Reality TV is one of the broadest genres in the entertainment landscape, encapsulating everything from Instagram models frolicking on a Mediterranean island to a load of grizzled fishermen hunting for crabs, via all sorts of celebrity-driven talent spectacles in between.
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Most of these shows are fluffy, silly and ultimately totally harmless, but some are fraught with danger. The history of reality television is packed with shows that either embrace danger in their format or have danger thrust upon them by circumstances.
Here are some of the most dangerous reality TV shows of recent years...
Dancing On Ice
Already, this series of ITV’s celebrity ice dance competition has proved perilous for a number of its participants. Denise Van Outen has had to pull out of the series this week, having aggravated a shoulder injury she sustained while training on the ice. It now transpires her shoulder was fractured in three places. No wonder she struggled through her first performance.
The first few weeks of this year’s competition have also been difficult for Rebekah Vardy’s partner, Andy Buchanan. Prior to the first show, he received a nasty gash on his face from Vardy’s blade and, while preparing for a group number ahead of the second episode, he was again hurt — getting a deep cut to the shin. Olympian Graham Bell’s partner, Yebin Mok, meanwhile was left with a leg wound so deep her tendons were exposed.
Dancing On Ice is inevitably a show with danger running through its veins given the inherent risks of falling on the ice, while surrounded by sharp blades. Broken ribs and blade injuries have happened throughout its history. This series, though, has already been more troublesome than most.
Much like Dancing On Ice, ITV’s diving show Splash saw celebrities attempt to master a potentially dangerous sport. While training for his appearance on the programme in 2013, former Crimewatch presenter Rav Wilding snapped the hamstrings in his left leg during a somersault dive. He underwent surgery, but found himself back in hospital a few months later as a result of a blood clot in his lungs.
In 2016, Wilding sued the team behind the show, claiming that the injuries he sustained had made his life an “absolute nightmare” and had derailed his entertainment career. The show was cancelled after its second series in 2014.
Some of the most serious injuries in the history of reality TV were sustained during the making of Channel 4’s winter sports series The Jump. Across the four series of the show which were aired between 2014 and 2017, multiple celebrities were forced to pull out as a result of sustaining injuries of varying severity.
Read more: The Jump’s most serious injuries
Perhaps the most serious injury was suffered by Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle, who had to undergo surgery to her neck and spinal cord after fracturing two vertebrae when she collided with a barrier. Tweddle subsequently sued the production company. The likes of swimmer Rebecca Adlington, Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding and sprinter Linford Christie all had to step away from the same series due to injuries.
Finally, having earned a reputation as one of reality TV’s most dangerous shows, The Jump was formally axed by Channel 4 in 2019.
Some of the other entries on this list feature celebrities putting themselves in harm’s way. But they pale into insignificance when compared with the plight of fishermen hunting for crab in the seas around Alaska, as depicted during the 16-year history of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch. The pilot episode of the show declared that, during the peak of crab season, fishermen die at the average rate of one every week. Serious injuries to fishermen have been a fixture of the show throughout its history.
Watch: Here are all the BEST moments from the first episode of Dancing On Ice 2021
Touch the Truck
Unsurprisingly aired just once in 2001, Touch the Truck was a Channel 5 game show fronted by Dale Winton in which — well, participants had to touch a truck. More specifically, they had to be the last person touching the truck, with others stepping away due to boredom, exhaustion or via medical emergency. The 39-year-old winner, Jerry Middleton, managed to hold on for 81 hours, 43 minutes and 31 seconds.
Middleton sold the truck — which was his prize — to fund political pursuits. He ran for office at the 2001 general election, representing the Kingston and Surbiton constituency. Sadly, he only managed 54 votes.
Given the premise of putting contestants through their paces in the wilderness, Survivor is an inherently dangerous show. Host Jeff Probst, however, has found himself in the thick of some of the worst injuries. In the first season, he was stung in the groin when a jellyfish swam up his shorts and, during a later season, he was electrocuted in the genitals when he urinated on an electric fence — though he has nobody else really to blame for that one.
Probst also suffered severe cuts to his arm when he attempted to slice a coconut using a machete, having been taught how to do so by a local islander. A doctor said he “just missed that thing that would have killed your hand”.
Here’s another celebrity-fronted show in which famous faces had to learn a dangerous sport. Notice a pattern yet? This show, in which celebs attempted gymnastics, was plagued by an array of injuries and was cancelled after airing just one series in 2014. Mr Motivator was forced to pull out before the series even began after dislocating his knee to the point surgery was required.
H from Steps shared pictures on social media of his bruises and cuts, while Sarah Harding — who was also injured while competing on The Jump — suffered a nasty fall. The show’s final almost didn’t happen because five of the six participants were nursing injuries.
Total Wipeout — and the wider Wipeout franchise — is built on the slapstick humour of people falling over while attempting wild obstacle courses. Naturally, sometimes those tumbles are more serious than others. Among the celebrities to have suffered on the course are Joe Swash and Nicola McLean, while comedian Dom Joly broke his foot in five places. Total Wipeout was axed after six series.
The series is still airing in the USA and, in November 2020, a contestant died after requiring medical attention in the aftermath of his attempt at the course.
Taiwanese model and actor Godfrey Gao was just 35 years old when he suffered a cardiac arrest during filming for the reality show Chase Me in November 2019. The show, which has now been cancelled, was based around putting celebrities through athletic pursuits involving running around cities at night. Gao had reportedly been filming for 17 hours when he collapsed.
His death prompted an investigation into safety on TV more broadly. Zhejiang Television, which aired Chase Me, issued a statement saying it was “deeply regretful and sorry for the irreparable and serious consequences that this incident has caused”, adding the company was ”willing to take up responsibility".
Ice Road Truckers
Much like Deadliest Catch, the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers gains its danger from the occupation of those it follows. In this case, the series — which aired between 2007 and 2017 — followed drivers who are forced to drive across treacherous frozen lakes and rivers in remote parts of Alaska and Canada.
The show has never actually featured a serious accident and, indeed, a sequence in the show’s opening of a truck crashing through ice was filmed using a model. The threat and presence of danger, though, is very real.
The Amazing Race
One of the most popular reality TV shows on the planet, American adventure show The Amazing Race tasks pairs of participants with travelling huge distances while also taking part in a variety of physical challenges. Naturally, given the endurance format, injuries are common. A spelunking accident in season seven left one contestant’s face covered in blood and another took a watermelon full in the face from a catapult several seasons later.
Another very serious accident also took place in the seventh season when one of the duos lost control of their vehicle while driving on sandy terrain in Botswana. The car flipped and a cameraman was injured. Since then, professional drivers have been employed to help teams cross dangerous ground.
Watch: Dancing On Ice professional skater injured in accident