The XX Factor

Did Laurence Sunderland Send His Daughter Around the World To Snag a Reality Show?

The Sunderland parents were already in pretty deep water (pun intended) last January when they decided to let their 16-year-old daughter Abby attempt to break the world record and brave 50-foot waves while circumnavigating the globe alone on a sailboat. It was just two days ago that Abby was found alive in the Indian Sea after losing communication during a storm. Now it’s come out that Laurence Sunderland, Abby’s father, inked a reality-show TV deal just as his daughter set sail . File under: News That Makes You Doubt Good Intentions.

Back in January, facing a sea of criticism, the Sunderlands made a big effort to position their decision as a stand against overprotective parenting. Laurence told reporters : “Sailing and life in general is dangerous. Teenagers drive cars. Does that mean teenagers shouldn’t drive a car? I think people who hold that opinion have lost their zeal for life. They’re living in a cotton-wool tunnel to make everything safe.” A child psychologist on the Early Show defended the Sunderlands’ decision , noting, “If you have the composure and ability to stay calm under pressure, as Abby did, it might be OK.” The initial shock of a 16-year-old teenager facing the high seas gradually wore off, as the Sunderlands took to countless talk shows to assure everyone of their daughter’s expert skill.

But now it seems that Abby’s dad is essentially the nautical version of Michael Lohan, profiting from his daughter’s fame for a much-needed TV deal. According to the New York Post , Laurence Sunderland told the paper he’s broke and had “signed a contract to do a reality show, “Adventures in Sunderland,” about his family of daredevil kids weeks after she set off on her doomed and dangerous solo sail around the globe.” The family had previously alluded to their lack of funds when Abby’s mother asked that the United States pay for her daughter’s rescue . Whether Abby’s sail was entirely a publicity stunt a la Balloon Boy, we’ll probably never know. Which is a shame, because Abby’s obviously a talented sailor. But if there’s one phrase in the world that immediately morphs something potentially honorable and pure into crass fame-mongering, it’s “inked a reality show deal.”

Photograph of the Sunderland home by Robyn Beck/Getty Images.