Choosing My Religion: Finding God on Reality TV

Turkish reality TV show aims to convert non-believers.

ByABC News
August 6, 2009, 11:16 AM

ISTANBUL, August 6, 2009 — -- Channel T is not exactly one of the major players in the Turkish television business. And the niche station, tucked away in a commercial area of Istanbul, has made headlines primarily because of the woman who runs it, Seyhan Soylu. Often simply called "Sisi" by the press, the 36 year old is a former police officer and journalist, a transsexual and the enfant terrible of Turkey.

At 20, the son of a diplomat and graduate of a police academy had a sex change operation. At 22, Sisi appeared on the cover page of an issue of Playboy, and since then she has developed an interest in politics on a bigger scale. As an employee of "state services," Soylu allegedly took part in the overthrow of fundamentalist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997. Last September, the eloquent blonde with the tattooed upper arms was even arrested and briefly detained on suspicion of membership in Ergenekon, a shadowy, ultra-nationalist organization Ankara believes has plotted to overthrow the government.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that Sisi also happens to be the force behind the country's most controversial television program. For weeks, a reality show dreamed up by the head of Channel T and called "Tövbekarlar yarisiyor" ("Penitents Compete") has been at the center of public discussion. The show focuses on 12 atheists and several religious dignitaries, including a Catholic and an Orthodox priest, a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk.