Viewers looking for small screen thrills in the early 2000s often tuned into Fear Factor to get their fix. The game show, hosted by Joe Rogan, was famous for challenges that tested our gag reflexes. Any given episode required contestants to eat rats, roadkill, or horse rectums.
But the same reason people watched eventually became the same reason they tuned out. Since its debut, Fear Factor was pulled from the air and resurrected multiple times. We’re taking a look back at the show’s history and revealing the reasons for its ultimate demise.
‘Fear Factor’ Captivated Audiences For Much Of The Early 2000s
Fear Factor was an American game show that first aired on June 11, 2001, on NBC. The premise was simple: contestants were required to complete three jaw-dropping stunts in exchange for $50,000. Those who failed or backed out were eliminated from the competition.
Some challenges—each designed to test a person’s physical and mental endurance—were death-defying in nature. Contestants could be instructed to leap between tall buildings, expose themselves to tear gas chambers or hang from the cargo net off of a moving helicopter. But don’t worry, trained professionals were on hand during filming to supervise.
In every episode, there were also gross-out challenges that usually involved eating unusual ingredients. Viewers cringed as people consumed live spiders, sheep eyeballs, and maggots in pursuit of the prize.
For the network, the idea was to develop a program that would outdo the success of CBS’s Survivor—and the initial results were promising. Fear Factor was a breakout hit in its first season. According to Nielsen ratings, the show was the highest viewed program among 18-to-49-year-old viewers on multiple weeks.
It also spawned several international editions. The show’s original concept was called Now or Neverland and aired in the Netherlands, but after its success in the U.S., countless versions aired from Albania to the Philippines.
Joe Rogan Famously Hosted The Original ‘Fear Factor’
Fear Factor was originally hosted by Joe Rogan—then known for being a UFC commentator and a former cast member of the hit sitcom News Radio. In a 2015 interview with talk radio host Art Bell, Rogan revealed his initial apprehension about the gig.
“It was bizarre for me being there, being the host of it, as it was for anyone to watch it,” said Rogan. “Ninety percent of the time I would show up at work and I’d be shaking my head going, ‘I can’t believe this is a real show.’”
At first, Rogan didn’t think Fear Factor would be popular. He thought it would only run for a couple of episodes. He remarked, “I thought it was something completely ridiculous. I’m like, ‘There’s no way this is going to stay on television.’ Then, 148 episodes later…”
Perhaps Rogan’s gut instinct was correct. It wasn’t always an ideal job. In a 2006 special edition of Fear Factor featuring reality television stars, the host got into a heated scuffle with one of the contestants.
It began when a contestant, Victoria Fuller, punched Jonny Fairplay, from Survivor, in the stomach. Rogan immediately reprimanded her. “Hey, hey, hey—what are you doing?” He asked. “You can’t assault people… it’s called strategy, he’s yelling out. You can’t run up to him and hit him.”
But her teammate and husband, Jonathan Baker, charged at Rogan in response. Needless to say, the couple was booted from the competition. Watch it unfold in the clip below.
“The guy got in my face,” Rogan explained years later on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. “I thought he was gonna hit me! I didn’t hurt him—I was thinking of choking him. But I was like, I better not choke him. Because if I choke him, you know, maybe they could sue me.”
Although the fight wasn’t enough to end the series, Fear Factor was still headed to the grave for other reasons.
The Show Was Originally Canceled Due To Poor Ratings
Despite being a popular water-cooler topic, NBC canceled Fear Factor in 2006. With each progressive season, ratings saw a steady decline. And although it met its goal of competing with Survivor, it just couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Fox’s cash cow, American Idol.
Others blame overexposure for its cancellation. The series was concurrently running premiere episodes on NBC while also running past seasons in syndication.
At the end of the day, Fear Factor reportedly earned NBC $600 million in ad revenue over its first six seasons. The only problem is that most viewers who were thrilled by the challenges didn’t necessarily want to replay them. DVD copies of the first season had poor sales, so NBC scrapped their plans to release the entire series in a DVD box set.
‘Fear Factor’ Came Back In 2011 But Was Canceled Again Due To A Revolting Stunt
During its time off the air, NBC executives noticed that old Fear Factor episodes performed well on its sister cable channel, Chiller. As a result, they revived the series in 2011.
But the resurrection was short-lived. The show’s format had become stale, and producers were forced to push the limit until lines were crossed.
“The second time around we did it for seven more episodes… and then I was worried because there were some episodes… where they really kept upping the ante further and further and there was a few accidents,” Rogan told Art Bell. “Nobody got hurt; [it was] nothing serious. But it was like wow. This is more risky than we ever did before.”
The death knell for the series was an episode titled “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” In it, contestants were required to ingest their choice of either donkey urine or semen. One participant leaked the details of the challenge to a local radio show; she was quickly was warned by producers to stay silent moving forward. The episode never aired, but you can still watch it on YouTube.
Reflecting on the show’s disgusting demise, Rogan has some regrets.
“When I was like on season five of Fear Factor, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this,’” Rogan said in a 2019 episode of his podcast. “It was the same thing over and over again. We did 148 episodes. After a while, it was like, ‘Jesus Christ how many animal [expletive] can you serve people?’”
The former Fear Factor host went on to talk about coming back for the 2011 revival. He just had children at the time and felt an obligation to chase the paycheck. He added, “I didn’t have as much money back then, and also, it was a lot more money than what I got the first time. It was a big deal, but I immediately regretted it.”
But just like a cockroach you might see in a Fear Factor challenge, the series refused to die. It made another comeback in 2017 on MTV with a new host, Ludacris. However, the reboot only lasted for two seasons before it met its third death.
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