French 'Survivor' Death: Host Defends Producers

koh-lanta Episodic Still - H 2013

koh-lanta Episodic Still - H 2013

In his first interview since the tragedy, "Koh-Lanta" presenter Denis Brogniart counters accusations made by the victim's family.

Denis Brogniart, the host of Koh-Lanta, the French version of Survivor, defended himself, Adventure Line Productions (ALP), network TF1 and staff doctor Thierry Costa in his first interview since the death of contestant Gerald Babin.

In an interview on radio network RTL, Brogniart said he welcomed the investigation that is currently under way by French prosecutors. “We have nothing to hide,” he said. “The program has nothing to do with what happened. It is the misfortune of a family and a young man who died from a heart condition. He could have died at home or in the weight room.”

Babin, 25, died on March 22, the first day of filming of the latest season of the show. The season was then canceled. A preliminary autopsy report released April 5 said that Babin had suffered from previously undetected heart disease.

After collapsing following the first two challenges, ALP maintains that Babin was initially believed to be suffering from dehydration. Costa treated him on the scene and in a nearby infirmary before ordering an airlift by helicopter. Babin suffered a series of cardiac arrests during the transfer. Costa, 38, committed suicide April 1 after anonymous sources close to the production told Closer magazine that Babin’s treatment was delayed so as not to interrupt filming. Costa left behind a handwritten note saying he could not live after having his name “sullied” by the accusations. ALP filed a defamation suit against Closer.

Babin’s family does not believe the production's public version of events and filed formal charges for assault without intention to kill and aggravated manslaughter for violations of health and safety, as well as several related misdemeanors last week. In their testimony, they said that during a brief meeting while in Cambodia to retrieve Babin's body, Costa was surrounded by alcohol bottles and seemed to be withholding information.

“He began to talk while looking down and never looked us in the eyes. He was embarrassed. He stammered,” said father Alex Babin. “I think he wanted to say something, but he couldn’t. He was held back by the production company.” Sister Alexandra Babin said that Costa was “trembling, stammering and sweating,” and that when Costa’s version did not match Broginart’s, he was told: “You don’t remember.”

Brogniart countered their version of events, stating they all met over a long dinner where drinks were served, and that the conversation “lasted for hours.”

“He spoke calmly, and kindly, looking straight into their eyes,” said Brogniart about the doctor. “He did not come with ready-made phrases like in the movies. Yes, sometimes I intervened to ask him to clarify a technical point.”

The family’s testimony also describes crass treatment from ALP, saying they were first informed of the death during a brief phone call from a low-level member of the production company. They also say that the production resisted sending relatives to Cambodia to retrieve his body.

"We had to beg, really beg, [ALP] and TF1 to send my in-laws and myself to Cambodia to take charge of the funeral,” said Babin’s partner of seven years. “We had to get on hands and knees to get the production to pay for the tickets.”

ALP spokeswoman Stephanie Clemente said the accusation was false. “We learned the night of March 22nd the body would not be repatriated for five days, and we immediately decided to send the family at our expense.”

In another interview with newspaper Le Parisien, Brogniart also said those claims were false. “They had to insist on nothing. We quickly decided to take the family, paying for all expenses. We thought it would be his parents, sister and girlfriend,” he said, adding that the extended family’s numbers climbed to eight. “More than half of them had no passport. In an hour and a half, TF1 got temporary passports for everyone.”

Following Babin’s death, ALP immediately suspended production and TF1 canceled the full season of the show, though no decision has been made on its future. “I do not know if I will leave Koh-Lanta,” said Brogniart. “This is not our concern at this time.”