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Old 12-21-2011, 02:25 PM
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What to do when a reality show contestant dies mid-run?

The Next Great Baker is a reality TV show on TLC, where contestants compete for a job with Cake Boss Buddy Valastro. The person eliminated in the most recent episode, a young army sergeant named Wesley Durden, committed suicide in October (after the show filmed but before it started airing), and viewers were only notified of his death by an "In Memoriam" tribute at the end of the episode. TLC and the show had made no prior acknowledgment that he had died, and he had become one of the more likable and memorable contestants.

While Wesley's family felt the show did the right thing, and credit the competition with giving him some happiness in his last months, the way the news was revealed upset a lot of people, and TLC has received several complaints. From the above linked article:
Quote:
"We’re disgusted by how #TLC handled this Wesley Durden thing," a post by the account Shortformblog read. "Based on our traffic in the last hour, so are many viewers."

"Banning reality TV. TLC disgust (sic) me," graduate student Joyce Archie wrote on Twitter. "They kept the suicide of Wesley Durden silent in Oct. Kept airing episodes. #nothingsacred."
This is not the first time a participant in a reality show has died mid-run: Russell Armstrong of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was mostly edited out after his suicide, and both Megan Wants a Millionaire and I Love Money 3 were canceled completely after the suicide of a contestant who murdered his wife.

While I too was surprised by the news of Wesley's death, I'm not sure what more TLC could have done. Should they have announced from the beginning that a contestant had died? Edited him out to make him a less prominent character? Canceled the show completely?
Old 12-21-2011, 03:04 PM
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First of all, I don't think TLC handled it badly. I'm not sure what else they could have done -- to cancel it would not have been fair to the other contestants, the crew, the cast, the producers, the investors... They certainly don't seem to have contributed to Durden's death, nor did they exploit it. I don't see what the better option would have been.

Years ago, didn't a contestant die during the filming of another country's version of Survivor? IIRC this was before the show even premiered in the U.S. Did they ever air that competition?
Old 12-21-2011, 03:11 PM
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I watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and it is creepy seeing Armstrong or hearing people talk about him...he's not completely edited out :-o

But I agree with Skammer...what else can you do? I bet they would love to be able to not show it but they just don't have that luxury.
Old 12-21-2011, 03:33 PM
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I doubt that there were really all that many people who complained. It must be a slow news week in entertainment news land.
Old 12-21-2011, 03:42 PM
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There was a boxing reality show a few years back and one of the contestants killed himself between filming and airing. I believe they also just put a note up at the end of his final episode.
Old 12-21-2011, 04:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Ducca View Post
There was a boxing reality show a few years back and one of the contestants killed himself between filming and airing. I believe they also just put a note up at the end of his final episode.
The Contender.
Old 12-21-2011, 06:14 PM
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It does seem a little odd that (at least according to the article) they have forward-dated his age to 29 years old, considering that he was apparently 28 when he killed himself. Other than that, I don't see what TLC could have done differently.
Old 12-21-2011, 07:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skammer View Post
Years ago, didn't a contestant die during the filming of another country's version of Survivor? IIRC this was before the show even premiered in the U.S. Did they ever air that competition?
I don't know about Survivor, but on the show Pirate Master (another Mark Burnett production) one of the contestants was found dead of an apparent suicide before the show had finished its run1. Sounds like they handled it the same as the others.

Why limit the question to reality shows? Actors have died during the run of their shows; I'm thinking of Michael Conrad during Hill Street Blues or John Spencer during The West Wing. It can be a little disturbing to watch someone you know is now dead, but there's not really a good way around it.

1. The show was cancelled from its broadcast time slot on CBS, but the remaining episodes were released on the web. I think it was during the web-only run that her death occurred. Even I had stopped watching by then.
Old 12-21-2011, 08:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robot Arm
It can be a little disturbing to watch someone you know is now dead...
That's the thing - people watching the show didn't know he was dead, even though it had happened weeks before airing. I would say a key difference between this situation when an actor dies (or even the other reality shows I mentioned in the OP) is that viewers usually find out about those death when they happen.

For example, Russell from RHOBH's death made TMZ the day it happened, and even though, as ZipperJJ mentioned, it cast a creepy pall over this season, I went into it knowing he was dead.

I'm not saying the death of the fourth person eliminated on a third-tier reality show should make the cover of the Times or anything, but I'm wondering if people would have reacted better to the news if it had been announced by the show before the first episode. Something like a title card saying "Contestant Wesley Durden passed away after the filming of The Next Great Baker. We dedicate the season to his memory." I myself think TLC handled the death the best they could, but was curious to hear the thoughts of others who might not agree.
Old 12-21-2011, 09:15 PM
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I don't have a cite for it, but after the WTC collapsed, with the deaths of so many firefighters, there was a dilemma. Twelve guys had posed for one of those "sexy firefighters" calendars, for 2002, as a charity fundraiser. It had been all set to go to the printers, but then two or three of the guys were killed. The way I heard it, the families of the deceased were asked if they wanted their loved ones in the pictures, and were told to go ahead.
Old 12-21-2011, 10:05 PM
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Storm Chasers did a pretty good job last season when one of the chasers committed suicide. He actually died in the middle of the filming, so the last episode with him was basically a tribute, complete with some post-filmed interviews about him with the other chasers. Then the next episode featured the guys reacting to the news. They didn't try to hide it at all.
Old 12-21-2011, 10:20 PM
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What happens if (or more likely, when) a contestant dies on air?
Old 12-22-2011, 12:58 PM
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Damn you, enalzi, that's what I was going to post. I think Discovery Channel handled it really well - there wasn't any mystery about what happened, so you weren't left with any "huh?" It was pretty shocking for the viewers; I can only imagine that it was moreso for the storm chasers.
Old 12-22-2011, 01:10 PM
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I sometimes wonder how the Amazing Race producers would handle it if one of the racers was killed in a car crash partway through (or went truly batshit from the killer fatigue and attacked his partner or a cameraman.) Would they re-edit everything to make it seem like the guy never existed? Or even call a halt to the race and scrap the whole season?
Old 12-22-2011, 01:20 PM
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Deadliest Catch handled the passing of Captain Phil really well, in my opinion.
Old 12-22-2011, 02:36 PM
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Not the same, but 30 Rock has a current plotline prominently involving Kim Jong-il. Lots of speculation on how they'll deal with it.
Old 12-22-2011, 09:34 PM
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Soooooooo...contestants from The Next Great Baker, the Contender, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Storm Chasers, and Megan Wants a Millionaire/I Love Money (same guy, so I combined those) have committed suicide, with the final guy committing homicide first.

Suggests these reality show folk aren't in the best mental/emotional health. In case you haven't noticed.

How many folks of other, non-reality programming have committed suicide in the last 5-10 years?

Last edited by Ruffian; 12-22-2011 at 09:35 PM.
Old 12-22-2011, 09:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robot Arm View Post

1. The show was cancelled from its broadcast time slot on CBS, but the remaining episodes were released on the web. I think it was during the web-only run that her death occurred. Even I had stopped watching by then.
I watched and loved the show. Nope, it was during the "main run" that her death occurred. It was weird.
Old 12-22-2011, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Ruffian View Post
How many folks of other, non-reality programming have committed suicide in the last 5-10 years?
You're talking five suicides out of hundreds of reality shows with thousands of contestants. There have been almost 1,000 different people just on the big three of Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race. Something tells me it isn't too far off the US average of 11 suicides per 100,000 people.
Old 12-22-2011, 10:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Mahaloth View Post
I watched and loved the show. Nope, it was during the "main run" that her death occurred. It was weird.
I don't remember for sure, but Wikipedia gives the air dates as ending on July 17th and Cheryl Kosewicz's suicide discovered on July 27th.

