Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dr. Adrian Cohen was saddened, but not surprised, to hear about the 28-year-old woman who died earlier this month after drinking nearly two gallons of water to try to win a radio station contest.

The Australian doctor specializes in making sure entertainment shows scrutinize their content so no one gets hurt. He also knows firsthand that a few programs aren’t as devoted to their contestants’ safety as they should be.

Dr. Cohen supervises the various challenges set before “Survivor” contestants to make sure they won’t lead to serious medical problems. He’s been with the show since its inception, and he has also helped other programs such as”Eco-Challenge” and “Who Dares Wins” protect their stars.

For “Survivor,” Dr. Cohen works with his crew to scout the various locations, test-run the proposed challenges and make sure the contestants will be able to survive in the often grueling environments.

“The hazards are identified right from the start,” Dr. Cohen says.

“Survivor” contestants are given physical and psychological exams before the games begin, and potential contestants with unstable conditions like epilepsy or severe diabetes are ruled ineligible.

Some programs, he says, run their safety operations on an “ad hoc” basis. Others are far less intensive with their efforts, though he politely declines to name names.

“Radio stations have come to us with a challenge and we said, ‘No, you’re gonna kill somebody,’ ” he says.

For one proposed stunt, a television show wanted to cool a contestant’s body temperature down to dangerously low levels and have doctors standing by in case his or her heart were to stop. Another involved either a contestant or the show’s host driving a snowmobile over a ramp, but the show was forced to scrap the stunt when there weren’t enough leg splints on-site.

Dr. Cohen says common sense should have ruled those out immediately, but that other stunts appear less threatening.

“Drinking water is not eating fire or playing with knives,” he says.

Even if a stunt goes off without a hitch, there’s always the chance viewers will try repeating it.

He points a finger at the two “Jackass” movies, which target a young, male demographic. The films’ fan base is at just that age when they’re feeling invincible, competitive and eager to beat their chests.

“People are gonna die trying to do these stunts,” he says.

The entertainment industry lacks regulation when it comes to potentially dangerous stunts, he says, so he hopes the recent tragedy will clang a warning bell to unscrupulous programmers looking for the next ratings spike.

“If [a stunt] has anything to do with human beings, they should have an appropriate doctor look at it,” he says.

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