stunt/dare Game show
Theme music composer Russ Landau
Original language(s) English
Final episode date 16 July 2012
Theme song Fear Factor Theme Song
|No. of seasons Original series: 6Revived series: 1|
Nominations Kids' Choice Award for Favorite TV Show
Similar Wipeout, Deal or No Deal, Survivor, Minute to Win It, Game Show in My Head
Fear Factor is an American stunt/dare game show that originally aired between 2001 and 2006. It was later revived in 2011, only to be cancelled again on May 13, 2012. After its second cancellation, a two-part special aired in July 2012. The original Dutch version was called Now or Neverland. When Endemol USA and NBC adapted it to the American market in 2001, they changed the name to Fear Factor. The show pits contestants against each other in a variety of stunts for a grand prize, usually of US $50,000. From Seasons One to Five, the contestants were generally three men and three women, all competing for themselves, but in Season Six, the show moved to a permanent format of four teams of two people, each with a pre-existing relationship with one another. The show was hosted by comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan, produced by Matt Kunitz and David A. Hurwitz, and directed by J. Rupert Thompson.
- Show format
- First stunt
- Second stunt
- Third stunt
- Tournament of Champions
- Special episode formats
- Revived series
- Spin off products
As NBC's answer to the successful series Survivor, the show was initially a hit for the network in the summer of 2001, and built strong ratings and popularity for the next couple of seasons, but as the years passed, the ratings declined. In 2006, Fear Factor faced tough competition with the TV ratings champion, Fox's talent series American Idol on Tuesday nights, and the ratings declined further. The ratings continued trending downward in mid-2006. Despite much publicity concerning an improved format and better stunts for Season Six, NBC put the struggling program on hiatus for the remainder of the season to make room for the sitcom Joey, which was removed from the NBC lineup a few weeks later. The series was officially cancelled by NBC in May 2006 after six seasons, due to poor ratings. The network began airing the remainder of the season on June 13, 2006, with the remaining episodes to be aired throughout the summer. In 2004, Fear Factor became the first network reality show to be syndicated. Over its six seasons, Fear Factor earned NBC a reported $600 million in advertising revenue. Currently only the first season has been released on DVD, but in early 2009, plans were made to release a box set containing the entire series on DVD. The project was put on hold for an unknown reason in March 2010. On June 5, 2010, it was announced that the project was cancelled because of the low sales of the first season DVD.
With Chiller airing reruns of the show every Sunday night, the ratings on Chiller led to Comcast informing Entertainment Weekly in a May 31, 2011 report that Fear Factor would be revived for a new season. Eight episodes were ordered, with two of them being two-hour episodes and Rogan returning to the hosting duties. The revival was shot in high-definition, and owing to concerns over the then-ongoing NFL Lockout and the loss of NBC Sunday Night Football episodes, TV Guide reported in early July the show could be ready as early as September as lockout replacement programming. (NBC eventually lost one episode, the season premiere Hall of Fame Game, because of the lockout that ended in late July) The program began airing December 12, 2011, with the final episode airing July 16, 2012. On May 13, 2012, NBC announced that Fear Factor was officially cancelled. It is unknown whether or not the show will be revived again for a third time.
Before the contestants are introduced (and at the half-way point of a two-hour special), Rogan gives a verbal disclaimer. The wording has changed with certain versions, but this is one most commonly used:
The normal format involves three men and three women, or four teams of two people with a pre-existing relationship, who have to complete three professional stunts to win US$50,000. If a contestant/team is too scared to attempt a stunt, failed to complete a stunt, or (in some cases) had the worst performance on a stunt, they are eliminated from the competition. If only one contestant/team successfully completes the first or the second stunt, they automatically win $25,000, and the other contestants eliminated in the stunt along with the winner of the stunt return for the next stunt to compete for the remaining $25,000. If no one successfully completed the first or the second stunt, then all of the contestants/teams eliminated in the stunt would return to the next stunt to compete for a reduced $25,000 (this rule did not apply for non-elimination stunts). The only exception to this was in season one, where if one person completed the stunt, then the completer won $10,000 and the $50,000 grand prize was not reduced.
