‘Fear’ accident shocks viewers

Contestant Babe badly bruised during debut seg

The serious injury of a contestant in the opening episode of “Fear Factor South Africa,” broadcast Monday on e.tv, has shocked viewers, who have been inundating the independent free-to-air channel as well as local radio stations and newspapers with complaints about the “irresponsible” stunt.

Contestant Lebo Babe lost half the hair on her head, suffered a concussion and was badly bruised during the stunt, in which contestants were dragged behind a 4X4 over sand dunes.

Disturbed viewers suggested the show be renamed “Danger Factor” and said producers needed to improve safety precautions for such dangerous stunts or replace them with safer options.

Some accused the producers of taking advantage of the extreme lengths to which South Africans would go for money; the winner of each round wins $42,000.

Rhona Pool, e.tv’s head of publicity, said Tuesday that she didn’t understand what the big deal was. “I’m amazed at the outrage. Everyone knows that the program is about fear, and when the same stunt was performed on an international ‘Fear Factor’ show, no one complained.”

Pool said e.tv was more than satisfied with the safety precautions taken by the Endemol South Africa producers and had no intention of taking the show off the air.

All contestants were equipped with protective clothing, including a slide board strapped to the front of their bodies and padding on the elbows, forearms and knees. A decision was made not to use helmets, as this could unbalance contestants and make them more vulnerable to neck injuries, she said. The stunt also had been safety tested by members of the show’s stunt coordinating team, the Stunt Co.

Babe herself has not complained about the incident despite spending a week in hospital. Pool claimed the accident was, in fact, a result of Babe’s extreme determination: She was supposed to let go of the rope if she got hurt, but she refused.