David Hurwitz remembers the precise second he knew his title can be enshrined within the annals of tv notoriety. The 12 months was 2001, and he and his artistic collaborator, Matt Kunitz, have been watching a lady drink worms out of a martini glass on the set of their NBC actuality present Concern Issue. “I think the glass had, like, three earthworms and a silkworm in it,” the producer tells Yahoo Leisure now. “We watched her try to drink them, and then her gag reflex kicked in. We looked at each other and went, ‘We’re going to hell.’”
The place the duo truly went was to the highest of the Nielsen charts. When Concern Issue — hosted by podcast king Joe Rogan — premiered on June 11, 2001, the sequence was an instantaneous success story, giving NBC a actuality franchise that might compete with hits like Survivor and Large Brother on CBS. “Everybody was saying, ‘All the networks are looking for the next Survivor,” recalls Kunitz, who had gotten his start working on such pioneering MTV reality fare as The Real World and the inaugural Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
“At the time, it was really just Survivor and Big Brother,” agrees Hurwitz, whose early reality credits included The Man Show and Before They Were Stars. “There was no such thing at NBC as the ‘reality TV department.’ Literally, the gentleman that oversaw specials like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was our govt!”
Like each of CBS’s actuality hits, Concern Issue was an Americanized model of a European actuality sequence — Now or Neverland, produced by the Dutch media firm, Endemol. Kunitz stumbled upon the Dutch model after NBC deserted its preliminary plan for a flagship actuality sequence: a U.S. adaptation of Chains of Love, a doubtful Endemol-made courting present that chained strangers along with romance because the prize. “I was like, ‘This is a terrible idea,’” Kunitz says of that sequence. “‘I don’t know what you guys are thinking.’” (The NBC model of Chains of Love was shut down earlier than capturing started, however was later revived for UPN and ran for six episodes.)
With the community nonetheless needing to make good on its contract with Endemol, Kunitz reviewed all of their packages and noticed probably the most potential in Now or Neverland, the place atypical contestants participated in a sequence of harmful stunts. “But I told them, ‘If we’re going to do it, we’ve really got to go big with it.’”
And Concern Issue went massive from the start. The sequence premiere required the contestants to be dragged by a horse, after which lie down in a mattress of dwell rats. The gamers who made it previous these obstacles then needed to navigate their means round a taxi that was suspended tons of of toes within the air over a reservoir. Different Season 1 challenges included a snake pit, a sky-high rope crawl, a water tank and consuming quite a lot of gross substances from the aforementioned “Wormtinis” and “Beetle Bowls” to pig hearts and sheep’s eyes.
At the same time as contestants — and TV critics — gagged, audiences at dwelling ate all of that stuff up; Concern Issue gross-out stunts, gleefully narrated by Rogan, have been principally the TV model of web clickbait. “We were getting 18 million viewers — that would never happen today,” Kunitz says. “The gross stunts were great, not only because they were visceral and offered something you’d never seen before, but it also helped with the budget.”
However the producers additionally found there have been downsides to being referred to as the grossest present on tv. “It’s ironic: On an average episode, we could have people flipping a car through a moving train, and also have people eating worms — and audiences would only remember the eating worm challenge!” Kunitz says. Provides Hurwitz, “To this day, people only talk about Fear Factor as ‘the gross show.’ They never go, ‘That’s the show where they’re in a speeding car, it goes throw a moving train and lands on the other side!’ They only ever talk about, ‘Oh, they ate deer testicles!’”
In a ultimate twist of irony, a gross-out stunt wound up being the rationale why Concern Issue went from NBC’s signature actuality franchise to the TV graveyard. After ending out its preliminary run in 2006, the community revived the sequence for its 10th anniversary in 2011 with a lot of the unique artistic workforce intact. “They said, ‘We want this to be bigger and better than ever,’” says Kunitz. So he and Hurwitz plotted out a season stuffed with challenges that pushed the boundaries of the place that they had gone earlier than. However they ultimately discovered the one factor you can’t do on community tv… and it concerned donkey semen.