Only once in the history of Fear Factor did the $50,000 top prize go unclaimed in an episode. This happened on a Best Friends edition on September 27, 2004, when none of the remaining teams were able to complete the final stunt. In the stunt, one member of each team had to drive a ramp car, while the other member had to drive a sports car. The one driving the sports car had to drive it onto the truck bed via the ramp car. If the sports car fell off of the truck bed at any time, the team was automatically eliminated. Had it been successfully completed, the team who did this the fastest would have won. However, the last remaining contestants walked away with two Mazda vehicles for winning a previous stunt (see Second stunt).
After the acquisition of Universal Studios of Vivendi by NBC's parent company General Electric in 2004, contestants could win vacations in order to promote the theme park division of NBCUniversal at Universal Orlando, or win trips to Universal Studios in Hollywood.
The order of the stunts on a typical episode of Fear Factor is as follows:
The first stunt is designed to physically test each of the contestants or teams (for example, jumping from one building to the next or hanging from a helicopter and collecting flags on a ladder). Usually, the two men and the two women, or the three teams, that gave the best performance (such as the fastest time, farthest distance, or number of flags collected in under a certain time) will move on to the second stunt. The others are eliminated.
The second stunt is meant to mentally challenge the contestants or teams. The three most common types of stunts in the second round are eating stunts, animal stunts, and retrieval/transfer stunts. Eating stunts entail ingesting vile animal parts, live bugs, or a blended concoction of multiple items; animal stunts entail immersing one's head or entire body in animals considered to be disgusting or intimidating (such as rats, spiders, snakes, or worms); retrieval/transfer stunts entail retrieving items or gross objects (often by mouth) hidden in disgusting substances (for example, blood or lard), or live animals (such as sit in a tub of snakes as long as they could). Less often, the second stunt involves a pain endurance challenge or embarrassment tolerance challenge, such as outlasting competitors in a tear gas chamber, walking on broken glass with bare feet, getting a tattoo, having their head shaved, appearing completely naked and photographed by a live audience (although blurred out before home audiences) getting piercings or ingesting habanero peppers. With the exception of retrieval/transfer stunts, contestants are usually not eliminated after this stunt unless they did not complete it, or vomited before finishing. In the case of teams, one team may be eliminated for performing the worst.
In later episodes, a common (but not always used) rule was that no one would be eliminated after the second stunt; instead, the contestant or team that performed the best would receive a prize, such as a vehicle or a prize package similar in value. More often than not, the contestant/team with the best performance had the privilege of choosing the order that the contestants/teams had to go in to perform the next stunt [for the following day].
The third and final stunt is usually something from an extreme type of stunt seen in an action film. Like the first stunt, it usually involves heights, water, vehicles, or some combination of the three. In order to avoid ties, this stunt is always competitive. The player or team with the best performance this round wins the grand prize, usually $50,000, and has the privilege of being informed by Rogan that "evidently, fear is not a factor for you".
Tournament of Champions
The second and third seasons concluded with a Tournament of Champions featuring the winners of each show in that season and a $100,000 grand prize.
In Season two, the thirteen non-celebrity winners were divided into groups of eight men and five women. For the first four stunts, men competed amongst men and women competed amongst women, in two stunts each. The men had to release a flag from a locked box while hanging suspended in the air and eat three different items from a table. The women had to collect flags while on top of an aircraft and retrieve three poles from a tank with alligators. The stunts narrowed the contestants down from eight men and five women to two men and two women who will, in the end, compete against each other for the grand prize by using a key to activate a horn while riding on a speeding truck.
In Season three, the twenty-four winners were divided into two groups of twelve, each containing seven men and five women. In the first semifinal episode, the group was cut from twelve to six to three to two finalists. In the second semifinal episode, the group was cut from twelve to six in the first stunt, then the men competed amongst the men and the women competed amongst the women in the second stunt, and then the final four contestants, two men and two women, were cut to two finalists. Each finalist won a 2004 Mazda RX-8 and a chance at the $100,000. In the finals, the four finalists competed in three stunts. Each stunt eliminated one contestant, and the final stunt determined the winner.
Special episode formats
Christmas special (2002): A Christmas-themed Fear Factor episode, part of season three but aired in 2002.
Four Stunt Show (Seasons three to six): This was typically a 90-minute episode featuring four stunts instead of three. The first such episode was notable for the stunt involving body piercing. In seasons four to six, at least one of the four stunts was a non-elimination stunt, in which contestants competed for a prize. The four-stunt format was sometimes used in conjunction with other special formats, such as Family Fear Factor, Twins Fear Factor, and Reality Stars Fear Factor.
