Pakistan reality TV contestant drowns in challenge
ISLAMABAD — A contestant on a Pakistani reality TV show drowned while performing a challenge for the program, a spokeswoman for the show’s sponsor said Sunday.
Pakistani contestant Saad Khan, 32, was swimming across a lake while wearing a 15-pound (7-kilogram) backpack when he called out for help and then disappeared underwater, according to Fareshte Aslam, information officer for Unilever Pakistan, the show’s sponsor.
Horrified co-contestants and crew rushed to try to save him but could not find him in the murky waters of the lake in the Thai capital of Bangkok, where the show was being filmed, according to Aslam, who was recounting reports of those on the scene.
Divers later recovered the body of Khan, she said.
The death came during filming of the show’s 10th episode on Aug. 19, but it was not publicized until Khan’s body was returned home to the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.
Thai police were investigating to determine whether the death was an accident or caused by negligence, Bangkok’s Kom Chad Luek newspaper reported earlier this month. Police could not be contacted Sunday to say if the investigation had been completed.
Unilever Pakistan accepts no liability for Khan’s death, Aslam said, but added that the company is in discussions to provide for Khan’s wife and four children “out of rightness.”
A close friend of Khan’s, Babar Jumani, said by telephone that the family was not ready to talk to the media, and he declined to comment further.
Khan had already been eliminated in the as-yet-unnamed show’s previous rounds, but had returned for a special challenge to earn a spot in the finals.
Plans to air the reality show — intended as a promotional tie for Unilever’s Clear shampoo — were on hold. Aslam said Unilever Pakistan, a division of the multinational soap and cosmetics maker, was not involved in the production of the show, which was handled by a director and crew from the Indian entertainment capital of Mumbai.
Reality television shows often subject contenders to harsh physical challenges.
In May, a contestant of the Bulgarian version of “Survivor” died of a heart attack while filming on an island in the Philippines. Noncho Vodenicharov, 53, collapsed after finishing an unspecified activity for the contest, Philippine police said.
Associated Press Writer Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Poor security blamed for drowning on reality show
Ayesha Nasir, Foreign Correspondent
- Last Updated: September 05. 2009 1:03AM UAE / September 4. 2009 9:03PM GMT
Saad Khan, left, who died during a Unilever-sponsored reality TV show in Thailand, with his friend Fahd Siddiqui. i Courtesy Fahd Siddiqu
LAHORE // Hours before he died, Saad Khan, 32, was chatting with friends on Facebook from his hotel room in Bangkok in between getting the place ready for his wife who was arriving that evening from Pakistan. He was excited, say friends, about his re-entry into a reality television show being sponsored by Unilever, the largest manufacturer of consumer products in Pakistan. The show, in fact, was being shot as part of a promotional campaign for Clear shampoo, with the winner being crowned “Clear Man”.
“Saad had modelled in the past and was really looking forward to being a part of this show,” said Babar Jumani, a close friend and colleague. “He had always been interested in fashion and television.”
Khan, a father of four children, had a lot going for him, says Mr Jumani. “He was a totally self-made man who had risen from the bottom up and had managed to make it to the top of one of Pakistan’s largest banks,” he said. “He was doing great in his career, and had a lovely wife and four children.”
Only a few days into the show, Khan, who has been described by other contestants as the “life of the show” and “the person most likely to win the title”, was eliminated. According to the anonymous blog account of one contestant, Khan was eliminated during a challenge in the fourth round in which he had to get a ball into an elevated basket while standing on a block of ice. Khan, the contestants were told, would be leaving in two days.
But the show organisers, instead of sending Khan home, moved him to another hotel room and kept his presence hidden from the other contestants, before reintroducing him to the show a few days later.
“On the 19th we were preparing for the other task on the set of the show, when we suddenly saw a tall figure coming towards us smiling,” the contestant writes. “It was Saad bhai. We hooted and danced in excitement. Finally we got to meet him again, it was a big and a pleasant surprise for all of us. He was the life of the whole show; we had missed him a lot.”
The first challenge Khan was given upon his return entailed hoisting a 7kg bag on his shoulders and running through fire, swimming across a pond and then climbing a rope.
According to Fareshteh Gaitee Aslam, information officer for Unilever Pakistan, “Saad was swimming across a lake when he called out for help and then disappeared underwater”.
While Unilever says fellow contestants and crew rushed to save Khan, but could not find him in the muddy waters, several other versions of the story exist. Mr Jumani says despite the investigations of Khan’s friends and family, no single and credible account had emerged so far.
“Some say it was a lake, others say it was a shallow pond while still others say it was a reservoir,” he said.
“Some say there were lifejackets, others say divers were standing by while still others say there was nobody.” Mr Jumani and Khan’s family have asked Unilever to provide them with the footage that captures Khan’s death but they have yet to receive it.
When asked to explain the security arrangements at the site of the accident, Ms Aslam said security was not Unilever’s responsibility.
“We are a company which makes shampoos and soaps,” she said. “We had signed a contract for an advertising company who were responsible for filming the show. The technical team for the show came from Bangkok while the film crew was flown in from India. Our contract with the advertising concern did emphasise that adequate security preparations should be made.”
A request put forth by The National to see the contract between Unilever and the advertising company, Mindshare, has yet to be fulfilled. Calls made to Mindshare were not returned.
But an advertising insider who works at Mindshare revealed that security is never a major consideration when planning campaigns. “I am not surprised this happened because advertising companies never make security a priority,” he said.
“Stunts are now often made a part of ad campaigns but the precautions which should be taken when doing such difficult campaigns are usually lax.”
The contestant writing the blog gave an account of the accident that suggests the necessary precautions were not taken.
“Saad cleared the first stage, which was running through fire; he jumped in the pond and swam … When he reached the middle of the pond he suddenly turned and changed his style to backstroke, he looked troubled, we shouted and asked him to open his 7kg backpack, and he struggled to open it. While struggling he yelled for help and disappeared in the water. When there was no response from him, we dived in the pond to look for him, but couldn’t find him as the water was very muddy, and I came out. We started screaming and crying for help but there was no help around. After around 10 minutes his back pack came up floating on the water. The lifeguards came 10 to 12 minutes after the incident occurred and recovered Saad bhai’s body.”
Nael Ahmad, a model who once took part in an underwater shoot for a soft drink company, says there is a dearth of security standards in the advertising world. “It’s very person-dependent,” he said.
“There are no safety standards that apply across the board. If the team leader is good, the safety will be good. If the team leader is not very particular, security can be compromised.”
The Lahore-based lawyer Sardar Qasim Farooq says one reason why companies are sometimes careless when it comes to safety is because in Pakistan there is no tradition of consumers holding corporations to account.
“The law of torts has yet to become a part of our society, which means that the power of the consumer, or in this case the participants, has yet to be established,” he said.
Ms Aslam said Unilever will offer Khan’s family some financial compensation but it was up to the family whether to reveal the amount. She also said this was being done out of a sense of “rightness”, not legal obligation.
Reality shows have only recently become a regular feature on Pakistan’s television networks. A popular reality show on Geo television, Pakistan’s largest private television network, follows the efforts of a foreigner trying to get Pakistani citizenship. Another popular show does matchmaking in front of a live audience.
* The National