Most of us remember Fear Factor during its multiple runs on NBC, but did you know there was also an MTV version? The network rebooted the show a few years ago, tweaking the concept for a younger, music-loving audience. This meant that former Fear Factor host Joe Rogan was out, and Ludacris—who also served as executive producer—was in.
It’s no surprise that MTV took a gamble on Fear Factor. The series made history in 2004 as the first network reality show to be syndicated. After that, it became a full-blown franchise with versions in over 30 countries. But could the rapper really breathe new life into the show? Get the details on Ludacris’s Fear Factor gig, and find out why he was considered an ideal fit for the series.
‘Fear Factor’ Originally Aired On NBC In The Early 2000s
The American version of Fear Factor originally aired on NBC from 2001 to 2006. The premise: contestants face a series of terrifying challenges for a cash prize of $50,000. Some challenges required physical strength, like bull riding or hanging from a bridge; others called for mental endurance and a strong stomach, like submerging into a pool of bugs or eating pig uteruses.
The show was hosted by News Radio star, UFC commentator, and now podcaster extraordinaire Joe Rogan. Rogan told the late Art Bell in 2015, “It was bizarre for me being there, being the host of it, as it was for anyone to watch it.”
Continuing to talk about his time on the show, Rogan said, “Ninety percent of the time I would show up at work and I’d be shaking my head going, ‘I can’t believe this is a real show.’… I thought it was something completely ridiculous. I’m like, ‘There’s no way this is going to stay on television.'”
Rogan also confessed that he had only taken the job because he thought it would help provide material for his stand-up comedy career. Little did he know that the series would become a hit. In its debut season, episodes of Fear Factor ranked number one among 18-to-49-year-old viewers.
NBC’s ‘Fear Factor’ Was Canceled Twice
Despite opening with a bang, Fear Factor eventually fizzled out. Ratings plummeted in later seasons. Many believe it came down to two factors: some viewers were tired of the same gross challenges, and others had become addicted to American Idol, which aired during the same time slot. The series was canceled in 2006, and DVD sales for the first season were so poor that NBC scrapped their plans to release a box set of all the seasons.
But NBC brass didn’t give up on the show entirely. Re-runs of Fear Factor aired on the network’s horror and suspense channel Chiller. By 2011, ratings were high enough that execs greenlit a revival. Rogan returned as host, and the challenges were as awful as ever.
“I was worried because there were some episodes… where they really kept upping the ante further and further,” Rogan confessed to Art Bell. “Nobody got hurt; [it was] nothing serious. But it was like wow. This is more risky than we ever did before.”
In fact, the production’s attempt to top themselves led to their own undoing. In January 2012, NBC made a sudden decision to pull an episode titled “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” from airing. Days later, contestants Claire and Brynne Odioso told TMZ they drank donkey semen and urine, respectively, in the unaired episode. Their revelation had people buzzing, but NBC responded to the twin sisters by threatening legal action if they continued to talk about the challenge.
Even though NBC decided against showing the episode, it eventually aired on Danish television. You can also watch it online if you have the guts.
We’ll never know if the stunt would have boosted ratings the following week. Fear Factor was quickly canceled again after the controversy.
MTV Revived The Show For A Second Time In 2017
In 2017, MTV announced that a Fear Factor reboot was in the works. According to the show’s official site, the format was reimagined so that competitors would perform “stunts inspired by urban legends, popular scary movies and viral videos from today’s cultural zeitgeist.” Rapper and Fast & Furious star Ludacris served as the revival’s host and executive producer.
“Fear Factor is one of the iconic franchises that people still talk about, and it continues to resonate within culture,” MTV president Chris McCarthy told The Hollywood Reporter. “With so much change in the world, young people have a rising sense of anxiety. Our reinvented Fear Factor was designed to directly tackle this, and empower the audience to face their fears head-on and overcome them in a fun, spirited way.”
McCarthy also said the MTV version wouldn’t be as nauseating as the NBC series. In other words, there would be no consumption of farm animals’ bodily fluids.
“We are updating the challenges that will include fresh physical stunts and mental challenges, relevant to today’s culture…” he continued. “We have the highest hopes for this franchise and believe it has a long road ahead of it.”
Unfortunately, the new Fear Factor followed the same path as its predecessor. The show’s May 2017 debut was big: Nielsen data revealed that viewership was up 164 percent over the 10 p.m. Tuesday time period average. It was MTV’s biggest series premiere in two years.
The stats were enough to warrant a second season, after which point the show went bust.
So, How Did Ludacris End Up Hosting The ‘Fear Factor’ Reboot?
Whether or not you caught the Fear Factor reboot, you might be wondering how Ludacris was chosen to be the new host. According to GQ, it was a no-brainer. Writer Scott Meslow described Luda as “a younger, fresher, funnier, and all-around more compelling face for Fear Factor than original host Joe Rogan.”
Ludacris’s association with the Fast & Furious franchise also made him a good choice. After all, the reborn series focused more on adrenaline-pumping stunts than gross food challenges. For instance, check out the challenge in this sneak peek below. Teams must dig through bloody animal guts and confront creepy clowns to avoid elimination.
Other challenges on the series included sifting through live tarantulas or hanging over a cliff to save cell phones.
Ultimately, the new Fear Factor missed the mark. On the bright side, it sounds like Luda is still going strong. The rapper revealed that it was just the first project in a long-term deal with MTV.
“I am excited to kick off my partnership with MTV, starting with the relaunch of Fear Factor, which will be even more insane and ludicrous than what you remember,” he said in a statement. “This will be the first of many great projects together.”