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'Blackout' is out of sight

The new "Total Blackout," premiering at 10 and 10:30 tonight on Syfy, is "Fear Factor" in a power failure!

Four contestants -- or (in tonight's second episode) four couples -- must rely on their other four senses when the lights go out. Awaiting them in various tanks in a pitch-black studio are all kinds of weird stuff: animal, vegetable and mineral.

We meet the players, cocky and boasting beforehand; watch them squirm and squeal (in blackout-lensed blue-and-white), making wrongheaded guesses as to the objects' identities while the disembodied voice of host Jaleel White coaches and quips; then afterward hear their reactions. The sorta-kicker is, the least accurate guesser gets dropped down a trapdoor "black hole," while the others continue on to rounds 2 (another trapdoor) and 3 (two finalists).

Their imaginations get the best of most contestants, so we get to see girls swear up a (bleeped) storm, tough guys whimper, etc. But what would you do, blind and sticking your hand into a tank of roaches or eels? Or forced in the dark to locate and eat blue cheese off a hairy human belly? Would you recognize the scent of smelly armpit?

My say: I'm no smarter than the contestants. Thought I was going to hate "Total Blackout." Then couldn't help laughing out loud when one Fearless Dude smelling the blue cheese promptly wrinkled his nose and spat, "Poop?"

The couples are cool, too, in coaching each other through the fright and identifications. And to its credit, "Total Blackout" makes one of TV's most diverse casting efforts, bringing in all races, origins and sexual orientations. Even the youthful demographic gets a shake-up when one guy pairs with his 60ish French mom.

So -- yes, I'm ashamed of myself. But a girl's gotta slum sometime. Better ogling the oddities of this behavior than "Maury."

Bottom line: Irresistible.