South Korean broadcaster SBS has canceled popular dating show Jiak after a female contestant was found dead by suicide on-set.
Police report the 29-year-old woman, identified only by her surname, Jeon, hung herself with a hairdryer cord in the bathroom of the residence in which the show is filmed — a guesthouse referred to on the show as “Lovetown,” located on the tropical South Korean island of Jeju.
Modeled loosely on Big Brother, Jiak features seven men and five women living together and competing for dates. The house is equipped with cameras in every room but the bathroom. The contestants are compelled to wear matching uniforms and face off at various games and physical challenges to win a partner.
According to local reports, Jeon told her mother by phone that she felt ashamed of the way she was going to appear on the program and “wouldn’t be able to live in South Korea” if it aired. Fellow contestants have said Jeon was favored by several men on the show near the start of the shoot, before a collective change of heart led them to pursue another contestant. She reportedly complained to friends that the show’s producers were trying to portray her as an unpopular “tragic type.”
Despite being a world economic power and a technologically advanced nation, South Korean society remains deeply traditional and the family structure tends to be rigid. Young women in particular are under enormous pressure to conform to social mores and marry, the younger the better.
Since Jeon’s death, local press have hammered the show for its bullying treatment of contestants, including a rule that requires them to eat meals alone when they are rejected by potential dates.
“We have decided to close the show,” SBS said in a public statement of apology to viewers, denying responsibility but saying it is taking steps to prevent similar incidents.
South Korea is known for its boundary-pushing reality television. The country’s penchant for plastic surgery is reflected in Let Me In, a wildly popular show that features emotive female contestants competing for a head-to-toe plastic surgery package — the costly and radically transformative results are cheered at each season’s final reveal.
South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world, at 28 people per 100,000.