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(Reblogged from June 2011)

This airs tonight on ABC at 9pm (8 Central) Watch it! I’m the bald dude. (UPDATE: You can watch part of it here)

Most of us feel confident that we can distinguish between reality and fantasy. I tell myself that I can.  But I just had an experience that reminded me how tricky reality can be.

I was recently a contestant in a new game show… something akin to Wipeout meets Fear Factor where there are physical challenges but alongside pop culture questions in this case. When the show I took part in was filmed, the first episode hadn’t aired yet so those of us participating only had a vague idea of what we were doing.  While I think all 8 of us contestants would have loved to have won the cash prize, I think that only 1 of the 8 on my episode were doing it for that reason primarily. A few were doing it for camera time because they plan to work in the industry; a few just liked the idea of being on TV; a few just loved game shows and reality shows and wanted to join in the fun; a few of us were just the “I’ll do anything” type of people and look for new thrills to participate in; a few are getting old and participating in something like this made us feel younger; a few were too young to know better. I’d say a combination of some of those factors played into my saying, “Yes, I’ll do it!”

After the first episode aired last week, I read several reviews of the new show.  What intrigued me most of all were the public’s comments.  People commenting were aghast and horrified that contestants were so desperate that they willingly allowed themselves to be nearly tortured and abused for the remote chance of winning an average year’s salary. They were certain that these were poor, desperate unemployed folks doing something akin to selling a kidney for the chance at some money. All I know is that the people I met that day were not being unknowingly exploited…and that money was only a small part of the motivation.  These were a fun group of people…the kind of people you’d want to go to an amusement park with.

The cool part is that on that first episode that aired the stunts and challenges really did look dangerous enough that one would question the sanity of the participants… and the liability risk of the studio and production company. But what these  “rational” and “level-headed” comments failed to process and acknowledge was the chance that what they saw wasn’t as real as they perceived it. Their reaction actually proves the skill and and talent of Hollywood to produce believable stunts via camerawork, direction and editing.

Having participated, and without giving too much away, I can say that I never felt in danger of being injured. In fact, the producers and assistants had to constantly remind us to express fear rather than excitement when the host described our stunts.  I also saw some of the behind the scenes safety precautions and the special effects employed; lastly I witnessed how editing in that first episode tripled the danger factor for those at home watching.

In the scene where I was eliminated, for example, there were no sharks and we had no idea they were going to edit in shots of a shark fin later. It just wasn’t part of our experience at all except for one point where the host was joking about sharks. All three of us contestants were from Southern California and this took place in LA Harbor. None of us feared sharks. They kept telling us to act more afraid.

I was much more fearful during the anchor at the edge of the pier scene. I don’t know why. The pier was closer to the water than the crane on the back of the boat. But for that I was wearing a wet suit and a life jacket. The anchor pulling us down just freaked all of us out. Yet, the truth of the stunt was that by the time I turned around to see the guy who had gone down, he was already on the surface. In the show it looks like he just went down and stayed there for a while. Read the comments. Everyone is freaked out by that.

Was any of the fear genuine?  Of course! And all the stunts were “real” to the extent that the people in them were really there and really doing something very close to what you see on camera. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart any more than your best amusement park roller-coaster, which people will pay $50-$90 to ride. Those who were eliminated essentially got the chance to ride on a custom-made roller-coaster for free.

IT. WAS. AWESOME.

Do people really think that stuntmen in movies do EXACTLY what you see in the final cut onscreen? Those same movie professionals designed the stunts and prepared us for what was going to happen. The stunt was real. After having watched the first episode that aired, I appreciate the skill, talent and creativity of the folks who produced and contributed to this show.

In my case it was a dream come true. As an 11 year old boy, my 2 friends David and David and I used to imagine ourselves as stuntmen after school and on weekends.  In one of our fantasies come to life, we’d ride our bikes along an iceplant covered slope and jump off our moving bikes and go rolling down the hill as if we were the Six Million Dollar Man.

THAT was real.

No protection, no planning, no cameras to later kick it up a notch via editing.

What my fellow contestants did on this show was less real and less dangerous than that.

Reminder to self… what you FEEL, what you SEE, what you HEAR, what you BELIEVE can all be manipulated. It certainly happens to the most gullible and credulous among us. But it happens to even the most logical, skeptical and rational of minds.

Indeed, even what you EXPERIENCE can be tricked into appearing real.

Some ideas for Family Home Evening Discussions:

Is your perception of Jesus real?

Is your perception of what the bible condemns/approves of real?

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