Najai Turpin, a contestant on the new NBC reality show, “The Contender,” committed suicide on Feb. 14. He was 23.
The Philadelphia native was an aspiring middleweight boxer known as Nitro. Described in his show bio as soft spoken and polite, Turpin cared for his younger brother, sister, niece and nephew after his mother died in 2000. At 5 feet 5 inches and 151 lbs., Turpin had a career record of 13 wins, 1 loss and 9 knockouts.
Before landing a spot on the new TV series, Turpin did construction work in the mornings and toiled at a Philadelphia restaurant in the evenings. Early Monday, he shot himself in the head with a small caliber semiautomatic weapon while sitting in a parked car outside the gym where he trained. His girlfriend, Angela Chapple, had just exited the vehicle when he took his own life. Turpin left no suicide note.
In the week before his death, Turpin twice left a boxing camp because he couldn’t focus on his training. Although Chapple has declined all interview requirests, she put out a statement that said the couple had “more love than issues.” Turpin is survived by his 2-year-old daughter, Anyae.
“The Contender” is a 13-episode series that follows the personal and professional lives of 16 boxers vying for a $1 million prize. Network executives said Turpin’s untimely death will not delay the show’s debut on March 7 or alter its ending. All of the show’s bouts have already been taped, except for its live championship, which will take place in May.
Turpin is not the first reality show contestant to take his own life. In 1997, Sinisa Savija, a participant on the Swedish version of the show “Survivor,” committed suicide after he was voted off the island. Last summer, Jose Maria, the winner of the first Portugal edition of the show “Big Brother,” threatened to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. Two policemen eventually hoisted him to safety.