Reality TV Stunts That Went Terribly Wrong

When it goes right, reality TV is gold (who can forget the cringetastic "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" moment where Kris encourages her own daughter to pose nude for Playboy?), but when it goes wrong, oh, boy does it go wrong. Ever since reality TV became a staple of the small screen, we've been treated to a seemingly endless barrage of spectacular entertainment — from foul-mouthed gourmet chefs to sassy housewives and everything in between. While the methods used in some of these programs are questionable at best, there's generally an understanding that no everlasting harm can come from "Real Housewives" swigging wine in one hand and a very pointed and angry finger in the other (it also spawned the Great Cat Meme of 2019, so bravo for that, er, Bravo).

But the truth is, many reality programs do end up causing detriment to their contestants. Aside from the ensuing psychological trauma that likely arises from, say, munching roadkill on "Fear Factor," the stunts on many reality shows have resulted in horrific accidents. Reality TV is all fun and games until contestants are left with life-altering injuries — with the ordeal broadcast on live TV in a number of instances.

So, before you go signing up as a contestant on any precarious shows, read our rundown of these reality TV stunts that went terribly wrong. This isn't one for the faint-hearted — or the easily nauseated.

A trainer took things too far on WWE Tough Enough

Professional wrestling has long blurred the line between reality and scripted entertainment. WWE entered the foray of reality television in the early 2000s with the premiere of "WWE Tough Enough," ostensibly a reality competition that would reward the winner with a WWE contract. In 2002, aspiring young wrestler Matt Cappotelli appeared on Season 3 of the show. He appealed to viewers with his athletic prowess, boyish good looks, and endearing personality. However, one person who was not too impressed with Cappotelli was trainer and wrestling veteran Bob "Hardcore" Holly.

One of the tasks involved a tag match in which the contestants would fight alongside trainers. When Cappotelli stepped into the ring against Holly, the vet kicked the newbie in the ribs and proceeded to stiff him, pulling his hair, stomping on his face, and punching him until he started bleeding. "Bob Holly basically beat me down from head-to-toe," the upstart said, as reported by Pro Wrestling Stories. Although everyone who witnessed the ordeal was horrified, Holly defended his actions, insisting that he was "trying to teach them that professional wrestling is not an easy game."

In an interview with The Hannibal TV, fellow trainer and veteran Al Snow condemned Holly's actions, blaming the outburst on jealousy and resentment. "It wasn't like these guys got a free ride. They got an opportunity," he said. Tragically, though Cappotelli would win the competition, he died of a brain tumor in 2018, aged just 38.

A devastating injury on Splash led to a lawsuit

British Olympic gold medallist Tom Daley decided to transfer his impressive diving skills to the small screen with "Splash." Celebs competed in front of a panel of judges to determine who was the best diver, all the while being trained by Daley. But it didn't take long for that precarious premise to end in disaster.

TV host Rav Wilding was supposed to appear as a contestant on the show's third series in 2013. During his initial training, he suffered a catastrophic diving mishap, tearing his hamstring, per The Guardian. After being discharged from hospital, he experienced a blood clot as a result of the injury and was readmitted to the emergency room. Subsequently, he not only had to pull out of the show, but his wedding was canceled.

Thereafter, Wilding said his life was forever changed, as the once active and agile star was left near immobile. "I used to get active jobs based on my fitness, but now I can't do those things ... it's changed the entire course of my career," he revealed, adding, "I'm still in pain every day." Moreover, one of his legs is now permanently shorter than the other. He sued the "Splash" producers and won a five figure sum, per The Mirror. He told the publication that the horrific accident left him close to death, with surgeons unsure as to whether he would make it. In the wake of Wilding's life-changing injury, "Splash" was canceled, as Daley revealed to The Sun.

A horrific shark bite for a Jackass star

MTV's "Jackass" was infamous for its various calamities. While the show's stars participated in all manner of death-defying stunts — including being fired out of cannons and having fireworks stuffed into their posteriors, to name but a few — nothing quite compared to an incident that occurred in 2021. It turns out that it took sharks to really scare the bejeezus out of the notoriously fearless crew.

While filming a "Shark Week" special for the Discovery Channel, Sean McInerney, or "Poopies" as he's known to his "Jackass" pals, performed a stunt in which he jumped over shark-infested waters. Things took a terrifying turn when he fell into the water and was attacked by one of the sharks. He suffered a gory hand wound and was nearly killed by the maneater. "He would be f**king dead if they didn't dive on him as fast as they did," said co-star Steve-O (via Daily Mail). "Jesus, he got wrecked by a shark! For a 'Shark Week' episode!"

