Universal Studios' new lure drawing guests


Cox News Service

Last update: August 25, 2005

ORLANDO -- The warning comes early, long before contestants are left hanging -- literally -- 30 feet in the air or find themselves gulping down a "smoothie" made from octopus, worms and sour milk.

But the contestants aren't the ones being warned. If anything, they seem more than game. Rather, it's members of the audience whom producers are prepping.

"The show you're about to see," a voice over the loudspeaker declares, has elements "that some guests may find discomforting."

That would be one way of putting it. After all, this isn't your usual theme-park adventure.

It's "Fear Factor Live."

Since it bowed more than a month ago at Universal parks in Orlando (Universal Studios Florida) and California (Universal Studios Hollywood), this TV reality show-turned-theatrical spectacle has proved to be quite the crowd-pleaser, drawing capacity audiences for many of its daily performances. The appeal is obviously tied to the NBC show's continued popularity.

While Universal may hardly be the first to cash in on a TV program's success -- Disney unveiled its live version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" at its theme parks a few years ago -- it's safe to say it's the first that's invited guests to have venomous emperor scorpions placed atop their heads.



"We didn't want it to feel like a theme-park show. We wanted it to feel like the TV show," says Lisa Enos-Smith, the attraction's creative director.

And so it does. In a mere 30 minutes, six contestants get whittled down to one victor through a series of outrageous stunts.

First, it's the hanging-in-midair challenge. Then, it's on to a more complex, two-part test that calls for sticking your hand in an eel-filled tank and tossing a squid into a bucket. And finally, there's a kind of hellacious obstacle course that concludes with contestants standing atop a suspended car.

But that's not all. In between these main stunts, a separate group of participants are chosen for the "smoothie" and scorpion challenges. The octopus-worm-sour milk cocktail chugging test inevitably garners the most attention. And though contestants are told by a host that "it may help if you think of this as a high-intensity protein shake," there are barf bags on the set for a reason.

"It was just horrible!" says Christopher Johnson, a 15-year-old contestant from Philadelphia who gagged in the middle of the challenge.

Then again, as with the TV show, it's all about facing your worst nightmare.

"A lot of thrill-seekers wonder if they can do it," says Enos-Smith.

And so, they line up about an hour before each show, trying to impress two judges with their fearless attitude.

First, there's the obligatory height and weight measurements -- you must be between 5-feet-2 and 6-feet-4 tall and weigh between 100 and 225 pounds. Then, judges try to get a sense of each potential contestant's mind-set through playing a game of Simon Says and having them talk about why they'd be a perfect "Fear Factor" candidate.

The judges are not necessarily looking for stuntman wannabes. But they are looking for people with plenty of personality.

If You Go

WHAT:
'Fear Factor Live,' Universal Studios Florida theme park.

WHERE: Orlando; see Web site for directions.

WHEN: Park hours vary.

ADMISSION: One-day admission to the park is $59.75 ($48 for children). INFORMATION: Call (407) 363-8000 or visit www.universalorlando.com