It was a Mother’s Day episode sure to pull in big ratings.
Autumn Allen, a 13-year-old Cambodian pop star, was set to be reunited with her mother on an episode of the Cambodian television show Penh Chet Ort (Like It or Not).
Allen had not seen her mother in nearly a decade, after her father took her from the United States to live in Cambodia with him when she was just six years old. The young singer tearfully recalled her mother’s last words to her in front of the TV audience as she waited for the long hoped-for reunion: “She held me and kissed me and told me that she would always love me.”
But the emotionally-charged reunion was not to be. According to Cambodian newspaper Phnom Penh Post, the promised reunion was a set-up, and out walked Like It or Not judge Chuop Rolin, dressed in drag.
“What are you thinking, did you think it was real?” one of the show’s presenters asked the shaken girl.
“I don’t know,” Allen replied with a nervous giggle.
“The producer was stupid and brainless and heartless by playing around with the mind and heart of a 13 year old girl in this way,” Cambodian political analyst and founder of the Future Forum Virak Ou wrote in a Facebook post.
“Such a brainless and shameful trick from [network] MyTV,” wrote another viewer, according to the Post. “How can you play with her feelings like this?”
The backlash was so great that MyTV was forced to apologize for the mean-spirited prank.
“We produced that program to make Allen and other people happy,” the show’s producer told the Cambodian paper. “We wanted to send Allen a message that although she has no mother, our team loves her as family so that we play with her to make her smile… I know it is wrong and we will have special program for her on Oh La La program.”
Meanwhile, the girl swallowed the disappointment and took the prank good-naturedly, though she said still misses her mother and hopes she gets to see her again.
“At the moment I was sad I could not see my real mother, but I had fun doing the show,” Allen told the Post. “My dad was very proud of how I handled myself in the situation. He took me to a nice restaurant afterward.”
Allen also took to her Facebook page to thank her fans for their support, saying the show’s producers apologized to her personally and that she has “forgiven them.”
The cruel prank was not the only thing for which the show’s producers were bashed; in another Faceook post, Virak Ou said the “cross-dressing comedian” punchline is stale and offensive to gay people.
“It is also time to stop the senseless ‘comedy’ of screaming and making fun of gay people,” Ou wrote. “It’s discriminatory, it’s not funny when lives are affected. Why do Cambodian audience finds them funny? I don’t. The sketchs are always similar with people screaming off their lungs, and then the cross dressing guy who would be abused and made to hurt. How’s that funny?”
Check out the full segment above.