The Game Show That Could Have Killed Its Contestants

YouTube
YouTube

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.

YouTube

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.

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

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