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Contestant Eliminated on Greece's Next Top Model Because of Her Phobia

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A contestant on Greece’s Next Top Model was eliminated Tuesday after she was unable to complete an underwater photo shoot because of a water phobia. During elimination, the judges said she hadn’t tried hard enough to get over her fear.

Sofia Zachariadou, 23, had a traumatic experience years ago and almost drowned. She has had trouble with water ever since. For the photo shoot, the models were supposed to pose underwater in a pool. Zachariadou managed to get into the water with the help of a lifeguard, but wasn’t able to go completely underwater.

During the shoot, the other models and one of the judges, Vicky Kaya, tried to get her in the water. Eventually, Zachariadou stood up for herself and told everyone to stop pushing her. She said her panic took over and “won.”

Zachariadou was eliminated because of her inability to complete the shoot. The judges compared her to another contestant who doesn’t know how to swim but was able to get a photo despite her fears. The other model didn’t have a traumatic experience, and phobias, like Zachariadou’s, go beyond a typical fear. Anxiety disorders, including phobias, are the most prevalent mental health conditions and affect 1 in 13 globally, according to the World Health Organization.

“It’s very big, this psychological trauma I have,” Zachariadou said on the show. “I don’t know how and if I will be able to get over it, but at the photo shoot I managed to get over it enough to get in the water and as far as I did, which is something I’ve never done.”

In the episode, Kaya tries to use logic to convince Zachariadou to do the photo shoot. However, phobias are irrational and can affect you even when you know your fear doesn’t make sense. This concept was lost on the judges, who eliminated Zachariadou. They couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get over her fear when she was able to touch the bottom and also had a lifeguard with her. Argyro, a viewer of the show who also translated the clips for The Mighty into English, shared her thoughts on the handling of Zachariadou’s situation:

Watching that episode, I felt a mixture of anger and deep sadness. The way people treated trauma as an inconvenience and insisted the participant was not trying hard enough and should therefore be punished for it, shocked me. I don’t understand this. They think her fear is irrational and of course it doesn’t make any logical sense, but it’s real. That’s what trauma does, you cannot overcome it with logic, otherwise we would all just switch it off and get on with our lives.

At Argyro’s request, The Mighty is using her first name only. 

Kaya shrugged off Zachariadou’s phobia, telling the aspiring model that she never tried to “fight it” or “get over it” in the past. An effective treatment for phobias is through therapy, specifically exposure therapy, but confronting the phobia takes time and the help of a mental health professional.

Other viewers expressed their issues with the episode on Twitter, scolding the judges for not understanding the seriousness of a phobia and trauma’s impact.

Argyro said Zachariadou was treated as an inconvenience and punished for her trauma. She said she worries about the impact the show’s message could have on young people — that mental health is an inconvenience and people should be blamed for their struggles.

Originally published: October 18, 2018
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