EXCLUSIVE: CBS TV Studios acknowledged to Deadline today that the hiring of Justin Sundquist as stunt coordinator of MacGyver was part of a deal settling his lawsuit over a 2016 injury he sustained on Hawaii Five-0.
On Monday, he was hurt again, this time on a stunt that went wrong on the MacGyver set that left him in a medically induced coma with a traumatic head injury.
Jeff Wolfe, who was replaced by Sundquist on MacGyver, warned his stunt crew in July that Sundquist might not be up to the job and might have gotten the gig “not for the right reason,” while accusing “the powers that be” of not making safety “a priority.”
That’s strongly disputed by CBS TV Studios.
“Justin Sundquist is a long-time stunt performer with previous stunt coordinator experience who has been working in this field for almost 2 decades,” the studio said in a statement to Deadline. “He was a well-regarded stunt performer on Hawaii Five-0, when he was injured in an unfortunate accident last year (it was actually in 2016) that resulted in a legal claim. As part of the settlement of that claim, and his positive standing with producers on that show, he was hired to an open stunt coordinator position on MacGyver by a senior producer who had moved to that production from Hawaii Five-0.”
The MacGyver incident is under investigation by OSHA. Because of that, “we cannot comment further on the specifics of that matter,” CBS TV Studios told Deadline. “The safety and security of our talent and production staff is a top priority, and we are, of course, open to any additional systems and protocols that the investigation informs to further protect the safety and security to our casts and crews.”
Spiro Razatos, one of the industry’s top stunt coordinators, also said that Sundquist, his best friend of more than 20 years, was more than qualified to be the show’s stunt coordinator. “Justin is talented. He’d coordinated before. It’s not a safety issue,” Razatos said. “Justin is one of the best stunt guys in the business. He’s an award-winning stuntman. The stunt he performed was one he’d done before. It wasn’t something he wasn’t capable of doing. It wasn’t anything excessive. Unfortunately, he was hurt on this one, and he’s hanging on to try to get better.”
Wolfe is a seasoned TV series stunt coordinator and vice president of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures, who’d been on MacGyver since the start. He has four Emmy nominations for his stunt coordinating work — including one for MacGyver — winning in 2013 for NBC’s Revolution.
According to multiple sources, Wolfe was let go from MacGyver in June.
As part of the June 25 settlement of Sundquist’s lawsuit against CBS Corp. and CBS TV Studios over his 2016 Hawaii Five-0 injury, he succeeded Wolfe as stunt coordinator on MacGyver. In the initial suit, Sundquist had claimed that the accident had left him so badly injured that it “will likely put an end to his stellar career.”
A source close to the situation stressed to Deadline that Wolfe’s leaving the show had nothing to do with Sandquist, and that he was on his way out regardless.
Sundquist is an experienced stuntman with more than 100 stunt credits on such stunt-laden films as The Fate of the Furious, Kong: Skull Island, Captain America: Civil War, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. He’s also worked on numerous TV shows, including True Blood, Dexter, 24, Heroes and Hawaii Five-0, where he was stunt double of star Alex O’Loughlin. Even so, his pre-MacGyver stunt coordinator experience was limited to about dozen projects — mostly low-budget movies.
Razatos, who coordinated the stunts on many of the blockbuster action films that Sundquist has worked on – including The Fate of the Furious, Furious 7, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Kong: Skull Island, told Deadline that he was brought in by Sundquist on MacGyver to advise him on directing episodes of the series.
“We work together all the time,” he said. “We respect each other in our profession and we’re best friends. He works with me on all the shows I do, and he asked me to come work with him as a consultant for directing, not as a coordinator. He doesn’t need help for coordinating. He did a great job on both.”
While there are no previous TV series stunt coordinator credits for Sundquist on IMDb, Razatos noted that Sundquist had coordinated stunt scenes on Hawaii Five-0. “CBS wouldn’t have put him in this situation if they didn’t believe in him,” he said. “Everything he’s done, he’s proven he’s great at it. Everybody knows he’s qualified to do what he’s doing.”
That opinion deferred from Wolfe’s, who on July 7 sent two messages to his former crew, which Deadline has seen. While Sundquist never is mentioned by name, they clearly are in response to the news of his hire as Wolfe’s replacement.
“Obviously won’t be back for season three as it appears impending lawsuits far outweigh Emmy recognition or 100% safety records,” Wolfe wrote. “If you choose to bring your talents to season three, I only ask that you do it in keeping your own safety in mind, as it’s clear that’s not a priority to the powers that be. The good news is, that pesky lawsuit is dropped.”
He later added in all-caps, “REMEMBER. BE YOUR OWN COORDINATOR” before alluding again to a possible connection between the settled lawsuit and Sundquist’s hire. “You never know how someone got where they are…sadly sometimes it’s not for the right reason.”
His note had an ominous ending, “Karma, as always, is a bitch…just wait and see…”
In the Hawaii Five-0 accident, which was captured on film, Sundquist was struck by a speeding camera car as it roared through a parking garage filming a chase scene.
“Historically, the Hawaii Five-0 set has been a rushed, hectic set where the production schedule is so demanding and the push to control the labor budget is so harsh that corners are cut and safety is compromised,” his suit stated.
Safety issues were compounded, the suit alleged, because one of crew responsible for safety was on drugs – and worse, had been handing out stunt jobs in a “quid pro quo” exchange for illegal drugs.
“In the morning of July 27, 2016, prior to the incident,” the suit claimed, “a key personnel who had the safety responsibilities was under the influence of narcotic controlled substances; which caused and/or contributed to Mr. Sundquist’s injuries and damages. In fact, in about the ten days before Mr. Sundquist was struck by the picture car, this individual took dozens of prescription pain medications, which upon information and belief were not prescribed lawfully to this individual.
“Indeed, for many seasons of Hawaii Five-0, this individual enticed certain stunt performers with a quid pro quo: if they supplied him with pills, he supplied them with work.”
The suit also claimed that each of the many named defendants “knew or should have known” about this alleged quid pro quo arrangement, but “failed and refused to conduct an appropriate investigation.”
“At some point, defendants did purport to try to investigate this issue,” the suit stated. “However, this ‘investigation’ was a sham,” and “allowed the dangerous conduct of having a key safety personnel under the influence coordinate stunts to continue.”
Court records show that CBS resolved the lawsuit in late June this year, when Sundquist’s lawyer filed a request for dismissal of the case “with prejudice as to entire action of all parties and all causes of action.”
“He agreed to drop the lawsuit, and the possibility of winning millions of dollars, so that he could continue to do what he loves doing – stunts,” Razatos said.
Razatos wasn’t on hand Monday when the MacGyver incident happened but said the stunt involved Sundquist “falling off a tractor trailer and rolling on the ground, but he hit his head.”
Razatos called it a tragic accident, and four days later, Sandquist remains hospitalized.
“He has a son and a wife, and right now everyone should be worried about them and praying for them,” Razatos said.
Deadline reached out to Sundquist’s attorney, to members of his family though a family friend and to Wolfe but has yet to receive a response.
While, again not referring to Sandquist by name, called for prayers on the night of Sandquist’s accident in a Fecebook post.
He posted an update late last night as Sandquist’s condition started to improve.
Dominic Patten contributed to this report.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.