How far is too far? For 25-year-old Gerald Babin, he reached the point where reality television goes too far and becomes too dangerous. According to the Hollywood Reporter, on the first day of filming season 16 of Koh-Lanta, the French Survivor, Babin complained of cramps in his arms and was rushed to a nearby Cambodian hospital. He passed away from cardiac arrest. This season has been canceled and the fate of the series is in jeopardy after the incident; however, will this really change reality TV as we know it? Probably not.
Not only are these shows dangerous for their contestants, but also for their crew members. While contestants are traveling across treacherous terrain, a camera crew is following each of them. This Los Angeles Times story chronicles the dangers crew members face by filming these shows. Many of these shows use non-union crews, and through a series of non-disclosure agreements and fear of not getting more work, many of these individuals continue to put themselves in life-threatening situations, just like Monica Martino, in order to keep working.
In 1992, the world of American reality TV truly began with MTV’s The Real World. In the first season, seven strangers were thrown into a house together and forced to interact with one another. This is hardly a dangerous situation. In 2000, an explosion of reality TV shows came out. While people still enjoyed watching strangers interact with one another in a house (Big Brother, and the continued run of The Real World and their high ratings attest to that), the desire for more action crept in. Then came Survivor, a show that was filmed on Pulau Tiga, an island off the coast of Malaysia. Filmed over the course of six weeks, contestants participated in challenges that varied in levels of danger, and for food, one contestant went as far as hunting and roasting a rat.
With producers competing in an increasingly crowded field of reality TV shows, no longer can they just put people in a house and hope it leads to entertaining television. To quench the public’s thirst for increased danger, Deadliest Catch films real fishermen in their quest for Alaskan king crabs, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. In season one, six people died when the Big Valley boat sunk. Since then, a number of crew members have died on and off the boat, and dozens have been injured.
But the real question in all of this is, will these deaths make a difference in our approach to reality TV? What catastrophic incident needs to happen in order for real change to happen? Simply hearing that a season of the French version of Survivor has been cancelled will not bring back Gerald Babin. At the end of the day, these shows are likely to stay as long as millions of people continue to watch them, and the only way to voice your displeasure at this horrifying culture of acceptable deaths for the purposes of entertainment is to vote with your remote and change the channel.