(This article is from the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety. Also see today’s latest update: MTV Cancels ‘Buckwild’ in Wake of Shain Gandee’s Death)
Production was immediately halted on the second season of the show, which centers on a group of hard-partying young adults in West Virginia — part of the wave of hillbilly comedy-reality skeins clicking on cable these days. The show wrapped its first 13-episode run in February, and made enough noise for MTV to secure a quick renewal.
The 21-year-old Gandee, his uncle and another passenger were found dead March 31 in a Ford Bronco that was partially submerged in mud. The trio, according to local reports, had gone “mudding” after a night at a local bar in the Sissonville area where “Buckwild” lenses. The official cause of death was listed as accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The truck’s muffler was found completely submerged in mud.
The circumstances of Gandee’s death eerily recall scenes from the show that depict him roaring through deep puddles of mud, the camera swaying back and forth as his truck pitched through the pits while castmates shriek with laughter. Gandee emerged as the star of the show early on, with young femme fans dubbing him “Gandee Candy.”
This isn’t the first time MTV has faced a PR nightmare when it comes to the country-livin’ series. Before “Buckwild” even hit the smallscreen, some West Virginia residents pleaded for the show to be canned, saying it doesn’t reflect their state or culture. Then, after season one aired, cast member Salwa Amin was arrested — and then re-arrested — on suspicion of drug-related offenses.
The death of Gandee, however, raises issues that transcend beyond “Buckwild.” The program is one of the rare follow-around reality shows to offer a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode, because of the reckless behavior of its cast.
What’s more, mudding is a central activity in “Buckwild,” glorified in opening credits, sizzle reels and commercial teasers. It has served as B-roll gold between scenes of drunken hookups and arguments. MTV even offers a bonus clip online titled “Mudding Mishaps” that features Gandee playfully reminiscing about when other cast members were frightened while on a “mudding” drive.
MTV implores viewers to not “attempt to re-create or re-enact” any of the behavior seen on “Buckwild.” At the time of Gandee’s death, Zoo Prods., the shingle behind the skein, had been shooting the second season for at least a few weeks.
Gandee’s death occurred in his off hours, and not while the show was filming. Four-wheeling appears to be a hobby that Gandee began well before “Buckwild.”
Yet the deaths raise inevitable questions about reality TV showcasing dangerous behavior — and criticism of nets who mine the shows for ratings but still run disclaimers pleading for auds not to actually engage in such activities.