US theme park dares visitors to face their worst fears

Thrills and spills are to be expected at United States theme parks, but the Cox family are seeking to push themselves to the absolute limit as they hang by their arms six metres off the ground in a stunt watched by hundreds of onlookers.

Jim Cox, a computer programmer from Gilbert, Arizona, and his wife Tina and their son Logan were vying — with gritted teeth and aching muscles — to participate in Fear Factor Live, which on Saturday became the newest attraction at the Universal Studios’ theme park in Hollywood.

The park’s latest attraction takes its name from the popular American television show Fear Factor in which the courage of plucky contestants is tested to the extreme in a variety of dangerous stunts, often involving fast-moving cars, big

creepy-crawlies, and helicopters.

Universal Studios says it has sought to replicate the kind of stunts seen on the stomach-churning show, produced by the NBC network that also owns the theme park.

In each show, park visitors can compete against each other in a progression of eye-popping stunts.

”We need weeks to prepare a Fear Factor TV show, here we only have two hours. But we try to display pretty much the same kind of things,” says Scott Trowbridge, vice president for design and creative development at Universal Parks and Resorts.

Visitors who want to test their mettle at the park — where the daredevil high jinks occur in a 1 800-seat amphitheatre — have to literally sign away all their rights before competing.

”I take full responsibility of what may happen during the show … mental disorder, injuries, loss or damage to my belongings, or death,” says the stark disclosure form which all participants are required to sign.

The form also weeds anyone who has had heart surgery or a recent operation.

Kitted out with a harness, kneepads and gum shields six recent participants appear on stage to loud cheers from the crowd which has been worked up by park entertainers.

Following an endurance test — such as that taken by the Cox family — which eliminates two candidates, the four remaining participants have to fish flags out of aquariums teeming with eels with their bare hands.

A stage host tells the audience the eels are carnivorous. The contestants then have to hang the flags on a mast which turns on its base, making it harder for the participants to succeed.

Whittled down to the final two, the finalists have to crank a pedal with their hands, sending an electric current at their competitor while sparks, boosted by special effects, fly off the stage.

However, no Fear Factor would be complete without the culinary specialities that have made the TV show a hit.

Youngsters taken out of the audience before the big show begins are dared to crunch insects coated in chocolate while the finalists have to slug back a ”smoothie” whipped up with squashed termites and worms.

”How does it taste?” asks one of the park hosts ironically.

”Just like at home!” replies a contestant, who adds after he leaves the set that ”it tasted like bad tuna.”

However, Meghan Gamber, a spokesperson for Universal Studios Hollywood stresses that the ”food is FDA [US government Food and Drug Administration] approved,” in reference to the federal Food and Drug Administration watchdog.

As for Jim Cox and his family, their hair a little ruffled by the adventure, they all say they had a thrill even if they did not make it to the finals.

”We really had a good time, I would recommend it to my friends,” father Jim says. – Sapa-AFP

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