October Issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

Saad Khan, 32, father of four children, tragically lost his life on August 19 while completing a challenge for a reality show that was being filmed in Bangkok, Thailand. Sponsored by Unilever Pakistan, the winner of the 13-episode show was to be crowned as the brand ambassador for Clear shampoo (a Unilever product).

On September 14, nearly a month after Mr Khan’s death, Newsline’s Amna Khalique had the opportunity to interview Fareshteh Aslam, 
external communications manager 
at Unilever Pakistan. Newsline is publishing this interview in two parts. Below is Part 1.

To read Amna Khalique’s in-depth article on the tragedy, “Who is to Blame?” please pick up a copy of the October issue of Newsline on newsstands now.

Q: Can you give me the details of the reality show and the events leading up to Saad Khan’s death?

A: It was in Bangkok at the Wachira Benchatat Park. This was the 10th episode that was being filmed out of 13. Twelve of them were to be filmed in Bangkok with the finale in Karachi. They started shooting this a month before this incident took place and they went through all the earlier rounds. Around the third or fourth round, Saad was the first contestant to be eliminated. As per the rules of the reality show, they didn’t give any indication to the other contestants that he could come back as a wild-card entry. Following his elimination, he was told that he had a chance to come back in another episode to stay on in the competition. Up to the recording of the 10th episode, four were eliminated while three of them were finalists. Out of the four, any one of them could have been a wild-card entry. When all four of them were revealed to these guys on the day of the incident, they expected the other three, and not Saad, to be there since he was the first person to be eliminated.

Q: Did the other contestants know that the wild-card entry even existed?

A: No, not at all. It was a surprise to them during the 10th episode when all four were revealed as the finalists. Saad was the first one to be eliminated from the show during the third episode. And from the third to the ninth, three other contestants were eliminated as well.

Q: Was the entire show filmed in the same park?

A: No, it was various locations, all over Bangkok; some in a studio while others in an outdoor location.

Q: What was the challenge that Saad Khan had to perform?

A: The four finalists were asked to put on backpacks weighing 7 kgs each, run 30 metres on a flat ground of slightly hilly terrain in between two ropes that were on fire, three meters apart. They then had to dive into the pond, wade or swim across it, either which way. Two of them walked across using the ropes that were on side. The third one swam across and Saad was also swimming across.

After this they had to climb a ladder that was set in trees and [move] across the trees on ropes. It was a tallish tree and there were three ladders there. The first three were allowed to climb the tree, while the fourth one was automatically eliminated. They had to go across one tree to another using their arms and then come down a metal structure. This was the full challenge of this round.

Q: So the pond had ropes along the side? Did the contestants know about it?

A: I spoke to one, who was the third contestant (Saad being the fourth) who actually swam across. He said that whoever got there first, saw the rope very clearly, caught hold of it and literally waded across.

Q: How deep was the pond?

A: It was a natural pond, so I think around the sides it was about four feet deep and in the centre it was six to eight feet deep. I do want to make one thing clear at this point: all this information has come through a third party source. Either from the contestants who were already there or Aamina Sheikh who was the host [of the reality show]. None of this is absolutely confirmed to me, so when I tell you this it’s as I know it as this point. Very often I’ve made a comment and later been proven that’s not the case, and I’ve changed my statement. As we speak, Thai authorities are still conducting an investigation into this incident. We are awaiting the reports of a blood test, which takes 45 days.

Q: Were all of them in the pond at the same time?

A: No they weren’t. When this happened, Saad was right at the end. The third contestant was on the ladder, while the first two were on the ropes.

Q: Were any of them wearing life jackets?

A: They were all offered life jackets, but they all refused.

Q: So it wasn’t compulsory for them to wear life jackets?

A: No, unfortunately it wasn’t made compulsory.

Q: Were there any divers present?

A: Look, it’s a six-feet [deep] pond. I don’t think they saw the need to have divers.

Q: What about other safety personnel?

A: There was an ambulance and paramedics.

Q: Was anyone from Unilever present for the filming of the show?

A: Nobody from Unilever was present there because, typically, we outsource these things. These aren’t done by Unilever because we don’t have the expertise to do these things and this is why it is outsourced to agencies who do have the expertise.

Q: In this case, which agency was the show outsourced to?

A: This was Mindshare, which has an activation department called Broadmind. So Broadmind were the producers on the ground.

Q: What is the name of the production house involved in the filming of the show?

A: It was the one in Bombay called Working Hands.

Q: Is it a big, well-known production house? Have they done such shows before?

A: It’s a guy named Ajay Gupta who has done reality shows before like Voice of India and Chote Ustaad.

Q: Can I have the contact information for Working Hands?

A: I will try to get that for you. But maybe you should contact Mindshare for it because they contacted all these people.

Q: So Unilever wasn’t involved?

A: No, not at all. We don’t do these things. I know [everyone’s] saying that it’s a Unilever show, but we were only the sponsors. The whole thing was outsourced to Mindshare. Now many people may not know it, but Mindshare is a huge group. It is one of the largest WPP groups, biggest advertisers, everything. We at least expected them to have the security checks in place.

Click here to read Part 2 of Amna Khalique’s interview with Unilever spokesperson Fareshteh Aslam.