Reality check: After nearly losing their 16-year-old daughter Abby to rough seas on a solo sail around the world, did Laurence and Marianne Sunderland try to cash in with a television reality show, "Adventures in Sunderland"?
Abby's trip ended last week when raging weather downed the mast on her boat, Wild Eyes, in the Indian Ocean.
For two days, she was out of communication with her parents and technical team, and the world feared she was dead. Abby was eventually rescued by a French boat at an estimated cost of $30,000.
It was bad enough when the Americans watched Richard Heene stage the flight of a runaway balloon, claiming his son Falcon was caught inside. Authorities found the 7-year-old hiding in his garage, apparently on parents' orders, so they could pique interest in a reality show.
People began to get suspicious when the boy's mother and father pressed on unfazed in a morning television interview as little Falcon vomited at their side.
Parents and child experts had the same nauseated reaction to the news that the Sunderlands, a daredevil sailing family, had reportedly begun filming a reality show four months ago at their home in Thousand Oaks, California. The Christian couple has seven children, all home-schooled, and an eighth on the way. Abby's older brother had also previously circumnavigated the globe.
Laurence Sunderland told the Los Angeles Times Monday that he had cut ties with Magnetic Entertainment, the company with which he had planned to do the show, because he was not happy with the direction it was taking.
"There is no show at this time, nor will there be," he told the newspaper. "They were assuming Abigail was going to die out there. They were relying on her dying, and so we cut the ties."
"What a creepy family," said one blogger on the website Hollywood Gossip. "Perhaps 'Mis-adventures in Sunderland' is more appropriate."
Since reality TV has weaseled its way into heart of America, questions have been raised about the exploitation of children.
Colorado child protective services were called in to investigate the Heene family for faking their son's disappearance to garner public attention.
The Pennsylvania Labor Department also opened an investigation into whether reality couple Jon and Kate Gosselin had complied with state child labor laws in production of their hit show, "Jon & Kate Plus 8," a TLC series about two parents raising twins and sextuplets.
Now, many are wondering if the Sunderlands endangered their daughter for personal gain.
"This is as disturbing as the 'Balloon Boy,'" said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician from Austin, Texas, and author of "Expecting 411."
"What is the motivation here?" she asked. "Is it the child or the parent who is benefitting from this? If the parents are cashing in on the child's talent or experience, you have to wonder if it's a good parenting choice."
"This isn't the first time this has happened," said Brown. "Gypsy Rose Lee was the classic example of a stage-door mom who is pushing the kid."
When the Gosselins brought television cameras into their home, right after the birth of their sextuplets, viewers lived vicariously through the couple's squabbling and eventual divorce. Dad made the tabloids with his latest girlfriends and Mom went on to a lucrative deal with ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."