I thought the show failed on two fronts. The gameplay didn't add up; you didn't know who was going to be on your team from one episode to the next, so you didn't know whether to vote off a strong player or a weak one. And it wasted a great location, a beautiful sailing ship in the Caribbean, and mostly ignored that and just showed the interpersonal bickering.
Old 12-24-2011, 10:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Skammer View Post
Years ago, didn't a contestant die during the filming of another country's version of Survivor? IIRC this was before the show even premiered in the U.S. Did they ever air that competition?
That was the original Dutch Survivor, the guy killed himself after getting voted off the island. I believe that started the general reality show policy of only recruiting self-involved assholes who are too egotistical to have their feelings hurt when their fellow contestants turn on them.
Old 12-25-2011, 03:46 AM
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The late great infomercial pitchman Billy Mays died in the middle of them showing a reality show about, well, infomercials. Not in the middle of filming mind you, but during the show's initial run. I can't remember the name of the show but it was actually pretty interesting (and I hate reality shows). It showed the nuts & bolts science of how infomercials and the selling of their products work (or don't). Also showed the great love/hate relationship between pitchmen Mays and Andrew Sullivan...
Old 12-25-2011, 04:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Hail Ants View Post
... I can't remember the name of the show ... pitchmen ...
But it's right there on the tip of your tongue?

CMC fnord!
Old 12-28-2011, 07:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Slow Moving Vehicle View Post
What happens if (or more likely, when) a contestant dies on air?
Not a reality show, and the incident wasn't actually seen on air since it happened when they were showing a pre-recorded interview, but Owen Hart's infamous death during a failed stunt at the WWF's Over the Edge, which was running live on pay per view, is probably an example worth bringing up. They continued on with the show, but later admitted it was a mistake to do so. The following night's live Raw broadcast was changed into a tribute show for Owen.
Old 12-28-2011, 10:50 PM
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Wade Belak was cast in the Canadian reality series, "Battle of the Blades", but committed suicide before the third season got under way. From what I remember, CBC had an hour long tribute show to him, where they showed footage of how the hockey players and pro skaters get paired up and practice and whatnot. The third season went on, with his partner, Kim Navarro getting paired up with someone else, if I'm not mistaken.
Old 12-29-2011, 12:16 PM
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I think because of this all reality shows should be banned permamently.


Because they're tripe.
Old 12-29-2011, 12:59 PM
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Thank you for your contribution to this discussion.
Old 12-29-2011, 11:53 PM
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Those complaints are just the nature of the beast. No one can please all the people all the time. Someone is always willing to take offense, and in slow news cycles, some producer is willing to give it 90 seconds to see if it floats. If it does, then it gets 3 minutes, and Og forbid that one news show runs a story that the others don't. Suddenly, its a big deal when every channel has to keep up with the Jones'.

Following up on TBG's post, the show continued after the Owen Hart accident mostly because no one had time to really think anything through. It was live TV, and a decision needed to be made right away. Even creepier was the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide. WWE cancelled the next night's shows and ran a Chris Benoit tribute show. Only problem was that details started hitting the news wires during the tribute. Everyone is finding out halfway (maybe 3/4 of the way) through the tribute's airing that Benoit murdered his wife and child and killed himself. I'm pretty sure that a lot of those interviews recorded earlier would have had a much different tone had the interviewee known what really happened.
Old 12-30-2011, 09:25 AM
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I agree with the critics. It would have been less creepy and more honest if TLC had run Durden's tribute card at the start of the show rather than waiting until the end. What they did gives the impression that they were trying to wring the last drop of entertainment value (and advertising revenue) out of him before finally acknowledging that he had died. And speaking strictly for me, if I were a fan of the show (which I'm not), it would be far more poignant to have known up front what happened to him.
Old 12-30-2011, 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by D_Odds View Post
Those complaints are just the nature of the beast. No one can please all the people all the time. Someone is always willing to take offense, and in slow news cycles, some producer is willing to give it 90 seconds to see if it floats. If it does, then it gets 3 minutes, and Og forbid that one news show runs a story that the others don't. Suddenly, its a big deal when every channel has to keep up with the Jones'.

Following up on TBG's post, the show continued after the Owen Hart accident mostly because no one had time to really think anything through. It was live TV, and a decision needed to be made right away. Even creepier was the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide. WWE cancelled the next night's shows and ran a Chris Benoit tribute show. Only problem was that details started hitting the news wires during the tribute. Everyone is finding out halfway (maybe 3/4 of the way) through the tribute's airing that Benoit murdered his wife and child and killed himself. I'm pretty sure that a lot of those interviews recorded earlier would have had a much different tone had the interviewee known what really happened.
And the next night Vince had to come out on ECW and apologize for the tribute, and even Benoit's name has been forbidden from being mentioned on WWE programming since then.
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