Fear is a Factor: Matt Kunitz, '101 Ways to Leave a Game Show'

June 29, 2011

A veteran of “Fear Factor,” executive producer Matt Kunitz dishes on — and shares a scoop about — his new series, “101 Ways to Leave a Game Show.”

So, have you already come up with the 101 ways to leave?
Honestly we only shot 6 episodes. So we already did 30 ways. If we get a pickup, we’ll do at least 12 more episodes.

Isn’t $50,000 a cheap prize to entice people who end up doing pretty scary stunts?
I’ve done a lot of these shows. People would do it for free. They want the 15 minutes of fame, they want to challenge themselves. There’s a myriad of reasons, the least of which is the $50,000. It would seem cheap if the prize were $25, but people would do it for $25. They’d line up around the block.

Do people ever chicken out?
It happens. We were shooting a final elimination stunt up on the 100-foot tower and we have to have [the contestants] basically stand on the edge of that platform and attach them to a rope and they lean out at about a 30 degree angle and stay at that angle while we went through the question. And then the host would cut the rope and they’d drop. There was something about this group of four, they were so freaked out when we got up there, there was no way. We wouldn’t even be able to get them to walk out on platform. So, I changed the stunt. They stand on the platform and the platform drops below them.

And losers don’t get a consolation prize?
The honest truth: If I think a particular stunt is really, really scary and people might want to quit that stunt, I’m allowed to do a consolation prize. I don’t announce it [in advance]. But if we got down to that actual moment and someone was like, “I’m going to quit,” I’m allowed to go up to them and I could say there is a consolation prize if you go through with it. I first have to tell the Standards and Practices department. I’ve only done that twice.

What were the stunts?
In one of them, [the contestants] are in these big metal balls and we just pushed the balls down a giant mountain. It rolls half mile down. When we were scouting it, it scared me.

So did you need to bribe the contestants to get them to roll down the mountain?
We didn’t have to tell them. It never came up. But [because I informed Standards and Practices of the prize,] I had to give them the money. They were surprised!

And the other stunt that you felt you might need a bribe to carry off?
[The contestants] were standing on a pier in the harbor with a 200-pound anchor tied to their ankle. If they got the question wrong, the host kicked the anchor and they went into the ocean. That freaks me out, being pulled underwater, not having any control.

So, I guess contestants sign a release, eh?
It’s the usual, a 50-page release. But I don’t sleep well at night knowing we have a big release. We have a veteran Hollywood stunt guy, Pat Romano, on our staff. He knows how to do these really huge Hollywood stunts that look outrageous, but keep them safe.

Some of the cast members are so annoying I didn’t mind seeing them kicked off the show!
I cast for people you love or love to hate. That’s a fight I have with some [network] executives. They’ll say, “This person is not very likeable.” But you shouldn’t like everybody, especially when you’re about to launch them off a cliff in the back of a pickup truck.

Written by Express contributor Marc Silver

Marc Silver has been watching TV since the days when people wrapped aluminum foil around TV antennae to improve reception.
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Beth Luberecki · June 28, 2011