French reality TV show hit by second death after doctor suicide

Contestants compete in a challenge on the French reality TV show Koh Lanta
Contestants compete in a challenge on the French reality TV show Koh Lanta Photo: EBU

One of France's most popular reality TV shows has been hit by a second tragedy when a doctor committed suicide just days after treating a contestant who died of a heart attack.

The show, called Koh Lanta, is based on the American series Survivor in which contestants compete in challenges to earn food rations in an exotic wilderness.

Dr Thierry Costa, a well-known TV doctor in France, committed suicide on Monday following the fatal heart attack of a 25-year-old contestant.

In a suicide note released by the show's production company, Dr Costa says his name was "smeared" in the press and speaks of his fear of returning to France to fight for his reputation.

Dr Costa examines one of the contestants
Dr Costa examines one of the contestants Credit: EBU

The first hint of trouble came last week when contestant Gerald Babin complaining of cramps in his arms while filming on the tropical island of Koh Rong in Cambodia.

He had reportedly been taking part in a tug-of-war challenge, although the production company Adventure Line Productions has not confirmed this.

Dr Costa was called to examine Mr Babin before deciding he should be airlifted to a local hospital, but he died after suffering a heat attack in the helicopter.

Cambodian authorities determined that he died of natural causes, but news agency AFP reports that French authorities opened a preliminary enquiry into "involuntary homicide".

Dr Costa in action on the reality TV show Koh Lanta
Dr Costa in action on the reality TV show Koh Lanta Credit: EBU

Adventure Line Productions released a suicide note from Dr Costa in which he blames "unfair accusations" in the press for his death. A translated extract on The Times (£) reads:

In the 20 years since I took up medicine, I have always tried to work hard with respect for my patients, love of medicine and following 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.

I am certain that I treated Gerald [Babib] in a respectable manner, as a patient and not as a contestant.

– translated extract from Dr Thierry Costa's suicide note

He goes on to request that his body be cremated in Cambodia instead of being repatriated to France.

Dr Costa in an episode of Koh Lanta
Dr Costa in an episode of Koh Lanta Credit: EBU

Adventure Line Productions said in a statement that its staff were "dismayed" to learn of Dr Costa's death, and praised his "high level of professionalism and humanity towards participants".

The French broadcaster TF1 has cancelled the current series, which would have its sixteenth, in light of the tragedies.