Television Dating Shows in China vs. the US

Full disclosure: This post isn’t going to be as fun for people who don’t come from countries with a history of absolutely reprehensible dating programs. My apologies.

I came across this article in the China Daily today about a hot new dating show that’s drawing viewers and criticism for it’s fast-paced style and “moral ambiguity”:

The dating show If You Are The One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao) has created a buzz because of its morally ambiguous and visually electrifying format.

Every Saturday and Sunday night on Jiangsu Satellite Television, a jury of 24 single women question one guy, watch his introductory video and press light buttons to determine whether he should remain on the show.

In turn, the guy can choose his favorite girl and if he survives the “trial”, he will have a chance to pick a girl for a date.

Audiences have been intrigued by the guests’ outspoken remarks and the occasional arguments that break out.

Flashpoints include issues such as household chores, whether a wedded couple should live with the husband’s parents, if car and house ownership matters more than love, and whether or not a career should be sacrificed for love.

Gasp! Sounds pretty edgy. And indeed, some people think so:

“The show is as dramatic as a TV soap opera,” says Liu Tingting, a married office worker in Beijing and regular viewer of the show.

“It reaches one climax after another every two or three minutes. It features a potpourri of hot topics such as mortgage slaves, the income gap between the rich and poor, and being single, which constantly prick people’s nerves.”

[…]

“The show is more than a dating game. It is like a multi-dimensional mirror that reflects social values.”

Another negative opinion is that the show makes light of serious social issues.

“The popularity of television dating programs reflects a collective anxiety of single people, particularly the colony of “sheng nan” and “sheng nu” (singles who are in their late 20s and over 30), and their families,” said Xiang Jianxin, vice-president of Baihe.com, a Beijing-based dating network company.

“They long for marriage, yet they lack a sense of security in love and their other relationships.”

Xiang said television dating programs should play a role in helping these people, instead of commercializing their problems.

Indeed, it would be awesome if dating shows actually helped people, but all I could think about reading this article is how much more wholesome this show sounds than almost any dating show on TV in the States, where we literally had a television series that consisted of giving ugly women extensive plastic surgery to make them into “swans”.

Think about how fucked up that is for a second. In fact, if you weren’t aware that programs like The Swan existed (though it’s since been canceled, thank God), I’ll give you a few minutes to wander around your house swearing and breaking things.

Finished? Good.

Seriously, China has some serious social issues that are bound to crop up any time a dating show tries to be anything more than a cliche. And I’ve never seen the show, so maybe it really does ruffle some feathers. But having seen TONS of American dating shows that glorify self-hatred, plastic surgery, teenage pregnancy, over-the-top materialism and extremely stereotypical body image and gender roles, I have to say, this show sounds positively refreshing. American dating shows could stand to have a more conversations about marriage, household chores, and the effect money has on romance.

Has anyone actually seen the show?



25 Comments

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  1. Actually, yes, I’ve seen the show and my girlfriend is pretty hooked on it, enough for her to be rather displeased when it didn’t air this past weekend, apparently in observance of the Qinghai Earthquake mourning. She apparently wasn’t the only one either.

    The show has its good moments as well as its bad, though the bad usually involves people getting rejected on national prime-time television. You end up feeling that it can be somewhat cruel but, then again, it is a dating show.

    The format is something like this: Each bachelor basically makes his appearance, is asked to select one of the 24 girls as the one he is attracted to off the bat, and then the girls get a chance to indicate with their lights whether or not they’re interested. This gets the physical compatibility issue out of the way immediately. Occasionally, all 24 girls will extinguish their lights at this stage, leaving the bachelor to go home immediately, suggesting he’s that physically unattractive or he made himself that horribly unattractive with the entrance he made.

    If the guy makes it past the initial round, the host will ask why some girls extinguished their lights and blah blah. Then they run a short video where the bachelor gives a brief introduction about himself, usually including his basic stats, where he’s from, what he does, his income, etc. While the video plays, the remaining girls can extinguish their lights if they lose interest. Again, at any time the lights all go out, dramatic failure music plays and the guy has to exit the stage.

