THE BILLIONAIRE SUICIDE SHOW

The Billionaire Suicide Show first aired via YouTube on March 15th, 2023. The format took one of the world’s billionaires and subjected them to a live 24-hour session where they’d be exposed to a variety of evidence of their indirect destruction: witness testimonials, documentaries, academic monographs, severed limbs, stillborn fetuses, etc. 

If the billionaire didn’t commit suicide by the end of the 24-hour marathon, they’d win.

The first episode featured the near-trillionaire president of the country’s largest lamb and veal factory farm corporation. The media company producing the show secured his participation by hacking his home security system and copying video of his sexual exploits with the choicest cuts of his merchandise. 

The premiere show’s airing had a miserable number of viewers, and the sidebar comments were nothing but the usual sarcastic droll and digital elbowing for outrage attention. The company president made it through the 24 hours with only one uncomfortable scene when he defecated himself with childish glee.

The next two episodes had less success in reaching the promised climax of a billionaire suicide. The show’s writers tried providing their billionaire contestants with an ever-more attractive buffet of self-harm tools and devices: bowknives, Nazi-era SS Walthers, Drane-O and orange crush mixes, New Yorker short stories, expired oysters, bags of crushed glass, loafers housing nervous scorpions, minimum-wage warehouse work, fentanyl, and past-life regression therapy. 

The billionaires just sat, smiled and pissed themselves, walking away winners yet again.   

Traffic for the live streams was slipping each episode and the YouTube channel–full of extras like behind-the-scenes interviews with contestants, witnesses and crew, or extensive video essays on the importance of ego dissolution in the face of crushing calls of “individualism”–wasn’t getting that subscription button as frequently smashed as the show’s backers were promised. 

The backers demanded a billionaire suicide. With tears and supplications we hope.

It was left to the writers to get “creative” with finding the right billionaire with the right insecurities and secrets and regrets. One writer–a former technical writer for an Israeli espionage and surveillance state-private apparatus–suggested administering doses of mind-altering narcotics to the billionaire contestant right before the show, so as to put them in a state of heightened responsiveness and sentimentality. 

The team settled on a 24 year old boutique investment bank CEO whose parents were Russian immigrants who became porn stars in the US famous for incest themed X-rated melodrama — their own level of blood relation was never clear, intentionally ambiguous. The CEO was roped into doing the show when members of an Eastern European mob–now credited on the show as ‘reality consultants’–kidnapped his three pitbulls and threatened to turn them starving and loose at a waterpark. The CEO initially dismissed the offer, but his board members convinced him otherwise.

Sipping from a green tea backstage before the show, the CEO was clueless he was being drugged. A makeup artist smoothing over his acne scars would later say the kid was sweet and that she would have warned him he was being drugged had she not been rationing blood-pressure medicine as well as being behind on rent and under threat of eviction. 

The show lasted less than four hours–they were just getting warmed up showing the CEO raw footage of coyotes eating meat to a Philip Glass soundtrack slowed down to 25% speed and with the bass turned way up. 

The CEO grabbed the little rabid rat-like creature that had been added to the suicide tool buffet and held it to his jugular. The animal screeched and writhed and slashed out with its poison-tipped claws at the CEO’s neck. Soon his bloody body lay on the floor and only continued to twitch subtly, and the music swelled as the curtains closed, and there the show ended.

Like buttons got smashed and repeat buttons got slammed and subscribe buttons were subjected to unholy finger banging.     

After several months of unprecedented success, The Billionaire Suicide Show was getting its due upgrade. The production would be taken over by the recent mega-merged studio HBONGWFNSDAP (HBO, Netflix, Google, Whole Foods and co.). Ten-fold budget and international promotion campaign. 

A private prison magnate jumped from the roof of his 100th-floor suite (the show went on location from time to time) and landed back first on a fire hydrant. The body stayed there all summer as kids played in the red iron-tinted water jets. 

The owners (father and sons) of the country’s largest bean cannery starved themselves in retribution after being forced to have discount black tea with the mother of every cannery employee who was either killed on the job or at least suffered some form of depression. 

A former head of state turned actor turned naturalist poet chose to end it all by having his skin rubbed in honey and animal fat and tied up inside a canoe and set adrift in the Amazon River during the peak of the mosquito season. Earbuds jammed in his ears played him out to the theme tune of the sitcom based on the 2008 financial crisis.

Then something happened. At first on 4Chan and Reddit, but soon spread to Twitter and Facebook and mainstream media. People started rooting for the billionaires. Or, at least, they wanted to see somebody win the game. It had been so long that by now TBSS had simply become a righteous resentment fest. There was even a hashtag: 

#24HoursIsntSoBadEspeciallyIfYoureABillionaire 

The producers fired the entire writing crew and hired an entire new writing crew and fired them too and decided they’d use an algorithm to script the next show. They were a bit perturbed when the computers selected a 100-year old retired economics professor who was certifiably insane. 

The professor had published a book years ago which, because of its misleading title, Life Without Value, had seen recent record Amazon sales and pushed his net worth just up past the billionaire mark (making him about 500 times less wealthy than the average of every contestant before). 

But the network’s board insisted they proceed, putting all their faith in the code.

Throughout the 24-hour broadcast, the professor sat there mumbling to himself and occasionally wiping the drool from his chin with his sleeve and then sucking it off: “Waste not, want not,” he’d say each time. 

As a prize he was awarded a small island in the Carribean complete with a village’s worth of servants and sex slaves. His final days would be live-streamed and full of product placement: orange crush, trained rodent sex toys, exercize chainsaws, lamb and veal chop subscriptions services. 

TBSS was canceled shortly after this final triumph of entertainment. A pilot for a Trillionaire Suicide Show got bland reactions from a test group and the project was quickly nixed. 

Somewhere, some viral advertisers are filming an experimental art video inspired by TBSS, except flipped on its head: Work or Die

Contestants have 20 to 30 years to find meaning in their lives. But if they failed, they’re kept alive as long as possible–a leading medical tech firm holds a massive stake in the PE firm which owns the ad company’s parent company–in abject misery, with fans getting to vote by text message on the manner in which they’d live out these endless days: collecting trash from the street, stocking shelves at grocery stores, teaching your children how to read, sponge-bathing your sad, lonely and incontinent parents.

Appealing to audiences would be easy, they reckoned. The seeming impossible challenge was always how to attract willing contestants. 

A billion dollar cash prize?

— Michael Zunenshine is a collection of mismatched machine parts, some of which do writing while others do posting as @RealityTVDinner on IG and Twitter.