The Episode That Got Fear Factor Canceled for Good

Fear Factor really pushed the limits of network TV. From eating cow testicles to being buried alive, even the show’s host, Joe Rogan, admitted that some of the challenges were a bit too much. The show’s producers, David Hurwitz and Matt Kunitz believed they were “going to hell” after coming up with such a radical game show.

Ludacris / Fear Factor logo / Renee Culvert, Dani Rayne.
Source: Getty Images

For six gripping seasons, Fear Factor seemed immune to the rules and regulations surrounding cable TV. But apparently, even the daring game show had its limits. One challenge took it a bit TOO FAR. The network said: “nuh uh, no way.” Not only was the episode canceled, but the show itself was taken off the air (until 2017 when Ludacris brought it back).

So, what challenge was so incredibly vile that it ended up canceling the whole show?

Why Was Fear Factor Canceled?

Fear Factor surprised its viewers, time and again, with its repulsive stunts. When you thought the challenges couldn’t get any grosser, they did. Seriously, the show outdid itself over and over until one stunt proved to be the final straw.

A competitor drinks from a cup.
Source: MTV

The episode titled “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” never saw the light of day because of how gross it was. In it, the stunt in question required the contestants to drink something VERY questionable. This challenge seemed to be way too much for the network, which determined that the episode would never see the light of day.

“This Has Gone Too Far”

Hee Haw! Hee Haw! was scheduled to air on January 30, 2012. But after photos of the challenge were leaked on TMZ before it aired, the network decided to cancel it. The episode proved to be way too stomach-churning, even for Joe Rogan, who, by that point, seemed to have seen it all.

A donkey in a closed frame.
Source: MTV

“It was terrible. When we were testing it, we were like, ‘Oh my god, this has gone too far.’ We felt so bad for the crew members doing the test,” one crew member recalled. “I remember that Joe felt so bad, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of $100 bills and just gave it to the poor guys.”

They Knew They Were Pushing It

The producers knew the challenge was a bit too much. “We knew we were really pushing it, and we decided that we should air it later in the season, so we didn’t get in any trouble,” one producer shared, “We edited the show and sent it to NBC, and they were like, ‘It looks good.’ We thought, ‘There’s no way we’re not going to get any notes on this.’”

A competitor cries while drinking from the cup.
Source: MTV

Five weeks later, the network changed its mind. The show’s producers were brought in to meet with the network and discuss the challenge. After the TMZ photos leaked, their response was: “Yeah guys, we’re not going to air that and, unfortunately, we’re also done with the show.”

Who Hosted Fear Factor?

Our dearest renowned podcaster and former MMA fighter, Joe Rogan.

Reminiscing on his Fear Factor days, Rogan recalled, “So hard to imagine that this was a real show… That episode killed it.” The cancellation of Fear Factor completely blindsided the show’s producers. Ratings weren’t at their best, true, but they didn’t think it was time to go yet.

Joe Rogan makes an appearance in Times Square to celebrate the show.
Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Rogan, on the other hand, was ready to throw in the towel. “When I was like on Season Five of Fear Factor, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this,’” Rogan recalled. “It was the same thing over and over again. We did 148 episodes. After a while, it was like, ‘Jesus Christ how many animal [parts and fluids] can you serve people?’”

So, what did Fear Factor give their contestants that made everyone want to puke on the Hee Haw Hee Haw episode?

Donkey… spunk. Yup. Donkey spunk.

Joe Rogan Had Low Expectations

Before becoming Fear Factor’s host, Joe Rogan was mainly recognized for his MMA performances, his brief stint on NewsRadio, and some sporadic standup gigs. Ironically, his comedy aspirations are part of the reason he took the hosting job in the first place.

Joe Rogan as an announcer at the UFC tournament.
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

He didn’t believe Fear Factor would do well but accepted the job anyway because he believed it would give him good material to laugh about later in his shows. Safe to say, Rogan was wrong about the show not doing well. But he sure got plenty of funny moments out of it.

This Wasn’t Really the End of Fear Factor

Fear Factor ultimately returned to the mainstream in 2017. It launched an MTV reboot hosted by Ludacris. This time, none of the original producers agreed to take part in it. “It just felt like it was going to be too small,” said producer Matt Kunitz.

Ludacris in a still from the show.
Source: MTV

“But I won’t be surprised if we see Fear Factor on another network sometime in the future,” he added, “because it’s a classic show, and people love it. Would we do donkey semen again? No! We learned our lesson on that one.”

Has Anyone Died on Fear Factor?