    If there are still lights on after the video, there’s another round of the host asking the girls some questions with some back and forth chit chat involving the bachelor.

    Next is a video where the guy’s friends or family give their testimony about him, I think (I’m usually only paying attention randomly). Again, the girls can extinguish as they please.

    If any lights remain, the guy has made it to the round where he again has a choice. If there are more than 2 lights left on, he can go and extinguish the ones he’s not interested in, leaving 2 remaining plus the one girl he had chosen at the beginning. He usually thanks and shakes hands with those he rejects here.

    The two girls go across the stage and the third girl, his original choice, then joins them. At this point, he can ask a few more questions, often involving their past relationships or their opinions on various things like marriage or household chores, etc.

    After that, he has a choice. If he chooses any girl that was interested in him, he can escort her off the stage. He can, however, insist on the girl that he had chosen at the beginning but if she had extinguished her light previously, she doesn’t have to accept and can still reject him. Therefore, he runs a risk of walking off alone if he still tries to go for his original choice. If he walks off with anyone, lovey-dovey music plays and then there’s a brief interview of the couple off-stage afterward.

    The show definitely shows a lot about modern Chinese society but as a show, it definitely has some contrived elements to it.

    • Jay K.

      wow…it is actually the first time i agreed to what kai has stated.

      anyways for the guys who don’t know the show here is a clip. in this particular episode i choose(on purpose) a laowai is in the show.

      i think some of the things are setup though.

      anyways 3:00 into it they introduce the girls
      they first have the chinese guys get a shot at the ladies, then at the 22:00 markt hey throw a curveball.

  2. King Tubby

    Really love the friends, family and work unit video testimonial. Past relationships: that could get sordid, but the income question wouldn’t fly in the West. Quite often married couples dont know each others income.

  3. hm

    Actually! I always thought “reality” dating shows in America were really dirty and consisted of desperate for attention people who would do almost…really… anything possible on camera.

    I remember watching “Blind Date”… and they had make out sessions and jacuzzi dates. it was more like… “Find your one night stand/ hook up” or “Get your 15 minutes of fame by doing dirty things”. Shows like these would be even more outrageous/ preposterous to the Chinese public!

  4. B-real

    I can’t stand turning on my TV in China so I haven’t seen it or heard of it. But I hate dating shows across the board. Unless we are talking about korean dating shows they are great because they turn everything into a battle of the genders. man VS man and women vs women. The last of the genders left standing have to show their abilities to the opposite sex. Then they vote who gets to pair with the opposie sex. Then it become couples vs couples. The last couple standing are of course the winners. But then I realize they are all actors. But I also don’t understand what they are saying which makes it even funnier.

    Back to subject at hand, American dating shows just give the public what they want to see, SEX. 1 attractive women, 1 attractive man both hoping to get laid with a suitable mate. And what is interesting to brain dead Americans are the personalities of the individuals. The shows never really show what a real relationship in real life turns out to be about. Its just simply about SEX today. Who cares about tomorrow?

    Judging from how Kai broke it down its like a game show theme. Its a brilliant concept. I would love to see an english version of it. If anyone has a link of the Chinese version that would be a good start.

  5. pug_ster

    I’m not into these ‘dating’ shows and perhaps they are geared toward more women than men. There are plenty of ‘soap opera’ type shows that is coming from Hong Kong, China, and South Korea already and maybe this is something new.

    Hopefully within a couple of years China will relax its controls of the media business have more variety of shows. Personally, I like Extreme Makeover: Home edition and I wish they could’ve done something like this in the Reconstruction effort in Qinghai.

  6. William

    Actually, it sounds like the “serious social issues” in Chinese culture are what makes the show interesting. Any chance this is going to show up on youtube with subtitles?

