Fear Factor returns: Still reality TV's grossest show?

Contestants take a dip in a 3,000-gallon pool of cow blood in the first episode in five years of the once-popular NBC series

"Fear Factor" host Joe Rogan stands next to a vat of cow's blood: The gag-inducing show returned to NBC Monday for its first episode since 2006.
(Image credit: Michael Weaver/NBC )

Reality TV has changed a lot in the five years since Fear Factor last aired on NBC. Rather than force contestants to wade through a pit of slithering snakes or chug a cocktail of various insects — tasks Fear Factor became famous for — the genre's biggest hits now capitalize on a different kind of grossout: The vapid behavior of privileged housewives and promiscuous twentysomethings. So when Fear Factor returned Monday night and required that contestants swim through a tank filled with 3,000 gallons of cow blood to retrieve cow hearts with their mouths, it was almost nostalgic. Are critics as grossed out (and entertained) as ever?

Fear Factor seems dated: Reality TV has evolved, say Liane Bonin Starr at HitFix. Viewers don't merely want to see competitors perform crazy stunts. "We also want them to be exposed for the narcissistic, shallow" people they are. Plus, the very premise of Fear Factor is too simple for today's audiences. There's not enough focus on gameplay or talent. "Difficult and disgusting tasks" on their own no longer cut it.

"Do we really need more Fear Factor?"

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And they didn't even bother improving the show: NBC could have at least updated the show's tired formula, says Emily Cheever at Ology. Sadly, they didn't. This is the same exact series that began airing a decade ago, and that's not a good thing. After all, the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," doesn't exactly apply here. Fear Factor was a very "broke" show. That's why it was canceled in the first place.

"Fear Factor is back, here's the review"

Actually, it's worth watching: Forget the gag-worthy stunts, says Richard Lawson at The Atlantic Wire. The most surprising thing about Fear Factor's return is "that it was pretty darn entertaining." Sure, there are the same meathead contestants serving up the same braggadocio, and host Joe Rogan is as insipid as ever. But the silliness and good-natured willingness with which the contestants tackled each task was "strangely charming." There was a point when Fear Factor was viewed as the "nadir of network reality TV." Now, it could be more accurately described as a "stupidly delightful show."

"There will be too much blood"

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