“We’re young, we’re free, we’re buckwild.”
That’s the tagline of MTV’s Buckwild, a reality TV show about a group of young West Virginians that has been called a hybrid of Jersey Shore and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Or, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “far worse than the sum of the others’ parts.”
Cast members of the “hillbilly-sploitation” show often engage in reckless behavior, careless sexual rendezvous, and Jackass-style stunts that viewers love to laugh at but would never attempt themselves.
Still, even a show as carefree as Buckwild has sobering moments. Shain Gandee, 21, one of the show’s three leading men, was reported missing on Sunday, and 31 hours later he was found dead in a car in Sissonville, West Virginia.
An adventure-seeker with a passion for the outdoors, Gandee, like his castmates on Buckwild, loved to drink, hunt, and go four-wheeling in his rural neighborhood. On the show, he pursued Cara, a city girl who had moved to the country. Although his efforts never seemed to pan out, viewers nevertheless were rooting for the unlikely pair. On his Twitter account, which has since been relabeled Gandee’s “Angel” account, he tweeted about his family, his fans, and his love of country music. And on March 28, he tweeted, “Tomorrow is never promised.”
Authorities had been searching for Gandee, called Gandee Candy by his fans, along with his uncle and an unidentified third person since early Sunday morning. The trio was planning on going off-roading—known as “mudding” on Buckwild—and were last seen at a bar at 3 a.m. on Sunday. As police were preparing to launch an aerial search for the men, a call came in about a vehicle stuck in a muddy bank. All three men were found inside the Gandee family Bronco, but because of the location of the truck, the bodies were not retrieved until many hours later.
There is no cell-phone reception in the area where Gandee was found, and according to TMZ, the cause of death may have been carbon monoxide poisoning. While police wouldn’t confirm or deny the report, that may be a likely cause of death, especially if the exhaust pipe was submerged in mud.
Charleston, the town where Gandee lived, is a small, tight-knit community. Because many of the town knew Gandee, Charleston’s mayor says he hopes MTV will pull the plug on the reality TV show. Mayor Danny Jones told TMZ, “Of the few cast members on the show, already two have had legal issues and now one has died.” He added, “The show only enhances the negative stereotype the Kanawha Valley already has.”
That negative stereotype also factors in the rise of similar shows, such as Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, and more cable offerings that fall under the umbrella term of “redneck television.” The first season of Buckwild averaged 3 million viewers an episode and was the No. 1 original cable series on Thursday nights among 12- to 24-year-olds.
MTV said of Gandee’s death in statement: “We are shocked and saddened by the terrible news about Shain Gandee, and those involved in this tragic incident. We are waiting for more information but at this time, our main concern is for the Gandee family and their friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Shain had a magnetic personality, with a passion for life that touched everyone he met and we will miss him dearly.”
But tragedies involving reality-TV stars are becoming far too common. In February, Mindy McCready committed suicide following her appearance on Celebrity Rehab, a show that has claimed five celebrity lives in just 23 months.
Although MTV hasn’t said whether the show will go on, the network announced in February that it had ordered a second season of Buckwild.