  7. i would so watch it if i could find it anywhere subbed.

    in china i’ve heard some young people describe how it’s hard to ‘have to’ marry at a certain age, the importance of money and for women, living with her in-laws but to hear that to a broader extent – minus the cheesy music – would be very interesting

  8. i would so watch it if i could find it anywhere subbed.

    in china i’ve heard some young people describe how it’s hard to ‘have to’ marry at a certain age, the importance of money and for women, living with her in-laws but to hear that to a broader extent – minus the cheesy music – would be very interesting

  9. Ted

    Edgy will be when they put a white guy on the show;) That would be a hell of a social experiment.

    • I agree, or any other non-Chinese or non-Asian. On 《我们约会吧》 (a similar show), they did have a White guy once, but on that particular episode they also had a White girl as part of the “jury”. They turned out to be from the same town and supposedly it was a coincidence, but really felt like a setup. But ultimately they hooked up because all the Chinese girls indicated they weren’t interested (by pushing the buttons in front of them) due to distance and different cultures and whatnot. But I’m curious if they would have done the same if there wasn’t a White girl there.

    • If I recall correctly, there actually was a white guy who appeared on the show before (and there was/is a mixed girl too, I think). I forgot what happened but he may have made it to the last round before getting turned down or something. My girlfriend and I were both bemused, openly speculating that any girl who dared to go with him on public TV would’ve been completely torn apart online by a bunch of insecure Chinese guys.

    • friendo

      Oh yes, how edgy and new- putting a white male up with “Asian” females. I mean Hollywood only spews this crap 24/7, so why not infest Chinese airwaves with this tired old trope as well?

      It’s not like white males are privileged enough. More privilege for white males, stat!

  10. I haven’t seen this one but it sounds so much like Hunan TV’s 《我们约会吧》, which I watch now and then. It does seem kind of cruel to the guy who gets voted out or the girls who get rejected, but people should know what they’re getting into when they sign up for a dating show. The host is freakishly androgynous but he’s good at speaking for the participants when they get tongue-tied so nothing gets too awkward or heated. I think it’s pretty entertaining and harmless. But again that’s 《我们约会吧》, I dunno about “If You Are The One”.

  11. Jones

    Why are you watching so many dating shows?

  12. Mr. Wok

    Hehe, its a fun show. Not to be taken seriously. Though I just watch it for laughs. Some of those girls are biatches. However, there’s a few cuties on there.

    Another similar show on Hunan Satellite TV is named ‘Take Me Out’ i think.

    youku did an interview with one of the girls on the Jiangsu TV show. she said nothing serious could ever happen between her and the guy whom picked her.

    Whatever, thats why its called entertainment.

  13. MCool

    A couple months ago I did a show called Fei Cheng Wu Rao only it was a Henan TV show. It was sort of a big brother meets the bachelor type reality show with cheesy competitions thrown in. I spent 7 days living in a mansion with 4 other guys and 5 girls (i was the only foreigner in the cast). Talk about the social issues here. One of the competitions we did the guy had to please the girls ‘mom.’ Despite my best efforts, my girl’s mom, a hired actress of course, just kept repeating ‘我就不喜欢外国人‘ no matter what I did….. Can you imagine seeing this on an American reality show?? haha maybe.

    • Sam

      Maybe not on the reality show but on the craigslist everyday. Being honest and being political correct are sometimes mutual exclusive, you know?

  14. Nightcat

    Actually I thought of them as little more than your typical TV shows really – my girlfriend watches them and sometimes I do too. But this isn’t anything new; this show was originally playing in the UK before Christmas last year (Take Me Out, hosted by Patrick McGuinness).

  15. 《我们约会吧》 is also reversing the genders these days, having a girl face a “jury” of guys. It’s interesting to watch the gender dynamics switched.

    • And interesting how there’s no politically correctness in talking about weight here (yesterday’s episode). Nobody will come straight out and say that someone is ugly, but it’s okay to say someone’s fat, I guess because everyone sees it as something that can/should be fixed.