Shain Gandee died doing precisely what made him the star of MTV's "BUCKWILD" reality show: tearing through mudholes in his truck, taking chances most others wouldn't, living free and reckless.
MTV has not said whether cameras were rolling the night Gandee, his uncle and a friend left a bar at 3 a.m. to go "muddin'." But the line between television and real life blurred in one fatal moment when Gandee's vehicle got stuck in a deep mudpit. He and two passengers were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Was Gandee living for the cameras that night, or for himself? Did his on-camera life, and the rewards it brought him, make him more reckless when the camera lights were off?
And how does the audience fit into this picture, the 3 million weekly viewers who made "BUCKWILD" a hit, plus the many millions more who have made shows from "Jersey Shore" to "Dancing With the Stars" to "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a living, breathing part of our culture? How has reality TV shaped perceptions of real life — and of our own lives?
Everywhere you look these days, the lines blur.
Evan Ross Katz is a fan of "BUCKWILD," which followed a group of self-described rednecks' "wild and crazy behavior" in rural West Virginia. Katz watches about a dozen reality shows for his work as a freelance pop culture commentator, and he says Gandee felt more real than other stars.
"I want to believe that was him in real life," Katz says. "Sometimes you just get this impression. I really do believe you can tell when people are being genuine or not on these shows."
"I found him to be strangely genuine, by far the most genuine of the group. Some of them wanted to pour it down your throat, like, 'We're the wildest kids in West Virginia.' I don't think he showed any sort of agenda to prove he lived this different life. I just think he organically did."