Fear Factor ups yuck factor

Universal Orlando Resort turned reality TV into its latest theme park attraction with the June 3 opening of Fear Factor Live, based on the hit NBC show Fear Factor. Contributing editor Felicity Long was on hand for a preview -- and got more than she bargained for. Her report follows:

ORLANDO -- They wont put me in a coffin full of rats or anything, will they? I asked the Universal Studios staffer who had approached me about participating in a Fear Factor Live stunt.

Tell her no, my husband whispered to me, as the staffer continued with her pitch, which seemed to center around petting a live eel.

OK, but no rodents, and Im not drinking eel juice, I said, and the deal was struck.

It was only then that I noticed the expressions on the faces of my lunch companions -- my husband of 18 years, who had been prevailed upon to be my reluctant partner and was looking at me now with a jaundiced eye -- and our three children, ages 12, 13 and 15, whose gaze seemed to reflect both astonishment and a newfound respect.

Its just petting an eel, I said, my self-assurance draining away. How bad can it be?

Soon after, we found ourselves on the set of the new attraction in front of bleachers filled with enthusiastic audience members.

The host engaged us in friendly patter and explained the rules. It was simple.

Our job was to plunge our right hands and arms, which had previously been examined by a medic for cuts and wounds, into a clear tank full of slimy eels in search of a beanbag emblazoned with the words Fear Factor Live.

One beanbag had the words imprinted on it while the other was blank. The winner who drew the printed beanbag would be invited to continue on with other challenges.

My sharp-eyed husband drew the blank beanbag while I, nearsighted without my glasses, rummaged amongst the eels and found the correct one without difficulty.

Before long, I found myself being strapped into a wooden chair with swim goggles over my eyes, a plastic face protector over my nose and mouth and a rubber collar around my neck.

As an acrylic box was lowered over my head, my husband spun the Wheel of Fear to see which kinds of creatures would share my heads new home.

Are you OK? the shows host asked, and leaned over to catch my muffled reply.

I dont know what the wheel said, I squeaked, at which point I was told that scorpions were to be my next and final trial.

Fear isnt a factor for this reporter as scorpions crawl down her head and face at the Fear Factor Live attraction at Universal Orlando.A box of large and crusty-looking scorpions was duly produced, and its residents were placed inside the box on my head one by one, where they landed in my hair and began scrambling about.

As I felt them crawl, I could see one in my peripheral vision crawling down the left side of my face. Grateful for the eye, nose and mouth protection that kept him from proceeding up my nostril, I waited for dread to set in.

It didnt.

In fact, the experience was fun from start to finish, combining the eww! element that some of us never outgrow with a suspension of fear, not unlike when you strap yourself into a roller-coaster.

Your brain tells you the ride could kill you, but somehow you know it wont. And when its over, the relief is indescribable.

Best of all, you dont have to participate in the stunt to enjoy it, judging from the reactions of family, friends and colleagues; and audience members can also shoot air and water at contestants and otherwise get involved in the thrills without having to be it.

Admission is included in the Universal Studios park ticket, priced at $59.75 for one day at one park; $99.95 for two days at both parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

A number of area hotel packages also are available that include admission to both parks. For additional information, check out www.universalorlando.com.  Fear Factor Live also opened at Universal Studios Hollywood on June 18.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to[email protected].

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