To compete on Fear Factor, you had to be willing to do some extremely physical challenges. Including jumping off helicopters, climbing on thin ropes, and pushing yourself out of confined places. For that reason, you had to be in good shape.

Contestants go underwater while trapped inside a cage.
Source: MTV

Fear Factor’s producers weren’t going to cast just anyone. To ensure that no one got hurt, they put the contestants through a string of tiring trials. That way, they examined whether the competitors were fit enough to face what was in store for them.

So luckily, no. No one died on the show. Looks like the producers knew how to pick them.

Players Signed a Bizarre Contract

There was a weird little section in the contract. After competing on the show, Fear Factor’s contestants weren’t allowed to run for public office for a year after their episode aired. Why? We’re not sure. Perhaps the show’s producers didn’t want Fear Factor to be tied to some political party or another.

Workers at the public office.
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

If someone was planning on using the prize money to launch their campaign, they had to think twice. Or wait a whole calendar year until they could run for mayor. We wonder whether that little policy caused trouble for any of the competitors.

Is Fear Factor Real?

Yes. And it’s really dangerous as well.

Fear Factor is dangerous not only for the contestants but for the viewers as well. At one point in the show’s run, producers faced a massive lawsuit after one particularly disgusting challenge caused a viewer to feel sick to the point of disorientation.

Ludacris holds a snake with both hands.
Source: MTV

The viewer, a man from Ohio, said he felt so bad after watching the episode that he hurt himself as a result. He said he felt like he was scarred for life. Ultimately, the judge dismissed the case, claiming that the show was protected and that viewers with weak guts should think before watching it.

It’s Not an American Concept

Believe it or not, but Fear Factor wasn’t invented by a wacko American looking to gross people out and make money. In fact, its origins lay in the Netherlands – a show titled Now or Neverland, which features a similar adrenaline-pumping stunt-based concept.

A glass jar containing worms.
Photo by Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

It was created by a Dutch media company named Endemol USA. After the show’s success in Europe, it was rebranded and renamed as Fear Factor. The new show then hired Joe Rogan as the leading man to guide the poor contestants into doomsday. And thus Fear Factor was born.

Why NBC Took It in the First Place

Fear Factor initially aired on NBC (although it was later revived and shown on MTV). Fear Factor was unlike anything NBC had ever aired before. But that was precisely the reason why they took it. They were looking for something enticing. Something that would gross out and excite their viewers at the same time.

Contestants hang from a helicopter net.
Source: NBC

More specifically, NBC was looking for something gripping enough to compete with CBC’s hit reality show, Survivor. NBC made the right choice because Fear Factor became a massive hit and became the hottest new reality show in town.

It Couldn’t Compete With American Idol

The first couple of seasons of Fear Factor went swimmingly. Ratings were steady and excellent, and the show had firmly asserted itself as being more than a flash in the pan. Then American Idol started to pick up speed, and that spelled doom for Joe Rogan and company.

The Judges and host from American Idol speak onstage.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Producers tried to prop the show up by introducing more extreme stunts and a few innovative concepts, but, alas, it did not work out. The show hemorrhaged viewers, as Idol dominated Tuesday nights. Ultimately, Fear Factor was canceled in 2006 after six seasons (although it was later revived twice).

All Meals Were Tested Beforehand

Competitors were usually tasked with eating something incredibly vile on the show, normally during the second of the three extreme stunts. Some of these dreadful dishes included pig livers, sheep eyes, buffalo testicles, and silkworms.

Female competitor eats from the mealworms / Female competitor eats from the meal crickets.
Renee Culvert, Dani Rayne. Photo by John Heller/WireImage/Getty Images

These tasks got viewers questioning whether the show was risking the contestants’ lives by letting them eat such things. But fear not! Every disgusting meal on the show was tested by the USDA first, meaning that they were all confirmed as safe for consumption.

Fear Factor on Game Boy Advance

Fear Factor blew up in the mainstream when it first aired. It rose in popularity so much that video game companies came up with an idea to make a game out of it. In the early ‘00s, the Game Boy Advance was the absolute bomb, and Fear Factor trickled its way into the popular console.

A video still from Fear Factor on its video game version.
Source: YouTube

The Fear Factor video game was expected to be a huge hit but creating a successful show doesn’t necessarily mean it will become a successful video game. As it turns out, the game didn’t sell well and for the most part, received negative reviews. Hey, at least they tried, right?

Phil Keoghan Was Almost Hired as the Host

Before becoming the host of CBS’s other reality show, The Amazing Race, Phil Keoghan auditioned for Fear Factor. Even though he was eventually “Philiminated” from the casting process, the show’s producers recall being extremely impressed by the TV personality.

Phil Keoghan attends an event.
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

But even though Phil was polite and excited and nice, it was Joe Rogan who came in and won them over with his no-nonsense attitude. He was high as a kite and told producers that he didn’t think the show would last. He laughed as he talked and kept repeating that the whole concept was ridiculous.

The producers loved him. “We wanted somebody that was going to say what the viewer at home was thinking,” producer David Hurwitz mentioned.

The Kitchen Smelled Really Bad

The show’s producers, Hurwitz and Kunitz, never had the guts to try out any of the nasty food cooked up in Fear Factor’s kitchen. That being said, they often got a whiff of what was on the menu that day. “The test kitchen was in our office, and the smells that would come of out if were just horrific,” Kunitz recalled. “There was never a chance that I was going to test any of the gross stuff.”

Joe Rogan, Matt Kunitz and David Hurwitz attend a show celebration.
Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Meal inspiration would often come from outside the kitchen. When the crew tested out the cow eyeballs for Season Three, they found a way to make it even grosser after one crew member bit into the eyeball and the membrane came shooting out. They came up with the idea of having the contestants bite into the eyes to squirt out the juice and then gulp it all up.

The Stunts Were Over the Top on Purpose

Besides keeping the contestants safe, Fear Factor’s producers also kept the viewers at home in mind. The last thing they wanted was for some careless teenager to attempt one of the stunts and die. To avoid any tragedies, they made sure that the stunts were impossible to recreate in a backyard.

Diving a car into a pool.
Source: NBC

“You never saw us set a contestant on fire because our fear was some dumb kid at home might think, ‘I’m going to pour some kerosene on me and set myself on fire and jump in the pool!'” Kuntiz explained, “But kids don’t own helicopters and trains and semi-trucks, so as long as we’re keeping it at a level of stunt that they can’t easily repeat, we’ll be safe.”

The Show Started Freaking Joe Out

As the seasons progressed, the need for more extreme challenges escalated. “The show had to get more and more extreme, and it was very dangerous,” Joe admitted. “It was freaking me out. They were taking a lot crazier risk.”

A contestant handcuffed on the tree and attached to a bungee cord.
Source: MTV

One of the more dangerous stunts on the show included a contestant and their partner on a helicopter, handcuffed to a tree, attached to a bungee cord attached to the chopper. “The first person to get the key lock opened goes shooting into the sky,” Rogan explained, sharing his concerns at the time: “What if something breaks. What if we watch someone fall to their death?”

Joe Felt Fine About His Role in the Show

Joe Rogan shared that he didn’t mind hosting such a dangerous show. Before he became famous, Joe was struggling to make ends meet. He admitted that he would have also been a competitor on the show if the show had existed when he was broke.

Joe Rogan is surrounded by bees in a still from the show.
Source: NBC

“I would have eaten an animal d*ck, I would have let you throw puke in my face,” he joked on an episode of his podcast. For Joe, keeping up with Fear Factor was tiring, but he kept going for the sake of his family. Like his contestants, Joe sacrificed his well-being for the greater good!

And Now… for the Show’s Worst Challenges

Season Five introduced us to an episode with New York themed challenges. And what’s more New York than – drum roll – rats! Now, by the fifth season, Fear Factor’s viewers were already familiar with seeing rats on the show. But what about blended rats? Hah! That was a revelation.

A Fear Factor employee does a taste test of blended rat
Josh Silverman. Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images

The contestants were then challenged to drink it all up. If it makes anyone feel any better, the rats were dead before being tossed in the blender. But the little critters weren’t cooked, so the participants had to drink them raw.

They Shoveled Roadkill, Then Ate It

Shoveling animals off the road is disgusting enough on its own, but the show found a way to make it even grosser. In Season Five, the participants needed to shovel roadkill onto a target on the ground. Depending on their accuracy, they had to eat a large, small portion, or, if they hit the target in the middle, no portion of the animal.

A wild boar runs across the street.
Photo by Paul Zinken/picture alliance/Getty Images

One participant immediately refused. She said no thanks after being served a large portion of an animal she had no clue what it even was. What’s really alarming about this challenge is that it was unclear whether the animals were clear of diseases and parasites. We want to assume that they were inspected but… one can never know for sure.

Drinking Cow Eye Fluid

Our eyes are full of liquid called the vitreous fluid. It actually feels more like jelly instead of liquid because it has other bits like collagen. Cows have them too. In came Fear Factor, which decided to take that gooey jelly and serve it to the helpless competitors.

A still from the challenge.
Source: YouTube

Players had to pick up cow eyes with their teeth and pop them with their teeth to pour the liquid into a glass. Finally, when their cup was full, they had to drink it all down. One contestant described it as “salty, like dirt water.” This challenge is incredibly repulsive.

They Dunked Their Heads in Gallons of Blood

Imagine 50 gallons of blood in a tub. Now imagine having to dunk your head into it to search for rings. That’s what the contestants from Season Three had to do. Keep in mind, because the tub was filled with dense, sticky blood, the participants couldn’t see through it.

Joe Rogan stands next to the blood tub.
Source: NBC

One of the participants got so angry that they screamed and slammed their fist into the blood, splattering it all over the set. Even worse, they didn’t manage to find any rings at all, making all the effort and anger and energy spent pointless.

They Had to Milk a Goat with Their Mouths

In Season Three, players were tasked with something that, at first glance, doesn’t seem TOO bad. All they had to do was milk a goat and then drink it. Goat milk tastes fine. Some would say it’s even tastier than cow’s milk! So, what was the big deal?

A contestant pours milk in a glass.
Source: YouTube

Well, Fear Factor wasn’t about to let them go that easy (obviously). So instead of milking the goats with their hands, they were forced to use their mouths. Now, this might not seem that horrible compared to other challenges, but having to milk a goat for that long, spitting out all its content into a cup, and then having to drink it was seriously disgusting.

Chowing Down Intestines for Fun

The show regularly challenged participants to do gross and horrifying things for some cash, but Fear Factor truly took it to the next level when they came up with a challenge so repulsive, it’s hard to believe the players agreed to do it.

A competitor drinks from a cup.
Source: MTV

Season Four introduced us to a segment called Intestine Chew, Milk, and Chug. The title alone is enough to make you want to puke. The players were covered with cow intestines, and then they had to bite into them to squeeze out the intestinal fluid into a cup. And then they had to gulp it all down.

Yummy Horse Rectum

Horses are majestic creatures who are somehow fine with us riding them. In fact, a lot of cultures around the world have agreed not to eat them because horses are that fantastic and magical. But in Fear Factor’s third season, this taboo was thrown out the window when they introduced the players to a stunt called Horse Rectum.

A contestant drinks from a champagne glass.
Source: YouTube

In this challenge, the participants played a game of horseshoes, but with a nasty twist. The closer the players got to the center, the less horse rectum they had to eat. The first player, Nicole, had to chow down on 13 inches of digestive organs, while the second, Holly, had to swallow 14 inches.

A Wormy Champagne

When you think of champagne, you probably think of a bubbly, sweet, summery drink. But no, no. By now, you should already know that Fear Factor doesn’t do sweet and fun. They do gruesome and bloody. So, that’s why, when the show told the players they would be drinking champagne, they were obviously given something very disturbing.

A worm blend in a glass of champagne.
Source: MTV

In Season Four, the players participated in a challenge called Worm Wine. It involved a tub of grapes filled with little crawlers, which they had to stomp on and then drink whatever fluid comes out. Sounds like a lovely, classy thing to do, doesn’t it?

Silence of the Sheep

Sheep are fluffy, wholesome animals. How can these white fur balls be of any harm? Well, leave it to Fear Factor to ruin these cuddly animals for everyone. In the first season, contenders were presented with three sheep eyeballs.

A female competitor in a still from the show.
Source: MTV

The players described them as smelling like sewage. But apart from the smell and the hideous taste, the worst part about this challenge was having the room designed as a barn filled with numerous sheep, all gazing intently into the players’ souls.

They Had to Sort Through Cow Brain… With Their Mouths

The fourth season introduced us to a challenge called Brain Surgery. Whose brain? Cows’. The players had to dig through a table with ten cow brains placed on top to find ten small discs. They could scour through with nothing but… you guessed it, their mouths.

The host and two competitors are sitting behind a table.
Source: YouTube

This specific challenge was just brutal. They had to sort out through all the slimy cow brains covered in spinal fluid. And all the while, more and more cow brains, and spinal fluid kept gushing over the table. Moreover, the tiny discs were seemingly impossible to detect!

Leeches Galore!

Leeches. Tiny little blood stealing worms. Fear Factor poured heaps of them into a bathtub and made the players lie in a pool of them for 30 seconds. Then, after emerging from the tub covered in leeches, their partner had to suck 30 of the leeches off their bodies and spit them into a glass container.

A competitor dives into a warm pool.
Source: MTV

But that’s not all! Both team members must then eat ten leeches. Yuck. Eating leeches isn’t recommended. After the challenge, one player complained about something stuck in their throat. Sure enough, they coughed up one of the still living leeches.

Bugs, Bugs and More Bugs

Fear Factor’s “Tall Crappaccino,” from Season Seven was really something else. Unlike your ordinary cup of joe, this coffee was made from bugs. A bunch of them: flies, tomato hornworms, and stink bugs all blended into an aromatic treat.

Joe Rogan stands next to the ‘Tall Crappaccino’ machine.
Source: NBC

On top of that wonder, the players also received a yummy chosen topping to sprinkle over their tall crappacino. They could choose from an array of more bugs. The contestants had to drink two of them, for Fear Factor’s café was having a “two-for-one-day” sale.

House of Flies

Flies are flying bugs we usually get annoyed at and swat away. That’s normally the relationship we have with these little buzz-sounding critters. But imagine not being able to swat them away. Imagine having to be in a glass box filled with hundreds of them buzzing at your ears incessantly.

Two competitors inside the glass box in a still from the episode.
Source: MTV

Fear Factor’s players were placed in that hellish environment while they tried to grab marshmallows hanging near their mouths. The number of flies they swallowed in the process was too much to handle. The flies buzzed their way not only into their mouths but also their ears and noses.

Meat Locker

This challenge tried to answer a burning question: Which is the better city, NYC or L.A.? Instead of listing pros and cons or putting forth good ol’ facts into the debate, Fear Factor rounded up some people, including firefighters, to battle against each other in an unforgettable match.

Two contestants in a still from the episode.
Source: YouTube

While locked in a meat locker, players had to dump their heads into a tub of lard to find a wrench and then remove a crazy amount of ice away from a screw that needed to be unscrewed to get a key to free them from the locker.

Tarantula Tunnel

This challenge was terrifying. It went like this: One player was stuck in a pit of ice looking for canisters while the other player was trapped in a tunnel with hairy tarantulas and icky crickets climbing all over them. One player was so bad at finding the canister that their poor partner had to hang out with the tarantulas for 17 whopping minutes!

A close-up on a tarantula.
Source: YouTube

His excuse for sucking at the challenge? He was so cold he couldn’t function properly. His partner probably wanted to shove him into the tarantula tunnel to feel what it was like being stuck there for that long. The adrenaline would have warmed him up!

Worm Coffin

The idea of being in a coffin is more than enough to make a person feel uncomfortable. Being buried makes us think of death which instantly freaks us out and raises severe claustrophobic feelings and terror – precisely the feelings Fear Factor is after when creating a challenge.

A female competitor screams as she enters the coffin.
Source: NBC

In this challenge, players were buried underground with about 300,000 worms scattered around them. The show has buried people underground and had their partners do hard tasks to get them out. But this one was imaginative as they added worms to the equation.

Eating Spiders

Watching a person go through the mental challenge of eating nasty bugs is always a horrible scene (yet we derive some pleasure from it, I must say). Out of all the bugs, eating a spider has got to be the worst one.

A contestant cries before the challenge.
Source: YouTube

In this challenge, players had to chew on an African cave-dwelling spider – a spider that has CLAWS. The crunchy sound and the disgusting visuals made the challenge incredibly difficult to watch. The poor players struggled to keep it down, often peering at the bucket at the side of the room.

Trapped in a Morgue

Another buried alive challenge, this one really freaked the players out. It placed the contestants in a morgue, slid them onto trays, and covered them in a tight sheet with only their mouth and eyes exposed. They had to stay put because every little movement made things all the harder.

A player covered in a tight sheet.
Source: MTV

Their partners, who were all chained up, had to go unlock several padlocks to free them. As a viewer, sitting from the comfort of your living room, you couldn’t help but hold your breath and pray for the best as the person in the morgue struggled to remain sane.

Eggnog Celebrations!

Holiday-themed episodes are super fun. When it comes to Fear Factor, nothing is quite fun. To celebrate the festive season, Season Three made the players eat reindeer testicles! Ho ho ho! What a jolly challenge.

Players clap as they receive a new challenge.
Source: NBC

Eating them was horrible enough, but the players also had to drink something alongside it because no Christmas meal is complete with a good side of…eggnog! Fear Factor’s eggnog was over 100 years old and had a delightful smell.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Pizza?

Cheesy, warm, melting in your mouth, doughy pizza. What a great, comforting meal. But when the players heard, they were going to eat pizza, they knew it wouldn’t be the ordinary margherita. It was going to be something special, something they’d never tried before.

A plate of pizza with worms.
Source: MTV

Instead of the usual cheese and yummy crust, Fear Factor switched things up by making a pizza out of cow bile crust, blood paste, rotten cheese topped with fisheyes, and living, squirming worms. The pizza looked horrendous and was incredibly hard to eat.