Monday, January 11, 2010

Fear Factor

From November of 2000 to March of 2001, I worked on a show called Fear Factor.
This was my experience.

I moved to Los Angeles in August of 2000 with hopes of making movies, writing for The Simpsons, and becoming the next host of The Tonight Show. I didn’t have a real job for the first 3 months so I settled with interning for a manager and reading scripts. I remember reading Rob Schneider’s “The Animal” a year before it came out and thinking someone is going to pay money for this? I got paid a small stipend that I spent on spaghetti and cheap beer. The people were nice (all two of them), but the office was tiny and I craved meeting more people in the industry. As fate would have it, that would soon happen.

It all started with a visit to General Hospital. The Uncle of one of my best friend’s did the music for the well known soap opera. I got to walk around the set and check out the bodacious nurses. My friend’s Uncle seemed determined to find me a job: 1) because I was friends with his nephew; 2) because he was a damn cool guy and 3) because I wouldn’t stop complaining about it. So it turned out my friend’s Uncle had a friend whose son had worked on Survivor. The son’s friend was working on a new reality show and needed a production assistant. So a few calls were made, and I ended up at an interview.

I was very nervous when I met Omid. I had little experience and my resume proved it. Why would they hire me on a TV show? I didn’t know the first thing to do. Omid and two other guys sat down with me, and they asked how I knew their friend. I explained the six degrees of separation story, and they were satisfied. Not one question about experience; about goals; about work ethic. Just who I knew. Only in LA. “See you on Monday.”

In the first two weeks, I got to know my co-workers; a mix of airheads reminiscent to Real World, and a few hard workers who could actually read. We were developing a show called: “Chains of Love.” The premise of this brilliant show was several young good looking people would be chained together (like a chain gang) and then mayhem and hilarity would ensue. I was very proud to be working on such a ground breaking program.

After 2 weeks, the producers realized this show was beneath NBC’s standards (UPN picked up the show and aired 8 episodes before it was cancelled.) We were given a brief hiatus and paid vacation while they picked up a new show. It was awesome!

When I returned, that’s when things got interesting.

The new reality show would be called “Now or Never Land”; a rip off of a show from somewhere in Europe. It would be a game show where people had to pull off incredible stunts and athletic moves to win prizes. It actually sounded pretty cool.

For the next two months, I had the time of my life. I worked in casting and was responsible for finding the contestants. The rules were: the people had to be interesting; and they had to be hot! I was given a stack of NBC Casting cards and sent into Hollywood to look for people.

I approached every hot girl I could find in bars, clubs, parks, restaurants, synagogues, wherever. I entered a strip club once and had a dozen boobs in my face asking me questions on how to get on the show. It was miraculous.

One time, my friends and I were in line to get into a club. We were three average looking, average dressed nice guys. There was no way we were getting in. I calmly approached the bouncer who was looking forward to bouncing me. He took one look at me and my friends, shook his head, and must’ve thought: “What the fuck do these guys think they’re doing?”

Then I slid out my NBC Casting cards and told him he should be on the show. I complimented his “look”, and he melted right in front of me. I swear he was even blushing. When he brought out the manager, I tossed him an NBC Casting card as well. He was giddy. They graciously brought us in the club and took care of us. I felt like a superhero and the NBC Casting card was my secret weapon. It was one of the best moments of my young life. Later that night, one of my friends, in his drunken stupor, asked me: “How’d you get to be so cool?!”

Office Work

When I was in the office, I prepped the contestants for their interviews. That meant I spent hours just chatting away with the hottest girls in LA that were insecure enough to do a reality show. It was truly incredible.

My favorite conversation was with Bonnie-Jill Laflin; the hottest woman that’s ever spoken to me in my life. She was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, absolutely stunning, loved sports, was smokin’ hot, and her nickname was BJ. Why she was auditioning for this show was beyond me. We talked sports. We talked life. We talked about New Year’s Eve plans. I was going to my friend’s house. She was going to the Playboy mansion. We were a perfect couple. She didn’t appear on the show and I never saw her again. But she did laugh at some of my jokes and I’ll always have that.

As the production of the show progressed, there were a few changes. Ironically, Omid--the guy who hired me--got canned. I felt terrible because he was a nice, hard working dude, and also because he gave me all those NBC Casting cards. Fortunately, those remained, but Omid did not.

The name of the show also changed. “Now or NeverLand” was thankfully switched to the recognizable: “Fear Factor.”

And the last change was finding a host for the show. The producers narrowed it down to three candidates: some Latino dude from ESPN 2, some news anchor that I’d never heard of, and Joe Rogan.

The Joe Rogan Interview

I drove the 3 producers to a diner on Hollywood Blvd. called the Hamburger Hamlet. The four of us sat at a round table with Joe Rogan. I’d seen him on NewsRadio and knew he was a pretty established comedian, but didn’t know what to expect.

Rogan was a fast-talker, but was well spoken and seemed intelligent. My ears perked up when I learned he was from Newton, MA just 5 minutes from where I went to high school. Very cool, I thought. I asked if he was a Celtics fan.

That’s when Joe ripped into all Boston sports fans. It must’ve been something from his act because he unloaded a diatribe about how awful Boston fans are. As it got worse, I turned red and gritted my teeth. The producers died laughing; not because Joe was all that funny, but more because I was getting so angry. The producers were well aware of my roots and Boston sports fanaticism. Part of me thinks my reaction to Joe’s speech may have actually helped him get the job.

A week later, Joe Rogan was cast as the host for Fear Factor. The contestants were chosen, and everything was ready to roll.

That’s when my life went downhill.


My NBC Casting cards were no longer needed. I placed them in my desk forever (although months later I tried to use them to pick up girls.)

The show was no longer just about stunts, but more about what would shock audiences: making people eat worms and shit like that. I was actually tapped to prepare some of those glorious meals; I still have nightmares about scooping out goat eyes for people to eat.

My job was to be a human slave. I spent 16 hours a day at the producers beckon call. It became the classic Hollywood entry level job. Common commands included: “pick this up”; “drop this off”; “you suck”; “lick my balls”; etc. A few producers offered me extra money to do experimental stunts like get covered in peanut butter and have ants run over my body. I rejected their offers. This was really my life.

A Day in the Life

What’s it like to work for a TV show? Here you go.

One day a producer asked me to find 3 dozen yellow construction helmets. I searched online and found two stores; although one was nearby, they sent me to the one 90 minutes away because it was 10% cheaper.

I drove 90 minutes, which in LA is really 3 hours, and picked up the helmets. I presented them to the producers who bit their nails and shook their heads. They didn’t like the color; they preferred black. I explained that there were no black helmets so they told me to paint them black.

I went online and found two stores for the spray paint. As you can guess, I drove another 2 hours for the cheaper spray paint.

I then spent the next 2 hours spray painting each one of the helmets.

I presented the newly black helmets to the producers. They stared at the helmets meticulously as if I’d uncovered a dinosaur fossil. But they didn’t like what they saw. The helmets looked too new. I should make them look gritty and used.

My next step became smacking the helmets against a wall so some of the paint chipped off. This gave them the gritty look they so desperately needed.

I then drove the helmets to the set, which was on location an hour away. I presented the helmets to the producers. They looked at me with a sense of confusion.

“Nobody told you?!”

They didn’t need the helmets anymore! Then they asked if I could return them, and I just shook my head.

The last two months at Fear Factor were days just like this. I was a walking zombie, and I hated my life. I took solace in flirting with one girl I had a crush on. But she was obsessed with Rogan and eventually stopped talking to me. (Rogan hit on anything that moved; I probably would’ve been the same if I was the host too.)

I just couldn’t wait for the show to end.

The First Episode

My family and friends tuned in for the first episode of Fear Factor. Despite being disgusted, my parents watched the entire episode so they could see my name in the credits. They cheered as my name appeared on TV for a split second. They were so supportive; they never once asked why a college graduate would work on a program that makes people eat shit. Instead, they just said they were proud.

But I wasn’t. It wasn’t why I moved to Hollywood. It wasn’t why I wanted to work on TV and movies. I learned, like most people in the business, Hollywood is not as glorious as it seems.

To my surprise, Fear Factor became a big hit, and topped the rating charts week in and week out. People were impressed that I was involved in such a wonderful program. But to be honest, I was embarrassed. The show remained on air for another five years, but I did not return. It was a mutual breakup: I never asked to continue, and they didn’t ask me to return. I actually ran into one of my bosses several years later. He said two things: I was a hard worker, and that he’d never seen someone so miserable.

I also ran into Joe Rogan a few years later. I was walking on Sunset Boulevard and was definitely a little intoxicated after a stint at the Saddle Ranch. He had just performed at The Comedy Store and was chatting with some friends in front of the club. I approached him, wasted as can be, and shouted something about Fear Factor. I shook his hand and gave him a “remember me?” face. He seemed frightened, and he didn’t have a clue who I was. But maybe it was better that way. We had both moved on.

Looking back on Fear Factor is kind’ve like looking back on high school. There were great moments. There were terrible moments. I’m glad I did it, but I would never want to go back and do it again.

I don’t have a yearbook to remind me of the experience. But in my closet, I still have my Fear Factor fleece and Fear Factor hat which were gifts from NBC.

And of course, on my bulletin board at work, rests one final memory: my last NBC Casting Card.