In a behind the scenes vid for "The Poopies Channel," McInerney got emotional discussing the near-death experience. After seeing his blood-filled hand, he said, "That's when I knew I was probably gonna die," before bursting into tears. Thankfully, a medic was on hand (no pun intended) to rescue him from a blood-curdling fate, risking his own life in the process. Steve-O called it the scariest moment in "Jackass" history, which is certainly saying something considering the crew's innumerable thorny shenanigans.

Fear Factor South Africa turned into a nightmare

In the 2000s, "Fear Factor" was the show to tune into if you wanted some puke-inducing stunts (and if you wanted to catch a glimpse of a hirsute, pre-ripped Joe Rogan). While the flagship U.S. series had its fair share of perilous moments — we're not even going to get into that stomach-churning rodent smoothie — nothing quite compares to what happened on its South African spinoff. 

In 2006, filming was underway for "Fear Factor: South Africa." As with the American series, contestants had to perform extreme stunts to be in with a chance of copping the prize money. But for one unlucky contestant, things went epically awry. During a stunt in which contestants held onto a rope as they were dragged behind a 4x4 across sand dunes (yes, seriously), Lebo Babe suffered catastrophic injuries. Half her hair was torn from her head, she suffered a concussion, and had to spend a week in hospital, per News24. Incredibly, network head Rhona Pool thought it was all a big fuss over nothing. "I'm amazed at the outrage. Everyone knows that the program is about fear, and when the same stunt was performed on an international 'Fear Factor' show, no one complained," she told News24.

Per IOL, Babe recovered after three weeks of recuperation. Stuntman Anthony Marais told the outlet that the accident showed the importance of using professional stunt performers, calling the series "an accident waiting to happen."

A fruity catastrophe on Amazing Race

"Amazing Race" isn't a series that immediately comes to mind when pondering dangerous reality TV shows. But for one contestant, the series spelled disaster. In 2010, Claire Champlin participated in a stunt in which watermelons were launched out of medieval cannons. Unfortunately, the stunt backfired — quite literally — when Champlin was hit in the face by a watermelon that failed to be propelled forward. The incident was far more gruesome than it sounds, with the fruit exploding in all its gory glory in Champlin's face as everyone looked on in horror. "I can't feel my face," she exclaimed.

Opening up about the incident, Champlin told EW that people assumed she was faking her agony. This was far from the case, as the freak accident left her with a headache that lasted for hours. "Everybody said if I tried to do it again, there is no possible way I could ... I thought I was going to go down in history for so many other things," she said. "But if the watermelon is my claim to fame, I guess I'm just going to take it and run with it."

The most horrifying part of the incident, Champlin told the New Zealand Herald, was that she thought the bits of watermelon she plucked from her face were actually pieces of her own flesh. "When the crew left, I was like, 'I'm in trouble, this is bad,'" she said. Thankfully, she recovered from the fruity fail.

Punk'd had a disastrous corpse prank

Before he wed Mila Kunis and became a filthy rich entrepreneur, Ashton Kutcher was famous for pranking celebs on MTV's "Punk'd." In a series that could only have been spawned in the early 2000s, an oversized hoodie and baseball-cap donning Kutcher watched on as unsuspecting stars were royally pranked. However, the series wasn't initially focused on pranking the rich and famous. Originally, Kutcher and his buds thought it a good idea to frolic with members of the public. It was all fun and games until a disastrous prank ended in a lawsuit and a total revamp of the series, which was, rather sinisterly, originally entitled "Harassment." 

In 2002, James and Laurie Ryan were vacationing at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, per EW. When the couple opened the doors of what they thought was a swanky hotel room, they were horrified to see a bloody corpse. To make matters worse, security guards wouldn't allow them out of the room, so they had no way of escaping the horror show. After discovering that Kutcher and his crew had elaborately pranked them, the Ryans decided to take legal action.

As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, the couple accused Kutcher of "wanton, malicious and oppressive" behavior. They sued MTV for $20 million and Kutcher announced that he would scrap "Punk'd" as a result, though, ultimately, he decided to stick with the show. The case headed to trial, but the outcome of the suit remains unknown.

A stuntman nearly died on America's Got Talent: Extreme

While "America's Got Talent" focuses on warblers, dancers, and jugglers, its spinoff, "America's Got Talent: Extreme" features more daring stunts. For one performer, the extreme format ended in a brush with death.

As reported by TMZ, British daredevil Jonathan Goodwin appeared on the series in 2021, performing a stunt in which he was confined to a straitjacket as he hung in the air by a wire. He was supposed to set himself free before two swinging cars could crush him, but things went horribly wrong. Struggling to free himself from his restraints, Goodwin ended by getting crushed between the cars when they smashed into each other. Onlookers were certain that the performer couldn't possibly have survived the horrifying crush and medics rushed to his attention, where the unresponsive Goodwin was presumed dead.

