It's easy to forget just how massive a deal the Nintendo Wii was when it launched back in 2006. The motion-sensing console became the runaway best-seller in that generation of systems, and at one point, Nintendo was struggling to meet the almost insatiable demand for the $250 console.
It was against the backdrop of this hardware shortage that one of the most tragic tales related to the Wii played out. On January 12th, 2007, Sacramento-based Radio station KDND 107.9's 'Morning Rave Show' ran a contest called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii", in which approximately 18 contestants would compete to see who could drink the most water without urinating.
Contestants were given two minutes to drink an 8-ounce bottle of water, and then given another bottle to drink after a 10-minute break. 28-year-old mother of three Jennifer Strange was one of those who took part.
According to fellow contestant James Ybarra. "They were small little half-pint bottles, so we thought it was going to be easy. They told us if you don’t feel like you can do this, don’t put your health at risk." Ybarra dropped out after drinking five bottles, claiming "my bladder couldn’t handle it anymore." He stated that the remaining contestants were then given bigger bottles to drink. "I was talking to her, and she was a nice lady," said Ybarra when asked about Strange. "She was telling me about her family and her three kids and how she was doing it for [her] kids."
According to reports, a nurse listening to the show called in to warn the hosts that the contestants were endangering their lives. "Those people that are drinking all that water can get sick and possibly die from water intoxication," said the nurse, who was then told by one of the DJs, "we're aware of that" and that the contestants had signed a release, "so we're not responsible." One of the hosts then started laughing before asking, "Is anyone dying in there?"
During the contest, Strange is said to have exclaimed, "Oh, it hurts," while DJ remarked that she looked pregnant, and another, "That is so funny." Chillingly, the DJs hosting the show discussed the possibility live on air that one of the contestants might die during the broadcast. "Can you get water poisoning and, like, die?" asked one. "Not with water," the other host replied. "Your body is 98 percent water. Why can't you take in as much water as you want?"
"Maybe we should have researched this before," replied their colleague.
Strange reportedly drank almost two gallons of water during the contest and got down to the final two contestants, but had to quit after saying she felt too ill to continue. Her second-place finish secured the runner-up prize of two tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert.
Upon leaving the station and returning home, Strange called in sick to work, complaining of a headache. "She said to one of our supervisors that she was on her way home and her head was hurting her real bad,” said Laura Rios, one of Strange’s co-workers at Radiological Associates of Sacramento. "She was crying, and that was the last that anyone had heard from her."
She was found dead at her home six hours later. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was hyponatremia, or acute water intoxication.
KDND 107.9 responded by firing employees related to the show. John Geary, vice president and general manager of KDND's parent company Entercom, told the press that "effective immediately, the 'Morning Rave' program is cancelled and ten employees are no longer with the station." Three DJs – Adam "Lukas" Cox, Steve Maney and Patricia "Trish" Sweet – were included in the ten fired staff. Cox and Maney would later sue Entercom over wrongful termination of their contract; both settled with Entercom for an undisclosed amount.
In 2009, a wrongful-death trial was undertaken against Entercom Communications Corporation and its subsidiary that owns KDND 107.9. In the trial that followed at Sacramento Superior Court, kidney expert Dr. George Alan Kaysen told jurors that drinking too much water disrupts the body’s salt balance, ultimately causing the brain to swell; the result can be seizures and respiratory distress.
The jury was told that Strange had been drinking water for nearly three hours without urinating. Despite telling the station staff that her head hurt, she received no medical attention. The defence team acting for the KDND 107.9's parent company, Entercom, claimed that Strange's death was "not foreseeable" and attempted to argue that Strange should have accepted some degree of responsibility; she should have known that consuming so much water would have been potentially dangerous, they argued.
However, prosecution attorney Roger Dreyer rejected this claim. "She acted based upon the information she had," he said. "We believe that people are constantly told we should drink water."
The jury ultimately agreed with Dreyer and awarded $16,577,188 million in compensation to Strange's family. Entercom called Strange's death "a tragedy" and said it respected the decision.
Despite the Stranges urging the Federal Communications Commission to remove the station's broadcast licence as further punishment for the tragedy, KDND continued to operate until it was closed down after almost 70 years of service in 2017, following Entercom's purchase of CBS Radio.