For a never-aired episode referred to as “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” the producers deliberate two main stunts — together with that “car through a moving train” problem — with an consuming problem in between. For that specific meal, they determined that donkey semen can be on the menu. Each Hurwitz and Kunitz stress that NBC was totally conscious of what that they had deliberate. “Everybody approved it,” says Hurwitz. “Everything we did on the show, whether it was eating duck embryo or something else, was checked off by Endemol and NBC. So everybody knew.” Provides Kunitz, “We didn’t go rogue. Everyone signed off on every challenge, from the network to the studio.”
Wanting again now, Kunitz sees how the donkey semen thought could have been doomed from the beginning. “Normally there was a rule that if you vomited during a gross stunt, you’d be eliminated,” he explains. “And if everybody was eliminated, you’d cut the prize in half and everyone would come to the last challenge. We realized that would be a problem, because we had a limited number of cars for the last challenge. So we changed the rules and said, ‘If you vomit [the donkey semen], you have to vomit into your glass and then keep drinking it.’”
As with all of the challenges featured on Concern Issue, the producers examined that rule change with keen crew members, providing further money for his or her participation. Instantly, Kunitz might see warning indicators forward. “It was terrible. When we were testing it, we were like, ‘Oh my god, this has gone too far.’ We felt so bad for the crew members doing the test. I remember that Joe felt so bad, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of $100 bills and just gave it to the poor guys.”
Kunitz’s trepidation solely elevated once they filmed the stunt for actual. “We knew we were really pushing it, and we decided that we should air it later in the season so we didn’t get in any trouble. We edited the show and sent it to NBC and they were like, ‘It looks good.’ We thought, ‘There’s no way we’re not going to get any notes on this.’”
Certain sufficient, 5 weeks later, NBC shortly modified its thoughts. Kunitz and Hurwitz have been introduced in to satisfy with the community’s censor as they tried to discover a strategy to salvage the problem. “We would sit in the edit bay and negotiate. The censor would say, ‘You show this shot, but you can’t show this shot because it’s too gross.’ Or, ‘Don’t cut to the donkey while they’re doing this.’ We made it as tame as we possibly could for what it was.”
NBC and the producers ultimately settled on a January 2012 airdate for the episode. However every week previous to its premiere, an NBC govt provided TMZ an unique picture from “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” — a shot that Hurwitz himself snapped and featured, in Kunitz’s phrases, “a big, full glass of donkey semen,” with the donkeys at the back of the body. TMZ printed the picture, alongside a narrative that acknowledged the behind the scenes fears in regards to the problem. “That article came out, and every late night host on every network started talking about Fear Factor,” Kunitz says. “That’s what we wanted, right?”
Because it seems, that’s not what Comcast — which had lately bought a controlling stake in NBC Common from its earlier homeowners, Normal Electrical — wished in any respect. In accordance with Kunitz, Comcast executives strongly inspired the community to drop the episode altogether. NBC went one step additional. “Their reaction was, ‘Yeah guys, we’re not going to air that and, unfortunately, we’re also done with the show.’”
Concern Issue’s cancellation was formally introduced in Could and, to at the present time, the donkey semen problem has by no means been proven publicly. (Apparently, the episode did air in Denmark, as TMZ helpfully reported.) “It’s a bummer because we did this one amazing stunt that no one got to see,” Hurwitz says, referencing the grand finale. “There was something written about how we were frat boy producers gone wild, but we were in our forties with kids at that point! We were the furthest thing removed from that, and we always had checks and balances.”
Concern Issue ultimately returned to the airwaves through a 2017 MTV reboot hosted by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. However neither of the unique producers have been concerned in that stripped-down model. “It simply felt prefer it was going to be too small,” says Kunitz, who lately created the hit ABC actuality sequence, Wipeout, whereas Hurwitz is at present engaged on Fox’s upcoming revival of You Guess Your Life hosted by Jay Leno.
“It is a present that actually deserves to be massive and have massive budgets,” he continues. “However I’d be open to a different large community model of it. I will not be shocked if we Concern Issue on one other community someday sooner or later as a result of it is a basic present and other people adore it. Would we do donkey semen once more? No! We discovered our lesson on that one.”
