Utah Utility, National Institute Question Competition Staged on Reality TV Show
While reality television programs appear to reflect real life situations, most viewers recognize that the shows are staged events designed for entertainment.
However, some groups believe some of the programs have taken real life entertainment too far, demonstrating behavior that seems harmless, but could lead to serious injury, even death.
In last Monday's episode of the NBC reality show, "Fear Factor," contestants had to collect four flags as they negotiated through a 40-foot maze of electrically charged wires.
Contestants competing as couples were handcuffed together for the event.
Concerned about the potential effects of the staged event, Utah Power warned Carbon County viewers about the highly dangerous behavior in the episode.
Promotional spots on TV and NBC's website portray a stunt wherein contestants appear to be inside a power station and receive electric shocks as they make their way through crisscrossing wires.
"We spend a lot of time and energy educating the public about the hazards of electricity. Tonight's episode of 'Fear Factor' undermines our life-saving message and gives a false impression about the true power of electricity," said Amy Eschete, Utah Power public safety manager. "What this show demonstrates with this stunt is not reality, and is, in fact far from it. Anyone who sees this show and thinks it is okay to access a substation or touch or go near wires needs to know that the potential for injuries or death is the only thing real about this situation."
Eschete first learned of the upcoming show from a peer member of the Utility Public Safety Alliance, a U.S. and Canadian association of electric and gas utility public safety representatives.
he Edison Electric Institute, which represents the nation's investor-owned utilities and helps promote the safety alliance's concerns, then took action to have the show edited or dropped in light of the content.
"It's important for viewers to know that there is no such thing as a 'nuisance shock' Ã¯Â¿Â½ and your Monday Evening broadcast will blur the line between fantasy and reality in ways that could have disastrous results, including perhaps even the electrocution of unsuspecting 'Fear Factor' fans," wrote Tom Kuhn, president of the institute in a letter to NBC.
"While we do not know the details of the show, we are definitely concerned that if the program airs as intended, it may cause viewers to fail to appreciate the seriousnessÃ¯Â¿Â½and potential dangerÃ¯Â¿Â½of electric power facilities and equipment," Eschete said before the episode aired. "We're additionally concerned that by just having seen the heavily promoted previews, viewers may have a false impression about electrical power. Touching or going near power lines can be deadly or cause life-altering injuries and is extremely foolish. Power lines are placed high overhead or buried underground for a reason."
Utah Power suggests that while NBC does make some effort to warn viewers, such a disclaimer may not be enough when it comes to safe behavior around power lines and equipment, especially for children.
"The power lines and transformers in the real world are not a backdrop for a TV show," Eschete said. "If you read the fine print on the NBC Web page, it says 'The stunts described on this Web site were designed and supervised by trained professionals. They are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone, anywhere, anytime.' We couldn't agree more."
Utah Power recommends the following tips for staying safe near power equipment.
If you see a downed power line, assume it's electrified. Don't touch it; don't even go near it. Immediately call Utah Power at 1-888-221-7070.
Never climb a power pole or other electrical equipment, including substation fences.
Look up and stay aware of the location of overhead power lines to avoid making contact with them.
If you see others climbing or playing around power equipment, urge them to move away.
Report any damaged or unlocked electrical equipment or any persons attempting to climb into substations to Utah Power.