The Colony: articles

'Living history' actor found dead

The makers of the Australian reality TV show The Colony have been shocked by the apparent suicide of a British teenager who took part in the “living history” series.

Carina Stephenson, 17, was found dead in woodland near her home in Yorkshire on Saturday, two days after she was reported missing, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Her death is not being treated as suspicious.

The Colony, which featured Stephenson, her parents John and Liz and her 12-year-old brother Tyler, was filmed in the Hawkesbury area north of Sydney over four months last year.

The six-part series, which sought to recreate the lives of settlers and convicts 200 years ago, was made by Australia’s Hilton Cordell Productions and shown on SBS TV early this year.

“SBS is shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Carina Stephenson,” SBS, a co-financier of the show, said in a statement.

“We wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy to her family at this difficult time.”

Stephenson’s death again raises the issue of the psychological impact reality television shows can have on contestants.

However, Chris Hilton, from Hilton Cordell Productions, said the Stephenson family had at no time expressed any unhappiness about the show.

“I spoke to the family last night and there was no suggestion that The Colony was involved at all,” he told AAP.

“I think the full story will come out, but it’s not really my job to speculate on the reasons.

“It’s not possible for me to talk about the internal circumstances of poor Carina other than to say that we’re deeply sorry that this happened.

“She was a great girl, it was an absolute tragedy and we’re terribly sorry.”

Britain’s The History Channel, which co-financed the series, said it would respect the family’s wishes in deciding whether to broadcast the show in the UK from June, as scheduled.

A spokeswoman for the channel rejected any suggestion that the show could have led to the teenager’s death, saying the family returned to Britain nearly six months ago “very positive about the experience”.

“They had been living the life of a convict family, along with families from Ireland and Australia, and were given a certain amount of provisions to live on. If there had been any upset or distress they could have gone home at any point. It’s not Big Brother,” she told the Guardian, referring to the TV reality show.

“The Stephenson family were chosen by producers because they were a very likeable family.”

Carina, who had recently revealed she was a lesbian, appeared “happy and normal” in the days before her death, according to her family.

The Colony, currently being screened on the Irish channel RTE, is an example of living history television, in which participants recreate the challenges of the past.

Each family of “free settlers” was assigned three “convicts” and set various challenges throughout their stay in Australia, including hunger, illness, extreme weather and homesickness.

Earlier this year, Najai Turpin, a contestant in the US boxing reality show The Contender, shot himself just three weeks before the series was due to be screened. The broadcaster NBC denied any responsibility.

A similar controversy hit Sweden’s Expedition: Robinson, one of the earliest reality shows. Sinisa Savija, 34, committed suicide after becoming the first contestant to be voted off the show, two months before it aired.

May 23, 2005