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Letting nature run her course on ‘Meerkat’

Flower's death on “Meerkat Manor” triggered an outpouring of concern and questions about whether or not show producers intercede on the behalf of injured animals. The short answer? No.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?

Whether it's "Survivor," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," "Real World" or another show, . Andy Dehnart, MSNBC.com's Television Editor and creator of ,will try to answer them.

Before you send in your question, — you may be able to get your answer right away.

Q. I have watched some of Meerkat Manor and am heartbroken at Flower's death. Does the crew try to help injured animals? Did Flower have to suffer long? Could anything have been done to help her? I hope she lived only a few minutes after the bite. I don't see how the crews become attached to the animals and yet not help them. I don't think I can watch the episode where she dies. — Virginia W., Orange Park, Fla.

A. While it's difficult for some to believe that viewers connect emotionally with the animals featured on Discovery's "Meerkat Manor," the reaction to Flower's death proves that many people got very attached.

After the episode aired — and it was "one of the highest(-rated episodes) in the show's three-year run," according to Variety — executive producer Mick Kaczorowski answered your questions on .

Discovery says that a total of 7,578 questions were asked following Flower's death, again showing fans' love of the series.

The producer said that after Flower was bitten by a Cape Cobra, which happened on Jan. 27 of this year, there was no way to help.

"The bite happened underground. It wasn't until Flower emerged that everyone actually saw the swelling. At that point, you have to let nature take its course. There was no way we could intercede or change the effects of the poison," he wrote.

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Later, he added, "Because they are wild animals, basically, the scientists don't believe that they should intercede because they don't want to have an effect on the gene pool by saving a weaker meerkat. Or affecting the outcome of what's natural in the Kalahari." However, in the event of disease, researchers "will euthanize meerkats to protect the whole group because they don't want a disease to wipe them out."

Flower lived "less than 48 hours" after being bitten, and her body was retrieved and buried. Kaczorowski told viewers that the tracking device on her neck had no impact on her chances of survival.

Some happier news for fans also came from the chat: He revealed that there will be a fourth season, which is currently filming in the Kalahari.

Q. I'm sure it varies depending on the network, but my question is during the casting sessions for reality shows do contestants submit to background checks and any psychological or psychiatric testing? — Grigori, California

A. Yes, most reality series do background checks and evaluations of some kind. Usually that happens during the final round of casting, when the group of hopefuls has been narrowed to semifinalists.

As you said, what happens depends upon the show, but typically semifinalists travel to Los Angeles and stay in a hotel while undergoing rounds of interviews, physical exams, or other checks.

Some shows have specific types of background checks; "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," for example, says it looks at applicants' financial backgrounds.

Many reality shows' applications ask for disclosure about things that might surface during screening, and reveal what will be checked. For example, CBS is currently casting for "Big Brother 9," and its eligibility requirements state that contestants "must be in excellent physical and mental health" and those who are interviewed as semifinalists "will be given, and must complete and return ... a Medical History Form." It also says that potential contestants "must also submit to physical and mental examinations by Producer-selected medical professional(s) in Los Angeles selected by the Producer and meet all physical and psychological requirements," and "authorize the Producers to conduct civil, criminal, financial, driver-history and any other type of background checks deemed necessary by the Producers."

Still, despite these kinds of background checks, some contestants slip through. No show is immune from that, but "American Idol" has had perhaps the most visible number of cast members removed because of a background check — or after screening, when embarrassing or criminal actions from their pasts resurface thanks to the show's massive popularity.

And finally, a follow-up on 'Project Runway 4.'

After Heidi Klum revealed on her Web site that the fourth season of "Project Runway" , we checked with Bravo, and they said that was an "error" and had been removed.

A month later, Bravo officially announced the debut date for "Project Runway 4": November 14. Why the date had to remain a secret for that month isn't clear, but at least we now know when the show is returning. And it's actually debuting earlier, at least when compared to the first two seasons, which also aired during the winter.

Along with the debut date, Bravo has also announced .

And the regular cast members — including Heidi Klum, judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors, and everyone's favorite mentor Tim Gunn — will also all return.

is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.