Did you hear? NBC's loud, ridiculous proto reality show Fear Factor returned to the desperate network last night (looking forward to that Friends reunion!) and, well, it was somehow the same more than ever.
For those of you who somehow managed to ignore the show during its first go-around, or who are children (go to school!), Fear Factor is: Yelling comedian Joe Rogan hosts four teams of two, usually of some relation to one another, who compete in three fearsome (that is why the title is the title) tasks. Well, not everyone does all three, there is an elimination in each round. But yes, the tasks are either scary dangerous or scary gross. Like, being hurled into a tub of water in a convertible and forced to find keys used to unlock things, or eating bugs. Yes, bug-eating! What is often thought of as Survivor's domain is also a big part of Fear Factor. So, yeah, that's the show basically. The last remaining team (things are judged on a time basis) wins $50,000 and Joe Rogan wins... Well, Joe Rogan wins work.
While the original show ended in 2006, poor NBC is having a tough go of it these days so they said hey what the hell let's bring it on back. And now it's bigger than ever! In the two new episodes that aired last night, there were explosions of "fuel dumps" and "ammo dumps" (yes, because NBC has access to just random ammo dumps in the middle of the Southern California desert) and one big vat full of blood. Mhhm. In perhaps the most unsettling challenge last night, three teams had to wade through a tub of cow's blood to retrieve cow hearts, which they then put into each other's mouths and spit out into a container. Terrific! (Every member of PETA just died in horror.) Now, maybe all the cow parts and cow plasma were fake, but just the implication was, as we used to say in 2001, gag worthy.
So yes, things were Bigger and Bloodier and Explodier, but for the most part they were the same. There were the same dopey hardbodies, the same lame canned trash talking, and the same Joe Rogen, yelling away. People often use this show as an example of some sort of nadir of network reality TV, because it's oftentimes about people horribly debasing themselves for money, and they're not wrong. Watching someone weep while their head is shaved or they're dipped in cow's blood is pretty sad and depressing. But the physical stunts are just the same silliness on display on other harmless, if kinda trasht, reality shows like the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. The bugs and blood and whatnot are the sad part of the show, but everything else is fine.
And you know what? The most surprising thing about last night's return was that it was pretty darn entertaining. They found the usual cast of braggadocio body builders and tatted-out biker types and everyone was in good spirits and even Joe Rogan's constant yelling (seriously guys he yells through the entire show, he is going to be mute by the time he's 50) was strangely charming. We're not going to watch this every week, but on an otherwise boring Monday night? Yeah, bring on the 'splosions and whirlybirds and scorpions. (Well, actually, leave the scorpions.) Welcome back, you stupid, stupidly delightful show.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.