There are things that a sane person wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do for a million bucks like eating vomit or performing any of the stunts that the ‘Jackass’ actors do. In the real world, you can just say no to ridiculous, sometimes life-threatening dares. In reality TV, the circumstances around a dare are vastly different. For one, it often comes with compensation. Not a million bucks, but compensation nevertheless for the participants’ damaged dignity and troubles.
WARNING: These cases contain nudity, rats, and very little legal advice.
Life Below Zero: Wild demands in the wilderness
When BBC producers approached Susan Aikens to film a documentary about her life as head of a wilderness camp, little did she know they’d want more than just harmless clips of her taking walks in the woods in freezing temperatures.
Susan agreed to star in the reality series ‘Life Below Zero,’ which had her doing seemingly innocuous activities in the Alaskan wilderness. In her lawsuit, she accused the show’s producer of putting her in hazardous situations to heighten the show’s drama, like forcing her to drive a snowmobile over a frozen river. This resulted in an accident that threw her off the vehicle, causing a broken collarbone and other serious injuries.
In another instance, the producer forced Susan to go outdoors sans facemask so viewers could see her face better. Per Susan’s claims, the crew deliberately delayed calling for help so they could get more footage of her in pain.
The case was made complicated by the fact that Susan signed a contract stating that she knowingly assumed the risks of injury -- and even death -- by agreeing to star in the show.
Dating Naked: “I was told my private parts would be blurred...”
Unlike sophisticated and complicated shows that require deep thought, VH1’s ‘Dating Naked’ does not. In it, participants go on dates, naked. The end.
On one episode, Jessie Nizewitz and a fellow contestant went on a date that had them wrestling on a beach. Due to an editing error, her lady parts were inadvertently exposed for one second in the episode that aired, which infuriated her relatives, cost her a serious relationship, and caused her to suffer ‘extreme emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment.’
Some people sympathized with Jessie and blamed the producers, while others were decidedly less sympathetic and held her responsible for willingly participating in a show called ‘Dating Naked.’
Jessie filed a $10 million lawsuit against VH1’s parent company Viacom and two production companies. Unfortunately, it turned out that she was given only verbal assurances from the producers that everything would be blurred out while filming the beach wrestling episode. And because she signed an agreement prior to filming that rendered such mistakes a ‘non-event,’ the case was eventually dismissed.
Fear Factor: The rat smoothie stunt that had a home viewer retching
No contestant throughout Fear Factor’s 6-season run has ever sued the show for making them crunch on roaches, play with poisonous pythons, or nibble on nasty inedibles. No, the producers didn’t force them to do any of these challenges -- $50,000 did. But one viewer found a certain episode distasteful and took legal action.
Cleveland native Austin Aitkens had the misfortune of watching an episode that had a blended rat-eating challenge. He claimed that watching the segment caused his blood pressure to shoot up, which made him run away to his room and bump his head onto the doorway.
Austin filed a handwritten four-page lawsuit against NBC, whom he accused of sending the wrong message that ‘cash can make or have people do just about anything…’ which is of course false.
The lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds of First Amendment protection. In other words, he could have just switched the channel to family-friendly Playhouse Disney or MTV.
Have you ever accepted a challenge that didn’t just make your stomach turn, but also resulted in broken limbs, emotional stress, or public humiliation? Don’t answer that. Discuss your personal injury cases with Buckingham, LaGrandeur or Williams at our Renton offices instead.