A series spokesman told Us Weekly that Goodwin had been taken to hospital after losing consciousness. According to a TMZ report, he "suffered multiple broken bones in both of his legs, plus cuts all over his face and burns." Incredibly, Goodwin survived the disaster. Reflecting on his near-fatal misadventure, he told his Instagram followers, "To death I say nananana boo boo ... There is a long road to recovery and that won't look like what it did...I may leave the daft s*** alone for a while, but I have a lot left to do in this world." He was discharged from hospital after 4 months.

The French Survivor ended in two deaths

"Survivor" was always a series with a treacherous pitch, as contestants on the reality show battled until their wit's end on a tropical island. Whereas the U.S. series spawned many stars, most notably the unforgettable "Boston" Rob Mariano, the French version, "Koh-Lanta," is more famous for the horrific way in which it ended.

In 2013, filming was underway in Cambodia for "Koh-Lanta." But on the very first day of filming, a stunt involving an arduous game of tug of war went terribly wrong, per The Hollywood Reporter. Contestant Gerald Babin complained of arm pains after engaging in the task and soon suffered a heart attack. He went into cardiac arrest several more times on his way to hospital and died aged just 25.

Accordingly, "Koh-Lanta" was canceled and came under intense scrutiny, with journalists questioning the role of the show's doctor, Thierry Costa, in the contestant's death. A few days later, Costa died by suicide. As reported by HuffPost, he blamed his declining health on the negative media coverage that followed Babin's death. In July of that year, a criminal investigation was opened into the incident amid claims that Babin did not receive prompt medical intervention, per The Hollywood Reporter. An autopsy showed that he had a pre-existing heart condition, yet the producers claimed all their contestants received adequate medical screening prior to being allowed on the show. Moreover, there are allegations that producers deemed it too expensive to airlift him to hospital in time.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Fractured ribs on I'm A Celebrity

Of all the reality shows that feature stomach-turning stunts, "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!" is certainly up there for its sheer gross-out value. But aside from eating bugs (both dead and alive), contestants are often pushed to their physical and mental limits via dangerous tasks.

On the original British version of the show, actor Kimberley Davies suffered a severe mishap in 2005. Per the Independent, Davies was filming a stunt in which she had to jump 15 feet out of a helicopter into water. She performed the first jump, but things went horribly wrong when she moved her arms during the second jump, suffering fractured ribs. Subsequently, the show's network, ITV, came under fire, with many questioning why such a precarious stunt was allowed in the first place. PR exec Mark Borkowski claimed that the show's premise was a huge accident waiting to happen. "Producers think they have got everything covered and when it does go wrong, the questions start being asked," he said, as reported by the Independent. "Sooner or later, you're going to have a fatality. People have died because of television."

As Mirror reported, the calamitous stunt was broadcast on TV and viewed by the nation. After being discharged from hospital, Davies attempted to return to the show. However, she was experiencing persistent pain as a result of her catastrophic accident. Accordingly, she was left with no choice but to pull out of the series.

Jennifer Ellison's gruesome Dancing on Ice injury

Since the glory days of Tonya Harding, a resurgence in the popularity of ice-skating has led to the creation of British show "Dancing on Ice," whereby celebs compete to see who has the best gliding skills on icy terrain.

Actor Jennifer Ellison appeared on the show in 2012, alongside professional ice skater Dan Whiston. Amid the heat of Ellison and Whiston dancing to "Fever," the segment came to a chilling blow. After performing to a round of raucous applause, blood dripped from Ellison's head: she had cut her head open with the blade of her skate when she arched back. Veteran skater Jayne Torvill, of Olympic ice-skating gold medallists Torvill and Dean, said that the incident truly shows "how dangerous ice dancing is." Whiston shed some light on the gory extent of the injury, explaining, "Her whole hair was just red because obviously the heart's pumping and a lot of blood's come out."

Despite the gruesome head-whack, Ellison was determined to carry on with the show. "I honestly thought the back of my head would be hanging off when I finished," she told The Daily Star (via Metro). "It was only when I put my hand on my head ... that I realized how badly it was bleeding." In spite of her bravery, she was knocked out of the competition in the semi-final, per Digital Spy. But she certainly made a lasting — and bloody — impression on the judges.

This Naked and Afraid contestant almost faced an amputation

With a title like "Naked and Afraid," no one is expecting the popular reality series to be a barrel of laughs. But likewise, no one who goes on the show expects to head home without the family jewels — despite being left completely nude in the wilderness for several weeks.

