My American Brother Starred in a Chinese Dating Show
Years of learning at some of China’s top universities came to fruition for my brother when he was selected to star in the country’s most popular dating show. Mark is a brave man who volunteered for the role not to find love, but for the experience of it all. And what an experience it was.
If You Are the One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao) is something of an institution in China. Considering the enormous population of China, it’s probably the most popular dating show in the world. For each segment (there are several per episode) a man makes takes the stage and 24 women size him up. At that moment, a woman can opt out and turn off the lights in her booth. Others stick around to see what the guy is all about and ask some questions. Some slickly-produced videos tell the man’s backstory – including the history of his love life – and an elderly pair provides running commentary throughout the episodes. At the end, the man can choose from any of the women who kept their lights on. Or if he’s unlucky, all the women will have said no before the segment comes to an end.
Mark, a capable networker in Beijing, met a producer of the show through a friend and was invited to apply. My brother’s Mandarin skills are impeccable, but in a past episode a man went on stage with a translator. Another bumbled his way through without understanding what was being said. The show higher ups were keen to get Mark on since, as a foreigner, he’s something of a gimmick.
Despite an average of around 37 million viewers, the show has slipped in popularity ever since the government cracked down on the materialism of the contestants. One woman said on air that she’d rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on a bicycle, and the outrage of the shallowness of the show caused producers – at the urging of the government – to retool the values shown on screen. Now it’s much more wholesome.
Ready for the Spotlight
Still, I was worried he was being asked on to make a fool of himself. Laughing at the foreigner seems to be a national pastime in China. I had total confidence in him, but I’ve read complaints on American shows of footage being edited in misleading ways. Mark was totally unfazed and looking forward to the show.
A week before he went on stage, a producer and cameraman came to his Beijing apartment to film a couple videos to show the eligible ladies on the show. They followed him around his day-to-day routine, filmed his friends vouching for him and even produced a short video with an actress about his past relationships with Chinese girls. The videos were very well-produced, and while I didn’t know what was being said, I thought he came across quite well. After filming, my brother took the crew out for dinner drinks. What a gentleman.
Finally, the big day approached and he took a train from Beijing to Nanjing and was put up in a decent hotel. The next day, filming on stage began. Backstage, he was urged to drink some baiju, which is a powerful rice whisky that most foreigners can’t stomach.
“The producers asked us all to take 3-4 shots before,” Mark said. “I only took 2.”
Then, his moment again. He confidently took the stage and looked sharp. Later, he told me he bought the shirt he wore back in high school. Frugality reigns supreme with the two of us. Of course, he didn’t tell any of the girls on the show this. Early in his segment, I laughed when a baby photo of the two of us was shown on screen.
Mark admitted to his friends afterwards that he was super nervous. The crowd – or the person running the post-production laugh track – seemed to enjoy his responses. I had no idea what was going on in the show, but after some talks with the girls, they all turned off their lights. Mark didn’t win, but his email address was shown on screen for the home viewers.
“All I have to say is the experience was rewarding and although I was unsuccessful, I did receive 600 emails from interested girls and mothers of girls, in addition to two guys. Live and learn.”
After the show, he met up with a bunch of contestants backstage and they went out for drinks. He missed out on a trip to Maldives by not matching with anyone, which would have been nice, but Mark has no regrets about his foray into Chinese dating shows. When the episode aired a couple weeks later, he and his roommate were laughing at the segment. All his friends were amused, as well.
Well done, brother.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?