It’s strange enough peering into the fabricated reality of Reality TV, but it can extra surreal — and often painfully sad — when actual reality seeps into that world, as is the case of U.S. Army paratrooper Wesley Durden. Durden was eliminated last night from the reality show, “The Next Great Baker,” and it wasn’t until after the airing that TLC revealed with an In Memoriam card that Durden was dead. He had died of a self-inflicted gunshot would back in October. The 28 year old left behind a wife, seven-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.
The knee-jerk criticism, at least on Twitter, has been to somehow fault TLC’s handling of the matter and its decision to wait until after the airing to reveal the news. I don’t know, however, if there was a better way to handle it. The suicide came long after production on the season had wrapped, and at least TLC didn’t exploit his death in advance for ratings, as would’ve been the criticism had they announced it earlier (and, in fact, was the criticism leveled at NBC a few years ago when a contestant on a reality boxing show, “The Contender” took his own life after he was eliminated). Was it insensitive to mention it at all? Or was it insensitive that they didn’t mention it earlier?
Regardless of how TLC handled it, and regardless of what one thinks of reality TV (and there’s no reason to believe his elimination was responsible), the obvious tragedy here is that a solider — one who had been deployed in two tours in Iraq — is dead. That’s sad no matter how you look at it.