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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Extreme TV Pits Man Against Nature

Black smoke billows from the top of a six-story building. Policeman Yevgeny Lavrentyev has just rescued three passengers from a burning car minutes after parachuting from an aging biplane at only 1,000 meters, but still he knows what he has to do.

Grabbing a rope, he clambers up the building, quenches the fire by knocking blazing tires off the top of it and into the snow, and abseils down to the bottom.

That's three tasks completed by Lavrentyev on Thursday and only two more to go to win a Volkswagen Passat in the latest series to hit Russian television: "Krutoi Fomenko: Ekstremalniye Situatsii," or Cool Fomenko: Extreme Situations.

The program, which began last week on NTV, pits five men against one another in death-defying situations. Contestants sign a form waiving their right to hold the television show responsible if they die during the filming.

"We're looking for a hero of our time," says Andrei Chelyadinov, the show's author and producer.

"The Volkswagen is not the most important thing - the most important thing is to prove what a real man is," host Nikolai Fomenko says at the start of each program.

Contestants are drawn from risk-taking professions: firemen, policemen, emergency rescue workers. They take four tests of Air, Fire, Earth and Water, and the loser in each stage drops out until only one person is left.

The winner goes into the super game - a three-minute fight with a professional boxer in front of an audience of hundreds of soldiers. If he survives the three minutes, he wins the car.

Director Tina Do Yegito compares it to the bloody spectacles of ancient Rome.

Chelyadinov says the contestants may not always find the experience funny.

"But after they remain alive, they laugh," he says.

At Thursday's filming at the Sofrino dom otdykha vacation center just outside Moscow, an ambulance waits by the side of the road as three contestants set out to climb the building, the Earth test. Lavrentyev comes second to experienced alpinist Yury Kvostov, while fireman Andrei Serov drops out of the race.

As the burning tires land in the snow, the film crew runs furiously to stop one from setting fire to a wooden children's slide beside the building.

Chelyadinov comes over and says that one contestant lost consciousness already that day in the Air section after landing badly. Later he points out Lavrentyev's badly cut finger, which he hurt during the Fire section. "I told you it was dangerous,"Chelyadinov says.

Chelyadinov, a small jolly man who looks like former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, dreams up the situations himself and likes to emphasize the risks the contestants take.

The four stages are different each week. In the Air section, he has visions of seeing future contestants diving off the wing of a plane or jumping out of a plane onto the top of a hot air balloon.

"We have a group of specialists who can do anything," he said Tuesday in his office around the corner from the Ostankino TV tower, which he hopes to have contestants parachute off the top of one day. He boasts that he has to fight with the specialists who organize the sections to make the tests more dangerous.

"We tried to do it so it's not dangerous," said Maria Lifshits, an experienced rock-climber who organized Thursday's climb up the building with partner Max Ozhiganov. But things can go wrong, she said.

One recent contestant broke his leg on a descent and will likely be off work for a year. All contestants are insured on the show and he received compensation for his pains.

"For him it was a good sum, but for your readers it'd be comic," Chelyadinov said, not giving the figure. A crew member later suggested the man received $2,000 in compensation.

But what if something does go wrong and someone dies? "I'll go to jail," Chelyadinov laughed half-jokingly.

The two contestants only have the Water stage to decide who faces the boxer. Everyone had been at the filming the previous day when the winner had been thumped by the boxer in the super game and lost the Volkswagen. "It wasn't pleasant," Do Yegito said with a wince.

Today, though, it may be a different story. Serov, the fireman, is pinning his hopes on Lavrentyev, who is a master of sport in kickboxing and teaches the OMON special forces how to fight.

"If Zhenya gets to box he'll show him," Serov says with satisfaction. "The car is his."

For the Water stage, Lavrentyev and Kvostov have to rescue a man from the middle of an icy lake. Lavrentyev wins and was to go against the boxer late Thursday.

The entire 55-minute episode is to be shown on NTV at 8 p.m. on a Friday in late March or early April. "Krutoi Fomenko" runs just before Chuck Norris' show "Krutoi Walker," or "Walker, Texas Ranger."