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Just Push The Red Button
February 1

A book came in the mail today: 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. This would normally be of little consequence to my column, except for an interesting entry. At number 69 was one Matt Kunitz. Best known for executive producing Fear Factor. The author went on to detail more than a dozen of the show’s signature second challenges: where the contestants must either eat various nasty stuff, or be slathered in vermin and other creatures. I guess that the point is that Mr. Kunitz has somehow managed to take all of television down a peg with Fear Factor.

So what, right? Fear Factor has been off the air for several years now, hasn’t it? Well, yes, but many of the things that we most remember Fear for live on in various shows. In fact, Solitary seems to have taken a page from every competitive reality game show out there, and turned the knob to eleven. Whether contestants are drinking condiment cocktails, spinning around in a desk chair while trying to remember a growing list of colors, the tasks are patently bizarre and almost always entertaining.

The thing that I remember: contestants have an out. Survivor castaways (who were eating butok larvae before Fear Factor even existed in America) can quit any time. Solitarians can press the red button in their pod to finish their experience with the show. No contestant is ever held against their will or forced to play any game that the show has: they can bail out, forfeit their chance at the big prize and be done with it.

The next time you hear someone complain about the horrible challenges that players must undertake to win the grand prize, remember that these are people who happily traded a few days of their lives to be flung off helicopters, to drink blended everything, and so on to have a crack at the grand prize, or in some cases just to be on TV. They want to be on TV, I want to watch them compete. Everyone wins.

Travis Eberle can be reached at traviseberle@gmail.com. No complaining!