Backlash as tsunami survivor forced to relive terror in drowning challenge

Sarah Carty
Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

Survivor Australia has come under fire online, after last night’s episode saw tsunami survivor Sarah Ayles compete in a simulated drowning challenge.

Sarah was in Sri Lanka on Boxing Day in 2004, when the tsunami struck off the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia, leaving more than 35,000 people dead.

The cleaner was lucky to get out alive but last night there’s no doubt traumatic memories from that day would have come streaming back, when she was put in a chamber of water in Fiji on the Channel 10 reality show.

Survivor Australia has come under fire online, after last night’s episode saw tsunami survivor Sarah Ayles compete in a simulated drowning challenge. Photo: Channel 10
Sarah was in Sri Lanka in 2004 when the tsunami hit. Photo: Channel 10

Sarah lay in the chamber as a member of her team dashed to get buckets of water to throw on top of her, until the chamber filled up to the brim with water.

The challenge was designed to see which contestants could last the longest under the water and win their team immunity from elimination.

Host, Jonathan LaPaglia, could be heard trying to motivate the contestants by asking them: “How do you push past that primal desire to survive” and “How much can you take on before you panic?”

This didn’t go down too well with fans of the show on Twitter, with people shocked that Sarah was subjected to the challenge.

“Putting Sarah the tsunami survivor in a “tap-out-or-you-drown” challenge is an awful move,” one person said.

“This does not look at all triggering for a tsunami survivor,” another person said.

“Why would you put a tsunami survivor in this? Cruelty porn,” an angry fan of the show said.

Speaking about the challenge after she was eliminated last night, Sarah told 10 Daily it did bring back from awful memories for her.

“Emotionally, I was a lot more wrecked -- I mean, I was proud of myself, I did my absolute best -- but in my head at the time, apart from trying to keep my breath and trying not to panic, I was actually aware of the fact that this is how people had died,” she said.

“I survived, but so many other people drowned, and by putting myself in that box, I was in a bit of a simulated situation where you hold your breath - but at some point, people just have to take that breath of water in.”

Channel 10 has been contacted for comment.

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