Strapped to a flying helicopter while plunging into a burst of explosions, diving into motor oil sludge, eating live scorpions and being chained in front of a cement truck while it’s ramming into obstacles are stunts usually designed, executed and supervised by trained professionals.
They should not be attempted by just anyone, anywhere, anytime.
But these were the challenges SF State microbiology major Amanda Gomez encountered on the path to winning the “Fear Factor” grand prize of $50,000 and proving that a woman of a thin build and bubbly personality can complete challenges of extreme danger.
“I grew up watching the show so when I saw that it was coming back, I thought ‘Why not apply?’” said Gomez, 21. “But one of my main reasons was because my older brother and everybody else I know says that I’m weak and a girly girl and I wanted to prove them wrong. I didn’t do it for the money; I did it to prove stereotypes wrong.”
Her brother, Alex Gomez, 24, competed alongside her and initially didn’t take her seriously.
“She came up to me to ask me and to be honest I laughed in her face because I thought she was joking. And there was one time when a moth landed in her hair and she started crying,” Alex said. “My sister actually surprised me during the show because I know my sister is tough, but she pushed her limits and exceeded her capacity and I was impressed by that. I have two other sisters and they are physically tough, but Amanda proved she was mentally tough.”
In “Fear Factor,” four teams of two are presented with a series of challenges that include feats of strength, testing their physical endurance and gross stunts testing mental resolve, most of which include contestants facing their fears. If contestants complete their task, they advance. If fear stops them from completing a stunt or they fail the mission, they are immediately eliminated.
The team that wins the final stunt is awarded a $50,000 grand prize.
The original series was broadcasted from June 2001 until September 2006, when the show was cancelled by NBC due to poor ratings. The revived series of the show premiered Dec. 12, 2011, featuring the Gomez siblings.
According to the office of Paul Telegdy, NBC president of alternative and late night programming, the television program was revived with a new format formula.
Wanting to test out her luck, Gomez applied and got an immediate response.
Matt Kunitz, executive producer of “Fear Factor,” said the Gomez’s stunts were larger and more spectacular than in the original series.
“Their episode was a perfect example of how the show starts off with a bang (because) their first stunt started with them dangling beneath a helicopter, and once dropped on the ground they had to jump into a moving truck and release as many flags as they could before the truck slammed into a live ammo dump,” Kunitz said. “They were yanked out the truck moments before its impact and spectacular explosion. In the past, the show would start off with a much smaller stunt and end with a large ‘Hollywood action movie’ stunt. Now we start huge and end even bigger.”
The episode was filmed in September 2011 and was shot in various locations of the Los Angeles area such as the Long Beach docks and warehouses near NBC Universal Studios. Although Gomez said that the action sequences were intense the one challenge that frightened her the most was the devouring of live scorpions.
“I seriously wanted to quit when I had to eat the scorpions, because I had to eat everything–pinchers and tails and all and it was nasty having to feel the scorpions moving in my throat,” Gomez said. “But what people didn’t see on air was that the mom in the other team was talking and saying that I was weak and going to lose and other mean stuff. That was when I was driven to keep chewing and to not let some mom win and prove her point.”
Gomez is also a computer teacher at Daniel Webster Elementary School in the Potrero Hill District of San Francisco and according to Principal Moraima Machado, she is an inspiration for the students at the school.
“Amanda is a great model for our students,” Machado said. “Many of them are saying that they would like to be just like her.”
Despite showing that explosions and insects don’t frighten the microbiology major much, Gomez does have her own set of fears. Her greatest fear is not being successful at school.
“Before ‘Fear Factor’ I had never done anything that crazy, and the craziest thing I had done was ride a roller coaster, but those science classes at State, man, they are tough,” Gomez said. “I’m always afraid to fail them because you fail in your career if you fail this, but I keep trying and I’m still going strong.”
But with the show under her belt and $50,000 to invest in medical school after graduation, Gomez said she isn’t letting fear get in her way of success anymore.