Trivia Question 3: “What did you eat for breakfast?”
Having missed the cut at the Orlando Regional Qualifier of The World Series of Pop Culture (WSOPC), Chris, Brian and Bill (better known as the Solid Gold Answers) set out for Universal Studios. If we weren’t going to be on the game show, we’d get our music, film and television fix elsewhere.
Universal Studios is a pop culture dream. If I were going to cheer myself up after a tough loss, this would be the place to do it. It’s been one of my favorite places to go ever since my Uncle Roy took me when I was younger, and perhaps I was daydreaming about that first trip when we noticed Brian was missing.
I had told Brian at the entrance that if we ever got separated, he should stop crying and find a policeman or somebody with a badge. Luckily, he wasn’t too far. Chris pointed Brian out to me, across the faux theme park street. It didn’t surprise me to find him standing under a sign that read “Casting: Fear Factor Live!”
Fear Factor is a game show that challenges contestants (physically and mentally) to perform difficult, creative stunts that involve phobias from the dangerous to the disgusting. Brian was getting in line to try out, and I got right behind him. Unfortunately, I was also above him by quite a bit in height and weight, and I was eliminated by the sign listing eligibility requirements. Brian, however, would not be denied. As opposed to the massive WSOPC, this contestant pool consisted of only about 30 people, and after passing a battery of tests including jumping jacks and a grueling round of Simon Says, he was running out to hand me his wallet and keys. He had made the final six and was going on the show.
This version of Fear Factor is not televised, but it does take place live in a stadium that holds an audience of about 500. Being booted from The World Series of Pop Culture was one thing, but I did not want to miss out on another opportunity due to, of all things, the Fat Factor. Luckily, the casting booth had other roles with less stringent requirements.
“I’m gonna need four volunteers!” barked the casting director, and by the time he got to “!” Chris and I were standing in front of him.
“Is there a height or weight limit?” I asked.
“Not for this stunt,” he told us with a shit-eating grin. In about 45 minutes, Chris and I (and our two opponents) would finally know what a shit-eating grin was. But first we had to sign the contract.
We had signed our share of confidentiality agreements the day before at the WSOPC audition, but this one was slightly different. The WSOPC contract did not include the words “exotic animal,” “humiliated” or “death.” This one did. After the producer ran through some instructions, Chris and I had a few moments to contemplate our own idiocy as a huge crowd filled the arena behind us. We also had to pick a team name.
As with our team name selection for the WSOPC, I fired up my creative writer’s brain and was about to open my mouth when Chris came up with something perfect: “Gone in Six Seconds.” Not only was it a play on pop culture, which had brought us here in the first place, but it was also totally appropriate for the task at hand. Plus, if we lost again, it might describe how quickly we got the axe.
When the show started, Brian appeared on a massive Diamond Vision screen, screaming “I eat fear for breakfast!” A theater major and actor, Brian’s comical chutzpah got the crowd fired up for the first stunt, which was an endurance competition. In Part Two of this series, I popularized the blue Nike tracksuit. Brian and his opponents appeared on a three-story-high platform in what can only be described as Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (no offense to the current band of the same name).
The contestants were required to hang from a bar with only a pulley and rope system to slow their eventual fall. The verbal hook for Fear Factor Live is a host prompt that starts with, “Oh, and by the way,” and finishes with the audience enthusiastically shouting, “There’s one more thing!” Zoiks! The competitors would also have to contend with high-powered fans trying to knock them off the bar. Brian had been vigorously exercising his trivia muscles in the last two months, but I wasn’t sure how much time he had spent on his lats. I don’t know whether it was the 12-hour drive or the clinginess of the spandex, but he held tight and was the second to last to fall.
He made it to Round Two, in which one of the other contestants had to fish beanbags out of a tank and throw them into a bucket Brian was holding. Not so scary, I guess, but by the way…there’s one more thing. The tank was full of live, giant, slimy eels. Unfazed, Brian and his partner made it through this challenge as well. This was good, because giant and slimy would also feature prominently in the next stage, in the form of massive, sloppy, stinking octopi with three-foot tentacles. This time Brian would be pitching and his partner would run around with the bucket. For those of you that remember the video game Kaboom!, it was kind of like that, except you never had to worry about getting inked by your Atari paddle. By-the-way-one-more-thing, Brian was swinging wildly from a cable, 20 feet off the ground.
