The French version of the reality television show Survivor has been hit by a series of tragic real-life events.
A doctor working on location in Cambodia for the show, called Koh-Lanta, was reported to have taken his own life, 10 days after a contestant died from a heart attack while filming the first episode of a new series.
Dr Thierry Costa left a note complaining that he felt “dirtied” by “accusations and unjust suppositions” in the French media that he and other members of the production had failed to do all in their power to help the first victim.
The 16th series of Koh-Lanta – in which contestants undergo endurance challenges in wild locations – was abandoned after the death of Gérald Babin, 25, last month. A judicial investigation into his possible manslaughter has begun in France.
Dr Thierry Costa, 38, left a suicide note in his hotel room at Sokha Beach in Cambodia, in which he said that he had treated Mr Babin “as a patient, not a contestant” but he felt that he could no longer look people in the face in France.
A French website and a radio station, quoting anonymous witnesses and an anonymous e-mail, have suggested that the Koh-Lanta production team reacted slowly because Mr Babin’s illness was initially regarded as good footage for the show.
The reports have also suggested that Mr Babin was taken to hospital by boat, rather than plane, to save money.
Koh-Lanta’s producer, Adventure Line Productions, has threatened to sue for libel.
The production company has turned over film of the incident to French investigators and insisted that it proves that safety procedures were respected.
Jérémie Assous, a lawyer representing Mr Babin’s family, said he remained convinced that his death could have been avoided.
Another witness came forward to deny that there had been any delays in treating Mr Babin. Guillaime, 23, another contestant on the ill-fated show, told RTL radio: “Gérald was shooting and suddenly felt weak,” he said. “The doctor arrived very quickly. He did everything you would expect in a very professional way.”
Koh-Lanta is one of the most popular programmes on the most-watched French TV channel, TF1, with an average audience of 7,400,000. The president of TF1, Nonce Paolini, said that media which had “peddled anonymous reports” should “examine their conscience” following Dr Costa’s suicide.
Jean-Jacques Bourdin, a news presenter on RMC radio, defended his decision to broadcast the accusations. “Our information came by telephone from a credible person we can identify. It was not a question of an anonymous e-mail,” he said. “And that was not the only witness.”