Reality shows audiences had become so jaded that they were not interested in watching unless there was the possibility that someone could die onscreen in front of them. Of course, people still lined up to be on the shows, because fame and fortune with the chance of grisly death is still fame and fortune. I was one of them. I’d like to say I did it to raise money for cancer or to feed the starving children of Baluchistan or something but really, I just did it for the money.
A million bucks for 8 hours of work, if you could call it that. Tell me you wouldn’t be tempted.
The show I was on was called House Trap. The premise was that the contestant goes about their daily lives but there is a fatal trap hidden somewhere in the house. The audience keeps watching because the person could die at any moment. Maybe there’s a bomb in the butter or the shower shoots acid or there is a trapdoor that drops into a vat of alligators when the front door is opened. The person moves around the house in a panic and the audiences cheers for him to stay alive, or sometimes, to not stay alive. If the person stays alive for the whole day, he gets the million dollars. If not, it goes to the charity of his choice.
My episode was the fifth in the season. The idea was that I was just going about my daily business but according to the script (and yes, there was a script), I started by cleaning out the garage, then baking cookies, then polishing my collection of antique swords. Just like a normal day, right?
“Don’t worry,” the director said. “The trap is real and it can kill you but we’ll tell you where it is ahead of time so you won’t just stumble into it.” That sounded great but the day of shooting came and I still didn’t know. I asked the director.
“Ask Jack,” he said.
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. Okay, places everyone!” The next thing I knew, I was pushed inside the house by myself and filming began.
The contract specifically said that once cameras started rolling, there were no re-shoots. If I called it quits, not only would I not get the million dollars but I would have to pay a similar amount to the studio for loss of income. And now I was stuck in a house with a deadly trap and no idea where it was.
I looked at my watch: 8:30am. Just eight and a half hours to go until I was a millionaire and home free. I was pretty sure the trap wasn’t in the first two activities, at least. They needed enough footage to fill an hour show. The previous season, a contestant had died accidentally in the first five minutes. Most of that show was interviews shot previously. Not great TV.
I went to the garage and saw the pile of boxes stacked up precarious just in front of a wood chipper. It looked like it hadn’t been used for ages, but I saw the red LED on the lower panel and knew it could start at any moment.
Skipping the first activity (hey, what were they going to do, sue me?) I went into the kitchen. It was silent and I realized that I didn’t hear the fridge running. I peeked behind it, and sure enough, it wasn’t plugged in. So that meant that either it wasn’t a real fridge or else there was something else inside it. I put my ear to the door and thought I heard some movement inside. That creeped me out.
I wanted to open the fridge really quickly and then shut it, but that was stupid. It could be electrified, could be a bomb, could be anything. Finally, I went and got some rope and with nails hammered into strategic places, I spent an hour rigging up a system where I could pull on a rope from the across the room and open the fridge door, then shut it again by pulling on another. I pushed the couch out and ducked behind it. This was definitely off script, but I figured it would be more interesting than watching me bake cookies.
I pulled the door open with a yank of the rope in my right hand, then slammed it right away with the other rope. Something dropped to the floor and to my horror, I heard a faint skittering sound. I looked up and saw a creature coming towards me like a miniature tank. It was an ant, but a bigger one than I had ever seen. It wasn’t alone either. About fifty had dropped out and were scurrying around, razor-like pincers flashing furiously.
I squashed the one that had charged me but then another one climbed up the back of my leg and bit me. It was like getting stabbed, really. I screamed and pulled it off, running into the other room for safety. My leg was actually bleeding a little and I could not imagine what would have happened if I had just yanked the fridge open and stood there while a wave of ravenous bugs had attacked me.
It took me another hour or so to hunt down the rest of the escaped ants and send them to buggy hell. I still had half the day left and I didn’t feel like playing by the rules any more.
First, I found duct tape and taped the fridge shut. Then I dragged it to the garage door and spent another hour fashioning up a funnel out of sheets and blankets and attaching it to the fridge door. Then I moved the wood chipper to the other end and turned it on. I took the duct tape off and the fridge door came open, right into the funnel, sending a wave of homicidal ants into the whirring steel blades.
The garage instantly became an entomological Jackson Pollock work, a myrmicine Texas chainsaw massacre. A very gory, satisfying mess, in other words. I turned off the wood chipper, shut the garage door and spent the rest of the time polishing the antique swords.
It turns out that my episode was the highest rated in the history of the show. They even changed the title of the show to House Trap: MacGyver Edition, where the contestants got paid double if they found the trap and disarmed it in some creative way.
I didn’t get paid any more though. They did let me keep the wood chipper though.