by Jenny Morrill
How far would you go to win $100,000? Would you allow yourself to be locked in a box and subjected to potentially fatal extremes of heat and cold? The contestants on the short-lived Fox game show The Chamber did.
The Chamber aired for just three episodes in January 2002, before being pulled (though three other episodes were shot, they were never broadcast). The premise of the show was simple: the longer you could withstand the conditions in "the Chamber" while correctly answering general knowledge questions, the more money you won. Any contestant who answered a total of 25 questions correctly won the grand prize of $100,000, although no contestant ever achieved this in a broadcast episode.
The show's problem was with its titular centerpiece, the Chamber itself: Essentially a torture chamber, contestants were strapped to a table inside the chamber and subjected to extreme temperatures, water jets, muscle contractors, and dropping oxygen levels.
The contestants were in the Chamber for up to seven rounds, lasting one minute each. As the rounds progressed, the conditions in the Chamber worsened. In the three episodes that aired, only one player "survived" all seven levels.
The actual functions of the Chamber depended on which Chamber was being faced: the choice was between the Hot Chamber or the Cold Chamber, which was chosen at random for the contestant by a computer.
In the Hot Chamber, the contestant faced the following:
- Heat beginning at 110°F (43°C) and increasing to 170°F (66°C).
- Real flames surrounding the contestant, getting bigger as the game progressed.
- Muscle contractors strapped to the limbs.
- Simulated earthquake tremors (Richter scale 5.0 to begin, going up to 9.0).
- The chair would begin to rotate back and forth (level two), then up and down, through 270 degrees, and finally it would spin in complete circles.
- On the last show, foul odors were piped into the Chamber after the fourth round.
- Wind gusts of 40 miles per hour (64.3 k/h) joined in at level two.
- Falling oxygen levels throughout the game (90 percent down to 70 percent).
- Air cannons blasting at up to 140 miles per hour.
If the Cold Chamber was chosen, this is what the contestant got:
- Temperatures beginning at 30°F (-1 °C) and decreasing to -20°F (-29°C).Muscle contractors and simulated earthquake tremors (as in the Hot Chamber).
- Water jets squirting the contestants, causing ice to form on their bodies.
- Ice blasted at the contestant.
- Wind gusts of 40 miles per hour (64.3 k/h) from level three onwards.
- Falling oxygen levels (95 percent down to 70 percent).
- Air cannons blasting at up to 140 mph (as in the Hot Chamber).
Clearly, precautions had to be taken to ensure the safety of the contestants, so they were also wired up to heart and blood pressure monitors. If at any point in the game they were deemed unfit to continue, the game was stopped. The player could also stop the game by shouting “Stop the Chamber!” or, well, by passing out (yes, really).
It didn't stop there. Had the show not been pulled, other Chambers would have been introduced. Rumored Chambers that fortunately never saw the light of day include the Water Chamber, the Electricity Chamber, and the Animal/Insect Chamber (just in case you needed to be any more creeped out by this show).
This video below shows contestant Scott Brown (who lasted for all seven levels) in the Cold Chamber. Brown won $20,000 for his death-defying efforts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, critical and audience reaction to the series was not overly positive. "While some Fox executives originally backed the show for bringing some needed daring to a program lineup that they said had become somewhat staid," wrote Bill Carter in The New York Times, "the lackluster ratings performance clearly made it difficult to justify continuing a show that was generating so much hostile reaction." Considering that the Cold Chamber could induce hypothermia and frostbite, and the Hot Chamber could have caused heatstroke and severe burns, it's probably for the best that the show never really caught on.