All-Gross Show (Seasons three to six): All three stunts on this show followed the format of the second (gross) stunt as described above. The first such episode involved bobbing for objects in a vat containing 50 gallons of cow blood. In seasons four and five, the all-gross format was used for Halloween-themed episodes. In season six, a "Farm Fear Factor" episode featured all gross stunts.
Las Vegas Show (Seasons three to five): Stunts took place at various hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. The show's winner was required to bet at least half of their winnings on one hand of Blackjack, with the chance to continue gambling if successful.
Second Chance (Season four): Losing contestants from previous seasons came back for a second chance at winning $50,000.
Favorite Winners (Season five): Winning contestants from previous seasons came back for a chance at winning another $50,000.
Couples (Seasons three to five): Four couples competed in three stunts, with the winning team dividing the prize (and, in season three, sending one player to the Tournament of Champions).
In Season four, nine couples competed over seven weeks and 17 stunts for $1,000,000. Along the way, they competed for various other prizes, including $10,000, cars, vacations, credit cards, and a chance to steal a desired prize from another team. In Season five, eight couples competed for the million dollar prize.
While not specifically designated as "couples" episodes, several themed episodes in Season six featured all-couples teams. These episodes included "Psycho Fear Factor" and "Old vs. Young".
Twins (Seasons two, four, five, and seven): In season two, three pairs of twins competed as teams in the first stunt, and competed individually the second and third stunts. In seasons four and five, four pairs of twins competed as teams in all stunts, with the winning team dividing the prize. The seventh season 'twins' episode is infamous for its donkey semen stunt.
Best Friends (Season five): Four pairs of best friends competed in three stunts, with the winning team dividing the prize.
Family (Seasons four and six): Four teams of one parent and one child competed in three stunts for the prize. In the second stunt, the team with the best performance received a bonus prize, such as a car or a vacation.
$1 Million (Season four): Twelve contestants competed in six stunts. The player who survived all six won the $1,000,000 annuity.
Models (Seasons four and five): Played in the normal format with models or entirely female contestants. The fifth season had one episode with male and female models.
Fear Factor Super Bowl Halftime Show (Season two): Played in the normal format with Playboy Playmates. The first stunt aired as counter programming to the Super Bowl halftime show and ended right before the third quarter of the game started. The remaining two stunts were shown immediately after the game as counter programming to the Super Bowl lead-out show.
Miss USA (Seasons three to five): Played in the normal format with Miss USA contestants, with the winning contestant keeping $25,000 and giving $25,000 to a charity of their choice. There was no Miss USA edition in the sixth season of Fear Factor, as NBC produced a Miss USA edition of Deal or No Deal instead; the Miss USA contestants were the briefcase models for the entire episode. The next time that Miss USA delegates would be involved in a game show was in 2010 on Minute to Win It. The Miss USA edition was not present in the show's final two seasons, as the current format had four teams of two people.
WWF/E Stars (Season two): Six WWF/E stars played for $50,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. It was won by Matt Hardy.
Reality Stars (Seasons five and six): Contestants from other reality shows including The Amazing Race, Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice, and The Real World, played for a grand prize and other bonus prizes such as cars and vacations. In season five, six contestants competed in a four-stunt episode for $50,000, and in season six, five teams of two competed in a three-episode series for $150,000. The season five episode was won by Ryan Sutter and Mike "The Miz" Mizanin and Trishelle Cannatella won in season six.
Military (Season six): Contestants from the Air Force, the Army, the Marines, and the Navy competed.
Psycho (Season six): A three episode series featuring six couples performing stunts which were centered around the Bates Motel on the set of the original Psycho horror movie from Paramount Pictures. Unlike other Fear Factor episodes, contestants were required to sleep in the filthy Bates Motel between stunts, and were subjected to Fear Factor pranks and mini-challenges while in the motel.
Newlyweds (Season five): Four sets of Newlyweds competed for $50,000 at Universal Studios Florida.
Blind Date (Season six): Four single men were introduced to four single women, and either the women (in the first episode) or the men (in the second episode) got to choose their partner among the available contestants of the opposite sex. The winning team divided the prize.
Sleep Deprivation (Season four): Five co-ed pairs of contestants competed as teams in the normal format, with one exception: contestants had to stay awake for the 48-hour duration of the competition. If a contestant fell asleep at any time before the final stunt was completed, his or her team would be eliminated. This was the only episode in the TV series in which contestants could be eliminated in the downtime between stunts.
