While survival shows are meant to be thrilling, we tend to ignore the dangers of the stunts because the producers wouldn’t let anyone actually die, right? While these shows are often much more controlled than viewers are led to believe, there are still some very real dangers to be had.
While very few have died from a dangerous stunt or stint on a survival show, there certainly have been other noteworthy deaths while filming reality shows. Let’s take a look at some of the most shocking reality television deaths in recent times.
1. Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter
Nobody can forget the day the famous Steve Irwin was pierced by the spine of a stingray during filming in 2006. While the Australian native put himself in plenty of dangerous situations, we always thought his death would come about from a poisonous snake or the jaws of a crocodile.
Instead, his freak accident of a death was an ironic tragedy. Irwin’s aim was to make viewers a little less scared of Earth’s potential deadly creatures, but instead we came away a little more wary of stingrays than we ever thought we’d be.
2. Saad Khan, Clear Six
The 31-year-old participant drowned while performing a task for a Pakistani reality show in August of 2009. Saad Khan was previously eliminated from the show, but he later returned on a wildcard re-entry. On his first challenge since returning, Khan strapped on a 7-kilogram backpack and was prepared to make his way through fire, water, and climb up a rope with it.
During the water portion of the challenge, some speculate that Khan pulled a muscle and was in distress. Before anybody could reach him, he disappeared under the murky water and drowned. He was survived by a wife and four young children.
3. Noncho Vodenicharov, Survivor
After finishing an activity for the Bulgarian version of Survivor, 53-year-old contestant, Noncho Vodenicharov, suffered a heart attack at the Gota Beach Resort on an island in the Philippines May of 2009. Vodenicharov was the mayor of the Bulgarian town Radnevo, which observed five days of mourning once the news broke. Despite his age, contestants are required to be in top physical and mental shape before appearing on the show, so the heart attack was quite unexpected.
4. Gerard Babin, Koh Lanta
Another contestant, this time for the French version of Survivor, died of a heart attack right after performing a task for the show in March of 2013. It was the very first day of filming for the show, so it was canceled following the death of Gerard Babin. What made this death even more tragic than it was already was the fact Babin was only 25-years-old at the time.
Furthermore, the on-site doctor for the show, Thierry Costa, committed suicide after blaming the press for damaging his professional reputation following the death of Babin.
5. Phil Harris, Deadliest Catch
Despite the show’s ominous name, sea captain Phil Harris didn’t pass from the perils at sea. Instead, the 53-year-old died of a massive stroke while on his boat late January of 2010.
The sixth season of the show follows Harris in his last days before experiencing the stroke that ended his life.
6. Michael Donatelli, Discovery Channel
The 45-year-old cast member of an untitled military themed show died in a helicopter crash while filming in February of 2013. The 59-year-old pilot, David Gibbs, and 46-year-old cameraman, Darren Rydstrom, were also killed in the tragic crash.
7. 3 Stars, Dropped
Three French athletes died following a helicopter collision during filming for a French reality series in 2015. Sailor Florence Arthaud, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat, and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine were joined by a cameraman and a pilot in one helicopter, and the other helicopter held a 4-person technical team along with the other pilot.
All 10 people died instantly as the two helicopters collided into each other. The weather conditions were good on the day of the crash, the helicopters were well-maintained, and both pilots were highly experienced, so no one knows what caused one to veer off course almost immediately after takeoff and collide with the other. Sadly, the rest of the show was canceled following the crash.
Some of these noteworthy reality TV deaths were freak accidents while others were a result of health-related injuries. Survival shows are meant to push people beyond their normal limits, but no one expects death a possibility from their participation.
Unfortunately, not even TV is 100% safe and accidents do happen. Hopefully the causes of some of these deaths will help make reality TV safer for future stars.