The Cabin Fever I, under the direction of skipper Peter Culleton, set sail June 3 from Dublin. Its mission: to sail around the island of Ireland for two months, each week kicking off one contestant in response to viewers' votes.
But the 90-foot (27.4-meter), two-masted schooner struck rocks Friday afternoon near Tory Island off Ireland's northwest coast. A rescue helicopter and lifeboat ferried most of the contestants to the island, while one hardy soul chose to swim.
"It is very sad. It does bring a tear to your eye. But our contestants are safe," said Stuart Switzer, a Coco Television Productions producer responsible for the program, speaking by telephone from the remote scene.
Within hours, the pounding surf had taken its toll on the disintegrating vessel, which was built in 1947 in France and had been heavily refurbished for the program.
"The back of the boat has broken. It is actually in two pieces, and the waves are knocking the planks and timber around," Switzer said. "There is debris all over the water and all over the shore."
The next episodes of "Cabin Fever" were scheduled for broadcast Sunday and Monday nights on RTE, the state-owned network in the Republic of Ireland.
"This show will go on," Switzer vowed. "We're not sure how yet, but it will go on."
The accident itself wasn't caught on camera, he said, because the crew had stopped shooting for the day.
Politicians criticized the program as irresponsible.
The first program featured contestants getting seasick as the ship braved force-8 winds (39 to 46 mph, 62 to 74 kph) in the Irish Sea — a much calmer body of water than the open Atlantic coastline of Ireland's west.
Barry Andrews, a lawmaker from the governing Fianna Fail party, questioned "the wisdom of sending out 10 people with no sailing experience with just two qualified sailors." He said the destruction of the ship "shows that so-called reality television has gone too far, with people being asked to carry out challenges that are too dangerous."
The contestants — five men and five women — had been selected from among 6,724 applicants. The first hour-long episode was broadcast Sunday, followed by a live episode Monday when the first contestant was made to "walk the plank" as Cabin Fever I docked in the Northern Ireland port of Bangor. The remaining nine were competing for a single $117,000 prize.