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TV quiz show brings frowns to faces in the 'Land of Smiles'

Monday, April 8, 2002

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The verbal blood sport of "The Weakest Link" may seem like harmless fun in most of the 70-odd countries it has taken by storm, but in Thailand it is causing uproar.

While claiming high ratings, the Thai version of the TV quiz show has reduced contestants to tears, provoked national outrage and drawn an official plea to the producers to show mercy.

Even the prime minister says he's a bit upset.

Critics say the show goes against the grain in Thailand, where politeness is a supreme virtue and disagreement is often expressed by smiling. This is, after all, a country whose airport welcomes visitors to "the Land of Smiles."

Launched in February by a Thai production company, the show follows the format of its original British version: Players in teams of eight answer quiz questions in pursuit of 1 million baht, about $23,000 -- a fortune in a country whose average household income is under $300 a month.

After each round, the team votes to eject the least helpful member, who is then dismissed by the hostess with a snippy remark followed by "Khun khe jud orn. Chern kha!" -- "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!"

Internet postings have denounced the show as "shameless" and "immoral." Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said, "I felt rather stressed out after watching the show."

In a letter to privately owned Channel 3, which is broadcasting the show, the government-sponsored National Youth Bureau said: "The show is promoting fierce competition and selfishness among participants. This contravenes Thai generosity."

"I was shocked," the show's hostess, Kritika Kongsompong, told The Associated Press.

"I had braced myself for this but the real criticism was harsher and way over the top."

After receiving the letter, Channel 3 told Kritika to tone down her sharpest barbs, for example "tua thuang kwam charoen," a highly insulting phrase in Thailand despite its benign translation: "Who's the weight dragging you down?"


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