In a recent story, web site The Wrap “investigates” the suicides of people who appeared on reality shows, but that investigation involves oversimplifying something complex and serious and tragic (suicide) by offering pretty much zero evidence that the deaths were directly caused by their appearances on a reality show.While there have been people who tragically killed themselves after appearing on a reality show, from Najai Turpin to Cheryl Kosewicz, is a direct link even possible to prove?
The Wrap pretends it is. Their sensationalistic headline says “11 Players Have Committed Suicide,” but it stretches really hard to make that number, including people whose shows or episodes never aired, and also includes two people who attempted suicide, such as Danny Bonaduce. And the final person committed suicide immediately after auditioning for a show, which just highlights the fact that the piece’s unsupported thesis tries to blame TV shows when really, at best someone’s experience on a reality show exacerbated existing mental illness or other issues. But attempting to examine that seriously would require more than Googling to construct a sensationalistic list.
The Wrap’s follow-up story is slightly less egregious, discussing how contestants “suffer severe and often long-lasting psychological trauma as a result” of appearing on reality shows. While it offers no evidence about the suicides the previous story links directly to reality TV, it does offer some interesting thoughts from the source it over-relies on: Dr. Jamie Huysman, a psychologist “who has a special practice in which he treats victims of reality shows and their families, [and] says he has treated over 800 people since he founded AfterTVCare in 1992.”
He says, “The obsession to be on TV is like the obsession to use drugs and alcohol. It’s just a symptom of a much deeper emotional problem, and the sufferer’s malaise infects the entire family,” and also says later that “We live in an age of disposable people. The producers don’t care about the players, they care about the sponsors who want eyeballs, confrontations, meltdowns — they love it when people cry or are brow-beaten. That’s why the highest-rated shows are the ones where people get crushed emotionally.”
That’s undoubtedly true. But really, does that alone cause someone to want to die? Pretending it does just exploits the already tragic deaths of people that became news because they were public figures as a result of their time on TV and in our lives.