The Chamber (partially lost Fox game show; 2002)
The Chamber was an American game show directed by Don Weiner and hosted by Rick Schwartz that was broadcast on Fox from the 13th to the 25th of January 2002. The series was designed to be a more extreme, "visceral" game show in the vein of programs like Fear Factor, and featured contestants being asked questions while strapped into a torture chamber which subjected them to extremely high or extremely low temperatures alongside other environmental conditions such as simulated earthquakes and high winds.
Each episode of The Chamber would begin with a pre-game face-off, in which a male and female contestant would be given a category by Rick Schwartz, with the contestants then going back and forth, giving an answer that fit the category, until one contestant gave an incorrect answer, repeated an answer, or took too much time answering, at which point the opponent could score a point by giving an additional correct answer. The first contestant to score two points in this regard would be declared the winner, and would then be offered a $500 buyout to leave the game there and then (an offer which no one in the broadcast episodes accepted), before moving on to the main game and the titular chamber.
Multiple different variations of the chamber were planned out during production of the series (with themes such as water, electric shocks, and insects), but in the produced episodes, only two versions would be utilized; a "hot" chamber and a "cold" chamber. Both of these versions contained numerous features that were shared between them, including gradually decreasing oxygen levels, 40 miles per hour wind gusts, 140 miles per hour air cannon blasts, simulated earthquakes, and electrodes contracting the player's muscles. Alongside these, both chambers also contained several aspects that were unique to each version; the cold chamber would begin at an internal temperature of 30 °F before decreasing towards a minimum of −20 °F, and would occasionally spray water at the player, causing ice to form on their body, while the hot chamber began at an internal temperature of 110 °F before increasing to a maximum of 150 °F, sprayed jets of flames around the contestant, and triggered movement in the chair in which the player was sat, with this movement increasing from basic up and down and back and forth motion at the beginning of round two to full 360 degree rotation by the time the player reached the final round.
The goal of each player was to answer as many questions, and to remain in the chamber as long as possible, ultimately winning the game if they could last through all seven rounds. At the beginning of each round, 60 seconds would be put on the clock, and a series of questions would be asked to the player, each worth $1000 if answered correctly. Following the end of each round, the game would go into a 10 second stop down mode, during which time the player's condition would be monitored, before the next round would commence and the conditions within the chamber would be intensified. The game could end for the player in one of numerous different ways; if they answered two consecutive questions incorrectly, if their "stress quotient" (an unspecified equation that used blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature as variables) exceeded the "Danger Zone" for more than 20 seconds, if the player shouted "Stop the chamber!," or if the show's medical staff felt that the player was unfit to continue, or had been rendered unconscious from the stress. If the game ended for any of these reasons, then the player's winnings would be halved.
Production and Controversy
The Chamber was developed by Mike Darnell, the then-head of alternative programming at Fox, who in turn was inspired by NBC's Fear Factor, which had debuted the previous year. Darnell wanted to create a game show that would emphasize a similarly "visceral" effect on its contestants, declaring that he "[wanted] to hear if they are in pain or suffering."
The extreme conditions under which the contestants of The Chamber would be placed was a cause of particular concern among many people involved in its production, with fellow Fox executive Preston Beckman believing that Darnell had created the show to make viewers wonder if "Fox might actually kill someone on television". These concerns were so great for Matt Vasgersian, an American sportscaster who had been selected as The Chamber's initial host, that they would later cause him to leave production outright. Matt had taken the job of host largely due to him being a friend of one of the program's producers, but upon arriving at a rehearsal, he would witness a college-age girl being sprayed with water in the cold chamber, before later overhearing a conversation between members of the show's production staff in which the potential ramifications of exposing the girl to hundreds of mosquitoes were discussed. Based on this brazen lack of regard for the safety and well-being of the contestants, Matt immediately quit production and walked off set "in disgust," later being replaced by sports radio host Rick Schwartz.
These safety concerns were not entirely unfounded, however, as an incident would later occur during filming in which the hot chamber would malfunction, leaving a contestant trapped inside, with crew members being unable to release them or turn off the heating effects for "some moments." The contestant would eventually be freed without injury, but the incident would still provoke distress among many who had witnessed it, with then-Fox president Gail Berman, who was on set at the time the incident had taken place, being greatly disturbed by what she had seen.
In addition to concerns over the extremity of its content, The Chamber would also be faced with a lawsuit from the producers of the ABC game show The Chair, which had previously been pitched to Darnell at Fox. The The lawsuit accused The Chamber of being a direct imitation of The Chair, citing similarities in the gameplay of both programs (contestants answering trivia questions in a high-stress area with many "environmental stimulants," their vital signs being monitored all the while) as proof of this plagiarism. Fox, in turn, would countersue, claiming that producers of The Chair had been sent to the closed sound stage where The Chamber was being filmed to "spy on the set" and gather intel on the latter program (though Darnell would reportedly later admit that The Chamber had in fact been conceived as a direct response to The Chair). The results of these lawsuits are unknown, though they would not impede the production of either series, with ABC and Fox later competing to get their respective shows on the air before the other. Ultimately, The Chamber's premiere would occur first, taking on Sunday, January 13th, 2002, two days before the premiere of The Chair.
Alongside the plagiarism case, the program would also be the subject of another lawsuit filed by contestant Scott Brown, who was hospitalized for hypothermia after being exposed to all seven levels of the cold chamber during his appearance on the show. The lawsuit would be settled out of court, with Scott being awarded $100,000 in compensation.
Broadcast and Availability
The program would receive an immensely negative and vitriolic response from many television critics upon its release, with Bill Carter of the New York Times writing that the show created "a critical outcry over subjecting people to what appeared to be torture for the entertainment of television viewers." In a review for The Baltimore Sun, Kevin Cowherd would describe the show as "a sordid, putrid mess that makes dwarf-tossing look sophisticated," while Variety's Phil Gallo said that the show "could be a prototype for the joy-free gameshow."
But despite the controversy and negative reviews, The Chamber would premiere to high ratings, with its debut episode on January 13th, 2002 drawing an audience of 10 million viewers, performing best among younger audiences. However, these ratings would quickly decline, with the third episode on January 25th only garnering an audience of 5.6 million people, when the program had been moved from Sunday to Friday nights. Faced with these low ratings in tandem with the immense controversy the show was receiving, Fox executives would ultimately elect to not broadcast the three further episodes of The Chamber that had been produced, feeling that the lackluster performance made it hard to justify continuing a show that was drawing such a hostile reaction.
While the three episodes of The Chamber that were broadcast would subsequently be recorded and uploaded online by various individuals, the three episodes that went unaired have never been publicly shown, and remain lost to this day.
- Fire, Alligators, Maybe 500 Flies: Stay Tuned. Retrieved 22 Apr '23
- Catching up with Matt Vasgersian: Even more Q&A where that came from. Retrieved 22 Apr '23
- Fox and ABC doing battle over game shows that seem almost identical. Retrieved 22 Apr '23
- Fox moves up ‘Chamber’. Retrieved 22 Apr '22
- How One Game Show Basically Tried To Kill Its Contestants. Retrieved 22 Apr '23
- Contestants on Fox's The Chamber aren't its only victims. Retrieved 22 Apr '23
- The Chamber review. Retrieved 22 Apr '23
- Fox TV Pulls The Chamber, A Reality Show. Retrieved 22 Apr '23