‘Wipeout’ reality contestant dies

Funeral services for a recent newlywed and former USC graduate student were held Wednesday in Westwood after the 33-year-old man died after competing as a contestant on ABC’s reality show “Wipeout.”

Tom Sparks appears to have died of a stroke after trying to complete an obstacle course stunt for the reality competition show, according to preliminary medical findings. The recent graduate of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism initially complained of knee pain and was experiencing shortness of breath during the event. He was later taken to a local hospital for further examination and was subsequently transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where after several brain surgeries, he died Nov. 5.

“I did not have him in a class,” said Patricia Dean, associate director of the School of Journalism, “But he made a point to get to know everyone. He was the kind of person who -- and this is a great trait for journalism -- when he talked to you, he talked directly to you and cared about what you said.”


Sparks, who was teamed with his wife, Katie, on the reality show, graduated from USC in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. The couple married a few months ago and had recently returned from a European honeymoon.

Sparks’ career began at L.A.'s KROQ-FM radio station; he then became a morning DJ at KSKI-FM in Sun Valley, Ida. He returned to USC in 2007 to earn a master’s degree and graduated last spring.

“He seemed invincible,” said Keli Moore, a friend and former classmate at USC. “He was very talented and was always, always on the go.”

Sparks’ cause of death has been deferred pending additional medical tests, said a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

According to the Idaho Mountain Express, Bill Sparks, Tom’s father, says that doctors think Tom’s stroke was most likely caused by a pre-existing conditioned known as antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, a disorder that causes abnormal clotting of the blood.

“Wipeout,” currently filming its third season, requires its contestants to engage in physically challenging stunts -- bouncing on giant balls into the water or sailing off of a ramp into the dark -- in an attempt to win a hefty cash prize.

As with many reality shows involving physical exertion, Endemol USA, which produces “Wipeout,” requires contestants to sign a release and take a physical exam before their participation. Sparks did not list any pre-existing conditions in his application for the show but did note that he had recently completed the Long Beach Marathon

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family,” ABC and Endemol said in a joint statement. “This is a tragic loss and our thoughts are with them at this time.”