But this run, too, may be coming to an end. When I spoke to former NBC colleagues of Mr. Zucker about his tenure there, the show they brought up most often wasn’t “The Apprentice”; it was “Fear Factor,” in which contestants were tossed in their underwear into a pit full of rats, among other grotesque stunts. USA Today described it as perhaps “the most vile program ever to air on a major network.”
“Fear Factor” didn’t age well. The show lasted six seasons, and a revival was cut short by public backlash to a stunt in which competing sets of identical twins drank donkey semen. The public got tired of it (and that donkey stunt didn’t air).
“After a while it was like, Jesus Christ,” the host, Joe Rogan, recalled in a 2019 interview. “How many times can you throw them off buildings?”
Consuming the news of the last four years has felt at times like watching “Fear Factor” and its cruel and violent strain of reality television. That’s the sensation of doomscrolling on Twitter late at night, the unending outrage cycle that has propelled cable news to its current strong and steady ratings.