Humanly Impossible Control Subjects


By Liz Morrison – Associate Producer

The Craigslist ad went something like this – “Seeking extras for a new science show. Will include non-invasive medical testing that may measure extreme pain tolerance.” If I didn’t actually write this, I would’ve assumed the posting was a joke or something WAY too sketchy to get involved with. But our inbox slowly started filling up with responses.

We set up interviews with our prospective guinea pigs and tried to assess their aversion to the control tests we were planning at the time. “How do you feel about needles? And fire? How quickly do you get dizzy?” They smiled and answered our questions, stressing the fact that they really wanted to get some TV screen time to build up their acting reel. We smiled and continued plotting.

Bernard, Irina, and Michael were all wonderful to work with. They came on set; we made them uncomfortable by probing them with hot rods, or spinning them until they got nauseous. They helped us prove the point that Humanly Impossible talent have some seriously cool control of their bodies.

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But there were times in the production when a test came up suddenly and we needed someone on camera fast. No time for a Craigslist posting and auditions. That’s when I would turn to my Production Assistants and ask, “Who wants to be on TV?”

We asked our PAs to do a lot of ridiculous tasks behind the scenes at Humanly Impossible – “Hey Rex, can you thaw this pig skin?” “Willy, are you finished rigging the watermelon drop?” “Nick, can you jump in the pool and tighten the strait jacket?” – but it was their unexpected on-camera appearances that lead to the most outlandish requests.

Take, for example, the nipple pain test. For some reason all the extras we interviewed balked at the idea of having an industrial clamp squeeze their sensitive nipple. As the shooting day approached, I could not find anyone willing to go through with such a painful experiment. Then our PA Joe joked that he wanted some screen time too. A devilish smile spread across my face and he was committed. In front of all his co-workers, Joe nervously stripped off his shirt and was hooked up to a battery of sensors and wires. Not shockingly, Joe’s face scrunched up in pain and his vital signs shot off the charts. It was not a glamorous job, but someone had to do it.

Regardless of the shady sounding Craigslist post, or our last minute PA positions, we took all our testing (control and otherwise) very seriously. Safety was the #1 priority on set. We often had EMTs present, even though they (thankfully) didn’t have much to do besides sitting around and eating our craft services. And our fabulous experts always chimed in with their medical opinions. When we say “Don’t try this at home” we mean it, but if you happen to be on our Humanly Impossible set, you might just get to be on TV…

For more, tune in to Humanly Impossible tonight at 8P et/pt. In the meantime, here’s a preview of tonight’s episode: