Described as an “international hit,” “Total Blackout” has the makings of a U.S. success by Syfy’s standards as well. Goofy in the extreme, this Danish concept features contestants thrust into pitch darkness, then forced to touch or smell — and try to identify — potentially disgusting things. Basically, it’s another version of “Fear Factor,” as filtered through the climactic sequence in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Throw in dutifully shrieking contestants, and this undemanding half-hour should seamlessly take its place alongside Syfy’s stable of dorky unscripted fare.
Hosted by Jaleel White (yes, Urkel has come to this), the series doesn’t waste any time on preliminaries, almost immediately shoving four contestants into a jet-black room. We, of course, can see them in an eerie bluish light, as they stick their hands into tanks filled with bugs, spiders, pineapples, whatever.
Subsequent elimination rounds get more creative, from physical stunts to trying to recognize smells, which include items like stinky sneakers and a heavy-set guy’s hairy armpit. Moreover, a second episode introduces a couples edition, inviting the inevitable squabbling, and prompting White to intro the show by saying, “Double the fear for them, double the fun for you.”
Ah yes, about that fear: One suspects a lot of it is exaggerated for effect, unless these people really believe the producers are going to put something horribly dangerous in the room with them. Danes might be slightly sadistic in their programming appetites, but they’re not usually homicidal.
Nevertheless, it’s easy enough to sit back and sort of chuckle at the absurdity of the stunts, as well as try to imagine how well you might perform under similar circumstances.
“How is this supposed to be funny?” one of the more vocal women protests during the competition, demonstrating she must participate in more reality shows than she watches.
Nobody will confuse “Total Blackout” with high-brow fare, certainly, but it’s still modestly entertaining. And at this stage in the competition genre, it’s more advisable to grasp onto a flickering candle than to curse the darkness.