South Korean TV station scraps matchmaking show after suicide

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean television station said on Friday it was pulling the plug on a popular reality matchmaking show after the shock suicide of a female contestant sparked a storm of criticism.

The decision by SBS, one of South Korea's three major TV stations, came two days after the 29-year-old committed suicide during a week-long production shoot in the southern island of Jeju.

"We have decided to close the show," SBS said in a statement, apologising to viewers and pledging steps aimed at preventing similar incidents.

Police said the contestant, surnamed Chun, apparently hanged herself with a hair dryer cord.

The weekly show "Jjak" (The Mate) known for putting its contestants under intense emotional pressure sequesters about 10 men and women in the same guesthouse, dubbed "Lovetown", for a week while they are filmed by TV crew and surveillance cameras.

The participants, clad in matching uniforms, are put through various physical challenges in hopes of getting a date out of one of their fellow contestants, before making a final choice at the end of the week.

SBS did not accept any direct responsibility for her suicide, but newspapers have carried interviews with past participants who spoke of feeling bullied and humiliated.

Ms Chun was favoured by three male contestants at the beginning of the shoot, but they had a change of heart and ended up competing over another woman.

Her mother told one newspaper that her daughter, in their last phone conversation, had said she would not be able to live in South Korea if the show was aired.

Friends said Ms Chun had also complained the producers were trying to depict her as an unpopular, "tragic girl".

Police have been investigating whether the show and its producers had played any role in Ms Chun's decision to take her own life, and were examining video footage recorded in the past week.

South Korea's vibrant and highly competitive TV industry has no shortage of reality shows involving everything from singing auditions to plastic surgery.

In "Let Me In," one of the most popular shows, two female contestants tearfully compete for a chance to get costly, head-to-toe plastic surgery.

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