Listed here are a number of the different classes — and behind the scenes tales — that the Concern Issue producers shared with Yahoo Leisure from their time overseeing the most important, grossest present in actuality historical past.
Phil Keoghan virtually hosted Concern Issue
Earlier than touchdown his two-decade gig internet hosting CBS’s different actuality hit, The Superb Race, Phil Keoghan auditioned to host Concern Issue. Though he was finally “Philiminated” from rivalry, each producers keep in mind being impressed by the New Zealand-born tv persona. “Phil actually caught out,” Kunitz says now. “Everybody that got here in was very respectful and mentioned, ‘This may be an ideal present. I would like to host it, and I am actually enthusiastic about it.'”
In distinction, Joe Rogan got here in with the precise reverse perspective — and that is what received him the gig. “Joe got here into the convention room, watched a sizzle reel and thought it was ridiculous,” Hurwitz remembers. “He by no means stopped saying ‘I do not assume that is going to final.'” That irreverence clicked for the type of present the duo wished Concern Issue to be. “We did not simply need one other man in a khaki shirt saying, ‘Are you prepared?'” laughs Hurwitz. We wished any person that was going to say what the viewer at dwelling was pondering.”
“We knew Joe was going to talk his thoughts — if he would not like a contestant, he isn’t going to faux he likes the contestant,” provides Kunitz, remembering an episode the place Rogan actively rooted for a participant to lose. “I’ve by no means labored with a bunch earlier than or since that might get in fights with contestants as a result of he is so real! There is not any filter with Joe, and that is what made him so nice on Concern Issue and so profitable as we speak on his podcast.”
If you cannot take the odor, keep out of the kitchen
They could have required contestants (and crew members) to ingest gross substances, however Hurwitz and Kunitz made certain to side-step attempting out any of Concern Issue‘s gross-out consuming challenges themselves. That mentioned, they usually obtained a whiff of what their employees was cooking up. “The check kitchen was in our workplace, and the smells that might come of out if have been simply horrific,” Kunitz says, chuckling. “There was by no means an opportunity that I used to be going to check any of the gross stuff.”
Generally inspiration would strike exterior of the kitchen as effectively. Hurwitz remembers the crew testing out the cow eyeball-eating problem for a Season three episode, and discovering a strategy to make the expertise even grosser. “Somebody bit into an eyeball, and the membrane juice simply shoots throughout! First we have been like, ‘Oh man, that is gross.’ After which we went, ‘Hey, is there a means the place we are able to do a problem the place they must chunk into an eye fixed, squirt out the juice, get the juice as much as a sure stage in a cup after which drink it?'”
And similar to that, ingesting cow eye juice was on the menu for Season 4. “It is virtually the best way a sport would return on The Value is Proper,” Hurwitz says. “And that is what you wished to do — you wished to greatest yourselves. Nevertheless it all the time needed to be accomplished safely. You by no means wished to place somebody in a scenario the place they’d be harm.”
They did not begin the hearth
Moreover pondering of the contestants’ security, the Concern Issue producing workforce additionally stored the security of the viewing viewers on the entrance of their minds. To keep away from impressionable followers from trying a few of these stunts at dwelling — ignoring the content material warning that performed earlier than each episode — the challenges needed to be unattainable to tug off in a yard.
“You by no means noticed us set a contestant on fireplace as a result of our worry was some dumb child at dwelling may assume, ‘I will pour some kerosene on me and set myself on fireplace and bounce within the pool!'” Kuntiz explains. “However children do not personal helicopters and trains and semi-trucks, so so long as we’re retaining it at a stage of stunt that they can not simply repeat, we’ll be secure.”
In reality, Kunitz claims that the sequence made viewers extra secure in some instances. “We would do quite a lot of stunts the place contestants can be in a automotive that might launch into the water and have to flee because it was sinking,” he remembers. In 2005, a California jail guard escaped from her personal flooded automotive utilizing the methods she discovered on Concern Issue. “She remembered what Joe mentioned on Concern Issue and used that to avoid wasting her life. So we truly did some good!”
Possibly they don’t seem to be going to hell in spite of everything…
Concern Issue is at present streaming on Hulu
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