If you've watched Survivor, you know the drill when a player gets hurt or falls ill: Jeff Probst swoops in with the medical team, and they decide whether the contestant should stay in the game. Or, if the situation is serious enough, they begin treatment right there on the beach. It sounds like things work in a similar way on the French version of Survivor, called Koh-Lanta -- but tragically, a young contestant died of a heart attack while filming Koh-Lanta on March 22, and there's an even more shocking development in this story: Thierry Costa, the show's medical doctor, has committed suicide as a direct result of this incident.
Koh-Lanta's production company confirmed Monday that 38-year-old Thierry Costa had committed suicide in Cambodia, and in his note -- which he requested be made public -- Costa said the media's questioning of his medical treatment had become "unbearable."
It happened during the first day of filming the series’ twelfth season: contestant Gerald Babin, 25, had completed the first two challenges of jumping from a boat, swimming to shore, and competing in a tug-of-war on the beach when he complained of arm cramps and collapsed on the sand. The filming was located in Cambodia's southern Koh Rong Island, and initial reports said that Babin was treated on the scene before Thierry Costa ordered an emergency helicopter airlift.
Babin was flown to a mainland hospital in Sihanoukville, but suffered multiple cardiac arrests on the way. He was declared dead upon arrival.
Afterwards, rumors began swirling about Babin's cause of death and the role of the medical staff. An anonymous source who claimed to be a member of the production team said that Babin's treatment was delayed for up to nine minutes so as to not interrupt shooting, and that he was first taken by boat to a local infirmary to avoid the cost of a helicopter. This same source said that Babin wasn't transferred to the hospital until nearly two hours after he initially collapsed.
The increasingly scandalous story was picked up by several French journalists, and apparently a second witness came forward to dispute the show's reported timeline of how Babin was treated.
On Monday, Koh-Lanta's production company Adventure Line Productions confirmed that Thierry Costa had taken his own life. He asked that his final words be made public:
In the past few days my name has been tarnished in the media; unjust accusation and speculations have been made against me. I am sure that I treated Gerald in a respectable manner, as a patient and not as a contestant. In the 20 years since I took up medicine, I have always tried to work hard with respect for my patients and love of medicine, and follow the Hippocratic Oath. I have the feeling today that all these efforts have been destroyed by untrue articles.
I would never dare look anyone in the eye again in France without wondering if they were full of distrust for me. Having to reconstruct this destroyed reputation would be unbearable.
Koh-Lanta has been canceled for the season. French authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into the circumstances surrounding his treatment and death, and may pursue manslaughter charges. Also, Gerald Babin’s family announced Monday they will seek damages on the basis of “illegal conditions” and “breaches of health and safety."
What. A. Disaster.
I've watched the U.S. version of Survivor for many years, and if this story had happened here, I'd be highly doubtful that the show had prioritized cost savings over a contestant's health (and, maybe more importantly to the network, this sort of PR nightmare). I mean, CBS has enough money from that show to fly a goddamned spaceship to the beach to get someone out of there if need be. But I have no idea how things might be different on the Koh-Lanta set. Maybe people didn't realize how serious things were right away. Maybe Costa wasn't able to make the calls he wanted to. Or maybe this was simply a horrible accident, and no one's to blame for Babin's unfortunate death.
It's awful that Thierry Costa felt he had no choice but to take his own life in the wake of this tragedy, and I feel for his family, and for Gerard Babin's family. I hope for everyone's sake the investigation goes smoothly, and any lingering questions are resolved as quickly as possible.
Had you heard about this double tragedy with the French version of Survivor? Do you think the show will make any safety changes as a result?
Image via Koh-Lanta