The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Death for Shain Gandee and an uncertain future for 'Buckwild,' but reality TV will carry on

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - For a fleeting moment, Shain Gandee was part of the 1 per cent.

Not the economic 1 per cent, of course. Not when a fundraiser was announced to help cover his funeral costs.

No, Gandee gained entry into another kind of 1 per cent, the 1 per cent who can claim to be famous. To be recognized, however marginally, as a media celebrity, never mind why. To be saluted for posing as some version of oneself, however distorted that version may be.

Thanks to his brief run on the MTV reality show "Buckwild" (whose first season began in January and concluded a month later), Gandee was lifted from obscurity in small-town West Virginia for a dozen episodes of prominence before his death earlier this week.

Gandee became a star doted on by the 99 per cent. Or enough of that public to please MTV (which was soon back filming "Buckwild" for a second season), and surely enough to have thrilled Gandee.

"Buckwild" trades on the devil-may-care antics of a group of 20-something guys and gals with more time on their hands than good sense. The bed of a dump truck becomes their swimming hole. A backhoe propels them across broad swaths of plastic like a giant Slip 'N Slide, for a sport they call "redneck water skiing." And "muddin' it" finds them barrelling off-road, helter-skelter, in any vehicle at hand.

But there was more to 21-year-old Gandee's act than reckless high jinks. With the cheek of arrested adolescence, he portrayed himself on "Buckwild" as a ladies' man, as the "Gandee candy" who can satisfy any girl's sweet tooth.

Was this who he really was, or was he playing a role? Did he realize that viewers — some of them, at least — were sneering at him and his friends as cartoonish stereotypes? ("Buckwild" has been called "The 'Jersey Shore' of Appalachia.") Did he ever suspect that MTV might be exploiting him?

Was there a grander strategy for Gandee being on the show than having fun for all the world to see? Was Gandee, who (in his words) "tossed garbage" as a sanitation worker, bucking for a Pauly D-style payday as a reality star? Was "Buckwild" meant to be his ticket out, or up?

Maybe he would be pleased to know that the First Law of Celebrity applies to him now: His fame is even greater in death than it was in life. A large measure of the 99 per cent — much larger than the average 3 million viewers who watched "Buckwild" — discovered him this week, learned that his body and two others were discovered Monday in a mud pit near his Sissonville home, with Gandee at the wheel of his family's Ford Bronco.

As with most deaths, there is a temptation to draw some larger truth in Gandee's untimely demise.

There is the temptation to find a link between this preventable accident — wee-hours "muddin' it" after leaving a bar — and the show that glorified that part of Gandee to the watching world. And there's a temptation to point fingers at MTV (though the network says it wasn't filming Gandee the night of his death).

Of course, MTV isn't alone in its lucrative policy of spotlighting people for their bad or ill-advised behaviour. Examples, however varied in extremity, abound. Consider Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise, TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8" and current hit "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," and MTV's "Buckwild" predecessor, "Jersey Shore."

But for the moment all eyes are on "Buckwild" and its network. What will MTV do now?

"Our main concern is for the Gandee family and their friends," said the network in a predictable statement. But monetary concerns will soon take precedent again.

Can "Buckwild" be salvaged for another season? Can it even be stoked by exploiting Gandee's death before resuming its fun-and-games?

MTV says production has been suspended, and no decision on the show's future will be made for at least a couple of weeks. But in any case, this brand of programming will persist on MTV. Why not? There will always be people eager to step in front of the camera with dreams of deliverance, however delusional, to the realm of the 1 per cent. People ready and willing to serve as the freaks in the network's latest freak show.

And all the better when they're putting themselves in harm's way. After all, their recklessness is no skin off the nose of the viewer watching them — nor should it be, as MTV dutifully reminds us in its "Buckwild" disclaimer, which cautions against "wild and crazy behaviour that could result in serious personal injury or property damage."

No kidding! "MTV and the producers insist that no one attempt to recreate or re-enact any activity performed on this show," says the disclaimer.

Note that word: "insist." MTV is looking out for us viewers insistently. It is we who MTV is worried about.

Meanwhile, the world's Shain Gandees are expendable heroes. There's always more where they came from, people looking to be famous. And MTV (like a bunch of other networks) is happy to cash in as their enabler.

MTV knows we from the 99 per cent will be watching. Enough of us, anyway, to close the deal.




EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at) and at

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Winnipeg Police remove dumpsters from behind homeless shelter

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.
  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google