SciFi’s Estate of Panic is Fear Factor redux, while Cha$e is a waste of time

Earlier this month, SciFi debuted two new reality competition series that seem a lot like other series that have come before them. Estate of Panic airs Wednesdays at 10, while Cha$e (formerly called “Cash or Capture”) aired Tuesdays at 10; full episodes of both are online.

First, Estate of Panic seems a lot like Fear Factor, and that makes sense because it’s by many of the same producers and from the same production company, and SciFi is owned by NBC Universal, and the original show aired on NBC before being cancelled two years ago. Estate of Panic even borrows from the previous show’s music. Basically, it’s Diet Fear Factor, since it’s missing the big, epic stunts.

Instead of host Joe Rogan, there’s an actor, Steve Valentine, who pretends to own a mansion where he’s hidden wads of cash and lets contestants search for it. The story makes little sense, and is mostly an excuse to change the setting for each stunt—although ultimately each room set piece doesn’t exactly look a lot different than what Fear Factor’s set designers created. I suppose they just needed a way to make the show fit on SciFi and convince the network and/or audiences that this wasn’t just Fear Factor returning, but it is, particularly in the early days when the show focused only on the competitions, not really on the people or the drama between them.

Thus, the fun of the series is in watching the stunts, which each take place in a different “room.” (The mansion is in Argentina, where the show is filmed, but some of the stunts are shot outside the house on a set.) The seven contestants search for money while in a snake-filled room flooding with cold water, while being electrocuted, or while being crushed by moving walls and ceilings. Two people get eliminated after each room: the person with the least amount of money and the person who leaves last.

The rules are vague and the storyline cheesy and largely pointless, and having a bunch of people searching for money and screaming all at once isn’t exactly scintillating TV. But once the group thinned out, the show sucked me in, not because I cared about the people, but because I was enjoying watching them be electrocuted or crushed or whatever was happening in that particular room. Let’s all start begging SciFi now for a reality TV star crossover episode that involves the electrocution challenge.

Cha$e, which airs Tuesdays at 10, is nowhere near as good. It’s is essentially a game of tag as staged by people who bought Matrix costumes at a secondhand store and were followed by people holding home video cameras. There are some rules—the hunters can be deflected using something that looks like a toy—but it comes off as somewhat improvised and absurd, since camera crews are with the contestants so they can’t exactly hide. And the only scary part is that there are amateur reality series that look more professionally produced.

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