In 2021, army veteran E.J. Snyder appeared on "Naked and Afraid XL," the somewhat more extreme version of the original series. When Snyder signed up for the show, he probably wasn't anticipating the possibility of leaving without his, ahem, manhood. As reported by the Daily Mail, Snyder fell from a tree, severely damaging his scrotum. "I fell in, the branch broke, I hit a stick. It just lacerated," he said of the gruesome misfortune. Subsequently, a medic presented Snyder with the grim reality: "Worst case scenario is an infection, a loss of genitalia, and if he becomes septic it could be fatal." Despite the bleak outcome, Snyder opted to remain on the show after receiving several stitches. Thankfully, his man parts did not need to be amputated, though he certainly came close.

Incredibly, this wasn't Snyder's first serious calamity on the show. He was previously injured on "Naked and Afraid" back in 2013, when he punctured his foot, resulting in a particularly nasty infection, per HuffPost. Remarkably, the army vet decided to soldier on. There's no denying that Snyder is one tough trooper.

Rebecca Adlington's accident was broadcast on live TV

Yet another British show that ended in catastrophe, "The Jump" featured celebs attempting to master sports beyond their realm of expertise. On Season 3 of "The Jump," swimming gold medallist Rebecca Adlington took her Olympic skills to reality TV. Instead of swimming, however, she tried to master the art of skiing. But things soon took a turn for the worse. 

During the training portion of the show, Adlington suffered a nasty fall when her body was violently propelled off an icy slope, dislocating her shoulder, per the Independent. To make a calamitous situation even more unfortunate, the ordeal was broadcast for the whole nation to see. Speaking with Nottinghamshire Live, Adlington divulged that she still hadn't recovered from the disastrous accident, describing her agony as "worse than childbirth," and the worst pain she had ever experienced in her life. As a result of the unlucky occurrence, she revealed that, tragically, she couldn't even hold her baby daughter. 

"It still makes me feel funny thinking about that pain," she continued. "The medics rushed up immediately to try and push the joint back into place and couldn't. I had to have gas to help me cope with the excruciating agony I went through until I could get to the hospital." Inevitably, Adlington had to withdraw from the competition. In a statement on her official website, she said that she held no ill will towards the producers of "The Jump," despite the life-changing injuries she was left with.

A dangerous stunt on SAS led to an Olympian's early retirement

The British reality series "SAS: Who Dares Wins" featured members of the public thrust into perilous circumstances. Unlike most reality TV competitions, there was no prize at the end of the series; rather, the reward was based around contestants proving their strength and resilience in the face of adversity, mimicking the actual tasks of the Special Air Service, per Metro.

Olympic diver Melissa Wu competed in Season 3 of the spinoff "SAS Australia" in 2022. As reported by the Daily Mail, Wu fell ill during a stunt in which contestants entered an enclosure filled with tear gas without protective gear. Wu struggled for breath during the challenge and, as she left the chamber, she collapsed to the ground, all of which was broadcast on television. As medics intervened by giving Wu oxygen, she finally came to, appearing to have no memory of what had just occurred.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the first stunt involving Wu that went horribly wrong. In an interview with Daily Telegraph (via Sport Bible), she revealed that she also severely damaged her back on the show and would likely be facing early retirement as a result. "I am not hugely confident that it will get better because it has been five months now," she divulged. "It is a physical issue but if it doesn't get better, it becomes a mental challenge to try and overcome that." Tragically, she not only withdrew from "SAS," but she will be unable to compete in the Olympics.

This British show was canceled after a contestant jumped to his death

Punk icons the Sex Pistols may have sung about "Anarchy In The UK," but this long-forgotten British show was living anarchy in the UK. "The Late Late Breakfast Show" featured the kinds of stunts that would make Johnny Knoxville blush. Hosted by Brit-favorite Noel Edmonds, the man who forced the terrifying Mr. Blobby upon us (Google the pink monstrosity at your peril), the bizarre show featured a mix of music, chit-chat, and, of course, eye-watering stunts.

In 1986, Michael Lush featured on the show to participate in a death-defying stunt in which he was to bungee jump from 120 feet in the air, per MyLondon. The stunt, rather sinisterly entitled "Hang 'em High," went horrifically wrong during rehearsals; unable to support Lush's body, the mountaineering clip came loose and he plunged to his death. He was just 24.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC canceled the show due to Lush's death. As it turned out, the clip attached to his bungee wasn't properly put in place — and it wasn't even strong enough to withstand the weight of "a bag of sugar." Mike Smith, Edmonds' co-star on the show, struggled to come to terms with the tragedy and was plagued by guilt. Following Smith's death in 2014, producer Mike Hollingsworth told the Daily Mail, "He carried it with him. I always thought he unfairly carried the can for a large part of that. To be honest, it never appeared to be his fault."