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TELEVISION REVIEW

Reality TV goes in for scare tactics

The contestants on the CW's ''13 - Fear Is Real'' are given fright-themed challenges at a cabin in the Louisiana bayou. The contestants on the CW's ''13 - Fear Is Real'' are given fright-themed challenges at a cabin in the Louisiana bayou. (Patrick wymore/the cw)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 7, 2009
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At one point in the CW's "13 - Fear Is Real," a bubbly contestant named Laura exclaims, "I'm so scared, I'm, like, shaking." Watching "13 - Fear Is Real," I was, like, shaking, too, from giggling at the awesome flimsiness of this new horror reality show - when I wasn't bored out of my skull, that is.

The series, which premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 56, very unsuccessfully tries to evoke horror movies, from "The Blair Witch Project" to "Saw," in a reality TV setting. Thirteen pretty people are thrown together in a cabin in the Louisiana bayou, where they are guided through fright-themed challenges by phone calls and announcements from a Darth Vader-like voice who goes by the name of "The Mastermind." In each episode, a loser will "die" at an "execution ceremony" until the final survivor wins $66,666.

The atmosphere is as authentic as a Disney World ride. The haunted cabin, the "coffins," even the trees, all look as if they were lifted from the set of a very low-budget movie. The challenges are fake and nonsensical, too, with players screaming and running through the woods as if they're really frightened and really alone. This is one reality show that actually pretends there are no camera people lurking and no props managers handing out blindfolds and flashlights. It's comical, as the guys and gals are suddenly shown running to rescue their partners in the forest, where they have, seemingly through divine malice, been tied to chairs.

The contestants fall into predictable categories, including the flaky babe, the pretty boy with long blond hair, the butch dude, and the over-emotional woman. Cody is the token freak, with a mohawk that stands almost a foot high. His hair has been so abused with product it looks something like a fan made of dried seaweed. No, this isn't like "Survivor," where at least personal grooming is sacrificed in the name of the game. "13 - Fear Is Real" is as scary as, like, a mall Halloween display.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

13 - FEAR IS REAL On: The CW, Channel 56

Time: Tonight, 8-9

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