Waterboarding and Chaos: Inside the World of Internet Provocateur Sam Hyde’s Reality Show FishTank Live

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At an undisclosed location, eight strangers have been locked in a house to compete in the most obscene reality show competition ever put online, FishTank Live.

FishTank Live is the creation of provocateur Sam Hyde and his prank group Million Dollar Extreme. Hosted on its own website, viewers can watch contestants, known as Fish, compete in challenges and live their lives through 10 cameras placed around the house, 24 hours a day for six weeks. 

In the first three weeks of FishTank Live alone, a mix of smaller influencers like Slyvia Dream (@pissrupt) and those looking for fame have been seemingly (in what appears to be a staged environment) waterboarded, swatted, and verbally abused by viewers over text-to-speech, all for the sake of entertainment and a cash prize of $30,000. 

Hyde is an internet provocateur who goes by Jason Goldstriker on the show. Since 2012, Hyde has been a part of the group Million Dollar Extreme (MDE), whose comedy “mocked political correctness” according to the Washington Post.

Over the past decade, he’s delivered a prank TedX Talk and started a Kickstarter for a fake “pony dating simulator.” In 2016, he wrote and acted in the Adult Swim show Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, which was canceled halfway through its first season after it was accused of racism and bigotry by Adult Swim actors, directors, writers, and producers.

“I would say that I’m probably as racist or as biased as the average regular white guy or the average regular Black guy,” Hyde told The Hollywood Reporter after his show’s cancellation. 

Hyde himself has seemingly welcomed this controversy and embraced it as his brand. He performed stand-up sets where he would spew racist jokes to an uncomfortable audience. In 2017, he donated $5,000 to the legal defense fund of the founder of the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Hyde did not return our request for comment via email and Instagram direct message. 

Hyde’s popularity dwindled until YouTuber Ian “iDubbbz” Jomha created a YouTube documentary of Hyde in 2022. This introduced Hyde to an entirely new audience who wanted more of his racist content, hence the founding of FishTank Live.

Drowning Fish

Hyde first talked about his idea for the FishTank Live show in a December 2021 YouTube video. He described the idea as “Hell House,” a “reality show” where MDE fans would be living  “dormitory style,” eating food that contains “heavy doses of laxatives,” and living with “Somalian refugees.” 

None of that made it into the actual show, but the spirit of Big Brother with increasingly odd pieces of torture remains. 

On week three, FishTank Live currently has four Fish left—named Sylvia, Josie, Vance, and Violetta, all of whom Hyde personally chose from an online pool. Hyde has not stated how these contestants were chosen, though Violleta said to the camera on day six it was because “we were very bullyable, that’s why we were chosen to be on this show.” 

Of the four contestants no longer on the show only two actually lost challenges. One left of his own volition, and the other, Simmons, got kicked off after the internet found he had written multiple books, one of which describes how to “hit on boys/girls” as a camp counselor.

To participate, contestants are tasked with living in a house with white walls and blacked-out windows for six weeks, with each room having a live-streamed camera feed. There are four bedrooms, a living room, two bathrooms (one with a confessional camera), a garage, and a laundry room.

Each morning (or afternoon depending on how late they sleep in) producer and MDE member Jet Neptune tells the cast members what they are going to be doing that day. To keep things interesting, there are often challenges.

On day 17, the FishTank Live house had to pretend like they were at camp for 48 hours. On day 10, the Fish were tasked with staying in one single bedroom and the last one to leave would earn a FishBuck, a piece of paper worth $500 (One of the contestants, Letty, allegedly urinated in the closet to stay in the challenge, though Vance won).

There are also longer challenges, where contestants compete in more complex tasks. From days eight to 12, the “Unplanned Parenthood” challenge gave players practice babies that tracked when they were shaken or fed. Day 14 to 16 was called “Be grateful for your disability,” where Hyde tasked the Fish with either being blinded by a mask, using a wheelchair, not using their arms, or pretending to have “schizophrenia.”

Other distractions exist in FishTank Live, like freeloaders who are temporary household dwellers. On day 14, Hyde announced that because “none of the contestants are being interesting” he would bring in a “homeless Black guy to come in and be the new roommate.” The next day, a Black man they call “Teddy” is brought in to play hide and seek, and he is promised $20 for each person found. 

There are also producers dressed in either red or white outfits, known as sharks, either handing out gifts to contestants or causing utter mayhem. One day they might hand a balloon to Josie, and on another, they’d completely wreck the house forcing the contestants to clean it.

Swimming in dough

Viewers have been eating up FishTank Live. The website offers a $40 season pass that allows you to type in a chat room and receive the full series once it’s been finished. Users can also purchase tokens for real-world money that can be used to impact the show. 

For around $40 you can a message to a Fish that is read by a text-to-speech generator over a loudspeaker in a room of your choosing. There has been encouragement, snitching, and harassment read aloud to the Fish. Special purchasable actions, known as Fishtoys, range from nice—like sending care packages to contestants for $250—to brutal—like removing a bed for the night for $600. 

It’s unclear how much has been raised, but it’s clearly successful. Multiple loot packages have been sent, and the prize pool for the competition has already been raised from an initial fund of $15,000 to $30,000.  

A toxic ecosystem

A whole community has erupted to catalog the exploits of the FishTank Live. YouTube compilations of each day pull in tens of thousands of views, and multiple Twitter accounts have been posting clips. There’s fan art, community discussion, and theories about who the next one voted off will be. 

Reality shows are trashy by nature, pushing absurd personalities into the spotlight and encouraging outlandish behavior for views and clips. On television, you have to adhere to the FCC’s rules, which prohibit “obscene, indecent, or profane programming.” But on the internet, everything’s fair game. 

There have been other Internet reality shows like The Next Internet Millionaire and Escape The Night, but they’ve all had to adhere to the rules of platforms like YouTube and Twitter. By having its own website, FishTank Live skips any content moderation and can fully embrace its horror—though the site has still gone down multiple times. 

On day three, the site went down because, according to Hyde on Twitter, server hosting was costing $30,000 for three days which wasn’t in Hyde’s bank account. The show continued on YouTube with only a single camera but went down again on day five for an hour after the participants claimed they were doxxed and swatted.

The site was brought down once again by Google, who was hosting FishTank Live on its cloud platform, on day nine because of “terms of service violations” according to Hyde’s Twitter, though it was back up by the end of the day. The Google Cloud Platform Terms Of Service are a bit vague, but prohibit “High-Risk Activities” and “illegal content.” Google did not respond to a request for comment via email.

Twitter and YouTube have allowed FishTank Live clips to spread, giving the site more attention and views, though both platforms have terms of service that prohibit “hateful conduct.” Though clips of the show were pushed on the site in earlier weeks, the algorithms do appear to have slowed down with Neptune tweeting that “fishtank accounts (are) being shadow banned” on Twitter.

The show is over halfway through its run and there’s no telling where it’s going to end up. Hyde and his crew have a captive audience—both literally and figuratively—that he can use as he pleases. All we can predict is that things are likely going to get worse.

Do you have an experience with FishTank Live? Email [email protected] to send in your story.

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