Ever the showman, Brian elicited oohs, aahs and ewws! from the crowd as he made melodramatic faces and pretended to lick the foul octopi, sending the audience into a frenzy. His shot percentage was actually pretty high, but on his last throw he went into a flat spin like Goose from “Top Gun.” I beamed with pride as my good friend, despite being beset by squid stank and an emasculating harness, blindly heaved a SportsCenter-quality, over-the-head, Magic Johnson pass.
Alas, the eight-legged freak splatted to the pavement. Brian’s partner’s goggles were covered in too much eel snot and he essentially lost the fly ball in the lights. Brian was eliminated, and Chris and I were hoping not to be eliminated – as in “killed” – next.
As Brian & Co. went backstage to be hosed down, Chris and I were entering stage left with our opponents. Our stunt certainly didn’t look as challenging. I was still in my regular clothes and didn’t notice any deep pools or high towers. We didn’t even have helmets on. How bad could it be?
Here’s how bad. They rolled out a small cart with a large blender on it, and then set a reasonably sized plastic cup in front of each of us. That is, until we learned that our task was to drink whatever they put in the cups faster than the opposing team. From bottom to top, they dramatically filled the blender and described it in nauseating detail to the crowd. You’ll forgive me for not remembering all the facts. Like one of those monks who can slow his heartbeat, I was attempting to shut down my senses of taste and smell and focus instead on the tracheal training I had so earnestly conducted in my beer-funneling college days. My Dad has always encouraged me to sample all foods with a “no thank you” helping. “How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never even tried it?” Ready to dig in, Dad?
As part of my research for this article, I spoke with the Universal publicity department, who refused to reveal the actual ingredients of the concoction, but here’s the recipe (as well as I can remember it) as described to 500 gagging Universal Studios guests.
First in (splat!) was Seafood Surprise, including clams, oysters, eels and a whole lot of tentacles. This part didn’t disturb me at all. My grandfather was a professional fisherman, so I had grown up eating raw shellfish, and my favorite food is sushi. What I was really nervous about was organs – brains, stomachs, etc. – agh! My own stomach is turning just thinking of it now. Luckily, the next addition was simply called Mystery Meat. Either they didn’t say what was in it, or I blacked out momentarily before it went in (spleen!), but either way I made it to part three, the Sour Milk (sploosh!). I guess they have to get it to liquefy somehow. By now the blender was really full, and I wasn’t feeling too hungry either. I was awakened from my Buddhist trance by a deafening, “there’s ONE MORE THING!!!”
Please don’t say the blender is broken, I thought to myself repeatedly while I looked at the “chuck buckets” they had laid out before is in case of a refund. I was dead set on appearing on a game show, but I was a-Feared I had bitten off more than I could literally chew. Luckily, the blender was working fine. The one-more-thing was quite simply a heaping Tupperware container full of giant, evil bugs. I think there were nightcrawlers, mealworms, beetles and maggots. I couldn’t hear the description above the deafening roar of the crowd. I just remember seeing the close-up on the Diamond Vision and being reminded of the scarabs from Universal’s “Mummy” ride. I also wanted my mummy, because the blender started with a spine-chilling crunch and the producer began pouring.
After an audience-participation countdown, I somehow internally plugged my nose, opened my throat and chugged. What struck me about the mix was not a particularly foul taste, but the Jell-O shot thickness of it. As soon as the concoction hit my mouth, my college training kicked in and my inner Brian took over. I put my own digestive system aside and worked the crowd. I banged on the bottom of the cup, licked the edges and scooped out the remains with my finger. We finished so far ahead of the others that I even had time to feign a lunge across the cart to pour myself seconds from the blender.
Gone in Six Seconds. We won by a mudslide. The prize wasn’t a measly copy of Entertainment Weekly, either. It was (drum roll, please) a plastic novelty cup that reads “I Ate a Bug on Fear Factor.” I still didn’t get my case of Turtle Wax, but who knows? I may have just eaten a turtle. I have to tell you, though, despite the screams and head shaking from the onlookers, it just tasted like an after-dinner cocktail to me. A particularly clammy cocktail, yes, but it was the perfect way to wash down a diverse meal of travel, trivia and camaraderie.
I had temporarily lost the use of my left eye. I had lost my luggage. I had lost a trivia contest. But I had eaten fear for breakfast without losing my lunch. In the end, I made it onto a game show. Perhaps not the one I had intended to win, but at least there was some measure of success and I wouldn’t have to come to my family and report that I had been humiliated. Well, unless you count the part where I licked blended bugs and shellfish from a cup in front of 500 people.