Million Dollar Heist: (Season six): Contestants have the chance to steal up to $1,000,000.
Home Invasion: This was included at the end of each episode in Season six. It involved Joe Rogan going to different homes across America and challenging the family to compete in a stunt. Each stunt usually involved the contestants, under time limit (usually one minute), ingesting something foul or undesirable before receiving keys to open two safes, both containing $5,000 credit cards from Capital One.
The series revival began airing on December 12, 2011, and the two premiere episodes were viewed by 8.7 million and 8.5 million viewers, respectively. This makes the premiere the highest non-sports programming to air on NBC at 8:00 p.m. since February 2008.
The revival featured four teams of two people with a preexisting relationship per episode, rather than the original versions' six people (three males and three females). The first five seasons had used the three male, three female grouping, but the sixth and final pre-revival season utilized 4 teams of two people each. The stunts have remained basically the same, with the "gross" one in between the two physical ones.
NBC pulled a two-hour, five team, five stunt episode entitled "Leeches & Shaved Heads & Tear Gas, Oh My!" which featured a stunt where teams spun a wheel to determine whether they would have to shave their heads and eyebrows, get tattooed, or be tear gassed. This episode was scheduled to air January 23, 2012 and was replaced by a GOP debate.
The sixth episode, entitled "Hee Haw! Hee Haw!" and featuring a stunt where contestants drink the urine and semen of a donkey, was originally scheduled to air January 30, 2012. Hesitant about airing the stunt, NBC eventually pulled the episode after pictures of the stunt appeared online. Video footage of the stunt appeared online after the episode aired on Danish TV in June 2012.
The replacement episode for "Hee Haw! Hee Haw!", entitled "The Bees Are So Angry", was two hours instead of the usual one, and included five teams, five stunts, and a $100,000 prize instead of the usual four teams, three stunts, and $50,000 prize. The Voice replaced the series' s slot on Monday nights.
NBC rescheduled the two hour "Leeches & Shaved Heads & Tear Gas, Oh My!" episode, which aired in two parts over the nights of July 9 and July 16. The first part ended with the "To Be Continued" subtitle followed by a preview for the second part. As of July 2012, Fear Factor was officially cancelled.
Fear Factor has received criticism from the general public mainly because of the show's second stunt, which intends to disgust its viewers. The American Humane Association expressed concerns for allowing various animals to get injured, and even killing insects by eating them alive during the videotaping of the show. The association also revealed that professional animal trainers have refused to work on the show because the producers of Fear Factor have demanded stunts which violate the association's guidelines.
American Humane believes that shows like Fear Factor are on a slippery slope of animal mistreatment and provide poor examples of animal treatment and humane ethics. As we work diligently to expand voluntary compliance with animal safety guidelines, organisations like Endemol who blatantly demonstrate complete disregard for animal welfare, or even that of their human contestants — are producing unacceptable programming. Karen Rosa (Communications Manager of AHA Film and TV Unit)
In January 2005, an episode featuring a stunt involving blended rats aired in its normal prime time slot. Austin Aitken, a part-time paralegal from Cleveland, Ohio, sued NBC for $2.5 million USD for airing the show, claiming that he felt so disgusted from watching the stunt, his blood pressure rose until he felt dizzy and lightheaded and subsequently vomited. He claimed that his disorientation was so severe that he ran into a doorway and seriously injured himself. In March 2005, U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells threw out the lawsuit on the grounds of First Amendment protection.
Fear Factor was also criticized by major U.S. electrical utilities for an episode that required contestants to climb through a simulated electrical substation with "electrified wires" replete with simulated sparks and electrical sounds added in post-processing. The Edison Electric Institute issued a warning regarding the episode, fearing that viewers might attempt to climb through a real substation with potentially fatal results.
An episode originally scheduled for January 30, 2012, featuring contestants drinking donkey semen and urine, was rejected by NBC, which instead aired a rerun. On January 31, 2012, two of the contestants, twin sisters Claire and Brynne Odioso, appeared on The Cowhead Show on Tampa Bay radio station WHPT to talk about their experiences in that episode; however, according to TMZ.com, producers of Fear Factor warned the Odioso sisters not to continue any discussion of the program, as doing so would put them in breach of their confidentiality agreements.
Fear Factor has also resulted in various spin-off products: