DEADLIEST CATCH (Discovery Channel)
Crab fishing in the Bering Sea — it’s very lucrative if you make it home. Other possibilities include being swept overboard, capsizing, and getting smacked in the head — or another body part — by a piece of equipment or falling ice. ”I love these guys,” Catch executive producer Thom Beers told EW last year. ”They’re just rough and tumble. Not great table manners, but I’ll tell you what, they’ll tell you a story, they’ll live hard and they’ll play hard and they’ll take the risks, and God, you gotta look up to that.”
Laugh if you want to. We did when we interviewed Sgt. Tom ”T.J.” Jenkins of the Las Vegas PD in 2005 and he explained that it’s harder to apprehend suspects when they’re shirtless and/or pantsless: ”You’re self-conscious about grabbing a naked person. You want to get him in custody, but you don’t want to end up with a handful of his private parts.” But never forget that these officers put their lives on the line.
WIPEOUT (ABC) / NINJA WARRIOR (G4)
Thanks in large part to a hilarious event called Big Balls, which is almost genius in its rubbery simplicity, Wipeout was last summer’s most unexpected smash (literally) hit. But for real…someone is going to die bouncing headfirst off those things. We can feel it. We can almost taste it. Mmmm, muddy water. Oh, and an honorable mention for G4’s Ninja Warrior — just as dangerous, but at least this hardcore fitness series isn’t trying to seem benign — as evidenced by its significant lack of primary colors and cartoonish graphics.
ICE ROAD TRUCKERS (History Channel)
A wide load + a thin layer of ice over the Arctic Ocean = History Channel’s highest-rated series (and a constant, eerie cracking sound). Also enjoyable: whiteout conditions, which season 2 boss Kurt Wainman explained on the show thusly: ”See now, visibility is going to be what we call ‘f— all.’… Sit there and lose your marbles, I guess you’re a dead man…. Sit there and you’re calm, cool, and react quickly, you have a chance of living.”
For 21 seasons, we’ve watched regular American schmos (excluding those ”ropes course instructor” types with a natural advantage) endure heinous weather, extreme dietary limitations, and rats in their sleeping bag in a brave attempt to win the mil. There are too many treacherous reward and immunity challenges to name, so we’ll just recall this illuminating dialogue during Micronesia‘s capture-the-flag challenge, as monstrous Joel (pictured) dragged delicate Chet over, under, and straight into wooden beams.
THE BABY BORROWERS (NBC)
Sure, there was medical help on hand as generally clueless teenagers tried to look after the spawn of total strangers. But the whole scenario called to mind a painfully special episode of Strangers With Candy in which Jerri Blank had to look after baby Dizzy and ended up abandoning her on a swing set and attempting to sell her on the black market. Couldn’t these crazies just conform to the traditional high school home ec assignment and babysit an egg?
TY MURRAY’S CELEBRITY BULL RIDING CHALLENGE (CMT)
Mother Nature doesn’t give celebrities special treatment. Neither do bulls. Riding a beast named Satan’s Own was only half the fun for this show’s D-list stars. The other half was trying to keep from being hooked or stepped on after they were bucked off. Injuries included fractured ribs, a broken shoulder, and a pulled groin.
KID NATION (CBS)
Allow us to quote the opening of EW’s series-premiere TV recap, which dubbed this series — centered on 40 kids in a ghost town, without adult supervision — as CBS’ ”Most Amazing Bad Idea Ever.”:
”Please raise your right hand and repeat after me:
I [state your name] do solemnly swear that I come to the Kid Nation TV Watch because I support Dickensian child-labor exploitation for entertainment purposes, particularly when televised. I accept that such exploitation may include (but is not limited to) watching those who have not yet reached the age of consent cook, clean, hike, cry, attempt to catch jackrabbits to alleviate boredom and/or homesickness, scream, scheme, cry some more, whine, whimper, display flashes of rage and/or wit, and drink the occasional glass of bleach.”
AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL (The CW)
Tyra Banks offering the sage advice to ”think pain, but beauty” when you’re at a loss for poses is fine. What’s not okay: Banks’ penchant for making models walk in Vivienne Westwood heels (cycle 6 winner Danielle (pictured) sprained her little toe, people!) and take ”falling” photos (how did cycle 10’s Claire not break her neck?).
The Swan (Fox, 2004) / I Want a Famous Face (MTV, 2004-05)
Contestants on The Swan endured multiple plastic surgeries for the chance to win a beauty pageant that basically judged which plastic surgery had turned out the least wonky…I mean, ”best.” Famous Face wannabes went under the knife to acquire the features of their fave celebs, including Britney Spears (pictured) and — no joke — Dustin Diamond. These shows, in turn, began shows including 2010’s Bridalplasty and 2011’s Pretty Hurts. Gross. People: The Ugly Duckling is a fairy tale. It’s not self-improvement if your goal is to become a different person.
CIRCUS OF THE STARS (CBS) / CELEBRITY CIRCUS (NBC)
While training for 2008’s Celebrity Circus, Christopher Knight fractured his forearm, Stacey Dash (pictured) crushed three ribs, and former Olympian Janet Evans fell 15 feet from a trapeze. That’s nothing. Check out this old excerpt from People on the original Circus of the Stars‘ body count:
”In 1985, Charles Nelson Reilly sustained a nasty hip injury and a broken arm after the chariot he was riding as part of a miniature horse act toppled and flipped him to the ground. Two years later a leopard bit dancer Juliet Prowse on her neck, while she was doing publicity for the show; the wound took five stitches to close. In 1990 it happened again, this time during rehearsals. Mark-Paul Gosselaar, star of the NBC Saturday morning sitcom Saved by the Bell, was attempting to master the Russian swing when he landed wrong and fractured his sternum, forcing him to the sidelines for both Circus of the Stars…and his own show, which had to go on hiatus for three weeks because of his injury.”
SURVIVORMAN (Discovery Channel) / MAN VS. WILD (Discovery Channel)
Survivorman‘s Les Stroud (pictured) braves the world’s harshest environments while narrating a running how-to survival guide for viewers. The adventurer joked to EW, ”In terms of dramatic television, if I actually did fall into real peril it would, in [my producers’] eyes, make for better TV.” And in Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls gets dropped somewhere via parachute, then plays up a ”tourist lost in the wilderness” persona for dramatic effect. Though Grylls instructs his crew not to interfere unless he’s about to die, the media have questioned how much off-camera aid Grylls routinely receives.
THE BACHELOR (ABC)
The biggest danger when you have one man dating multiple women is a broken heart, of course. Symptoms include sobbing and hyperventilating in limos. But little-known fact: When you group more than 10 women together, at least one of them loses her coordination (perhaps at the top of stairs or mid-obstacle course). Ergo, an ambulance is called at least once a season.
THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER (Spike TV) / FIGHT QUEST (Discovery Channel)
Most reality shows encourage people to fight, but these two demand it. The Ultimate Fighter gives up-and-coming mixed martial artists a chance at a UFC contract — and, if you’re season 7’s Dan Simmler (pictured), a grade 3 concussion and a jaw broken in three places. Fight Quest, meanwhile, sends badasses Jimmy Smith and Doug Anderson around the globe to study new fight styles with local masters. They then face local opponents. Neither group shows them mercy.
AX MEN (History Channel)
Logging in Oregon is deadly enough with the possibility of snapped cables, runaway logs, equipment failure, and falls. But you also have to add in the danger of driving to and from the mountainside sites. Those ”roads” are meant for two lanes. ”You never know how you’re gonna get killed,” one ax man put it. ”You might get killed on the way to work, you might get killed at work, or you might get killed on the way home.”
FEAR FACTOR (NBC)
Contestants usually had to eat some sort of revolting species for the reality game show’s gross-out Second Stunt, specifically designed to mess with people’s heads. Hmm. You say ”sportsmanlike mental challenge”; we say ”I can’t believe getting strapped to a spinning wheel with a helmet swarming with scorpions never literally scared anyone to death.”
Honorable mentions for the Could Induce Heart Attack category include Fear, a short-lived MTV disaster in which contestants were sent to a creepy locale to see if it was haunted, and Solitary, a short-lived ”social experiment” series on Fox Reality wherein contestants were kept in solitary confinement and could only communicate with a computer named Val. (Paging 2001…)
THE AMAZING RACE (CBS)
Forget the endless series of commercial flights and treacherous bouts of intra-team road rage — some of those ”Roadblock” challenges (eat four pounds of mystery meat! rappel down this scary pitch-black cave!) pose a serious threat. Not to mention the potential danger involved in coming face-to-face with, say, a Lithuanian bodybuilder who really doesn’t wanna be asked for directions to the local tourist trap. In English.
‘Hos in a House: Physical Abuse Edition
Unprompted intramural brawls are rampant within the ”H in a H” genre of reality TV. But sometimes the producers facilitate the abuse themselves: The evil masterminds behind Rock of Love 2, for instance, decided to bring back abhorrent season 1 contestant Lacey (pictured) for a brutal ”Stroller Derby” challenge. Contestants steered baby dolls around the rink while trying to avoid getting mauled by a crazy bitch with maroon hair. (In their defense, they had to — how else would Bret Michaels be convinced they’d make great moms?)
‘Hos in a House: Intoxication Edition
The Real World, obviously, is the poster series for this esteemed branch of ”H in a H” — since the 1992 premiere filmed in New York, the quality of the show has gone down as the number of Apple Pucker bottles that just happen to be lying around the kitchen have gone up. Whether the alcohol-induced danger is self-inflicted (Ruthie from Hawaii, pictured) or the result of a bar brawl (Danny from Austin‘s busted jaw), it makes us consider holding off on that next tequila shot. Or just changing the channel.