Surviving Henan TV's dating reality show

This article was contributed by Matt Cool. Matt Cool has been living in Zhengzhou teaching and studying Chinese in his spare time for two years. You can watch Matt loose his dignity on Fei Cheng Wu Rao (非诚物扰) on Henan TV.

It wasn’t until I was standing in front of the cameras in a wrestling fatigue doing muscle poses that I realized I had yet again bit off more than I could chew in China. How does this happen? Miscommunication? Ignorance? A desire to see foreigners looking foolish on Chinese TV? As I went through the muscle poses and performed a near flawless worm on the floor, I thought back to the many times my expat friends and I had been duped in China: the trip to the mountain, the basketball game, my PSB forced confession… the list goes on. As I stood holding the 1000 yuan prize, I knew that this was going to be the basketball game all over again. Even with prior experience in the Chinese unexpected, I was not prepared for Henan reality TV.

Lan Lan and I. Like me, she was pretending on the show

About a week before I got onto the show, a friend told me a TV station was looking for a foreigner to be thrown into a dating show and ‘mix things up a bit’. Having had a few friends do TV spots before and having no concern about my reputation, humiliation, or face, I agreed to do it. Knowing full well that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I waited for more information. Finally, a dinner had been arranged to discuss the details of my role.

The conversation that night went something like this:

Me: So… What exactly do I have to do?

Cute Producer Girl: You have to live in a mansion with 4 other guys and 5 girls and do competitions.

Me: Haha. Great! (Thinking Big Brother, Real World) Ok, so how long will this take?

Cute Producer Girl: 6 days

Me: Whoa, 6 days?!?! How many episodes are we talking about here?

Cute Producer Girl: 8 episodes

Me: huh… ok. So when do we start

Cute Producer Girl: Tomorrow at 6AM

Me: Wha??

Cute Producer Girl: (giggles)

For the next six days, I was subjected to late night testimonials, cheesy competitions, and reality TV drama. Often there were times when I was told directly what to say but I did get some freedom to create my own reality TV persona. Many of the competitions were rigged. About half the cast thought it was real and about half were actors or spies from other networks1, eager to steal the shows concept (a generic bacheloresque reality TV show).

The competitions ranged from laser tag and ice hockey to theater and charades. In one competition, I was to try to win the approval of a girl’s mother. The mother was actually an actress hired to reject anything I did. No matter what I did during that competition to try to win her approval, I was met with the words: “我就不喜欢外国人!” (I just don’t like foreigners).

The show ended with a final ‘romantic date’ where I ‘serenaded’ one of the girls with a guitar, candlelight, and a bottle of wine. I was instructed to tell her that I was happy to have found her, she was my one true love, and we should run away together and let the others battle it out. Her reply? She told me to play something on guitar and then awkwardly sang an unrelated song back to me. It truly was a beautiful moment.

Left to right: Me, Xiao Le, and the show's host

A happy ending right? I wish I could say so. Following my brush with Henan reality stardom, I returned to my work as a computer teacher. That’s where all the trouble began.

I had a feeling it would be impossible to keep my students in the dark about their famous teacher and eventually they found out about the show when it first aired March of 2010. The students decided it would be funny to start a message board/fan club dedicated to me and my performance on the show. After hundreds of joke postings over praising my performance on the show, I got a phone call.

Cute Producer Girl: Due to your popularity on Internet forums, the Orient Today (东方今报) would like to interview you.

Me: Really?? That’s funny. I’ll have to think about it but I can’t see why not.

I thought about it. The truth was I felt bad about lying to the girl on the show. She apparently thought the whole thing was real. What a great opportunity for me to expose the show for being fake and clear my name.

Me: I’ll do it.

Big mistake. When the article came out, next to a picture of me the headline read: 我很坏我就来玩 (I’m very naughty, I just came to play). The newspaper published all sorts of interesting facts I never knew about myself. They simply made up a lot like I ‘came to China because the job market was tough in America’. I was also ‘part of a Sino-American exchange program as a student’. I didn’t mind some of the inaccuracies (they said I was 26 years old, I’m 25) but falsities that play into stereotypes Chinese people have about Americans bothered me. They portrayed me as a playboy and called me a typical American in the article.

Some Chinese friends advised me to do nothing; others told me I should sue the newspaper. They all agreed the article did not reflect well on me. So much for exposing the show as a fake… The article also failed to mention the other people paid to act on the show or the ‘spy’, which I felt would make a good news story.

In the end I was paid less than half of what I had previously been worked out with Not-So-Cute-Anymore Producer Girl in our verbal agreement. (after taxes about 1,600 yuan). Lessons learned. I survived Henan reality TV.

  1. I was told by one of the producers I had to eliminate Jia Jia, a contestant on the show, because she was working for a rival network. I called Jia Jia about a month after and she denied spying or working for the competition.
There are currently 14 Comments for Surviving Henan TV's dating reality show.

Comments on Surviving Henan TV's dating reality show

Wait a sec. I'm confused. The actual post isn't about Fei Cheng Wu Rao, right? But he's appeared on that show as well?

Oh wait, Matt commented on a post over at china/divide about this as well. Apparently there are two different shows but the same name. Shrug.

Maybe young, naive and immature foreigners should be banned from appearing on TV in China -- they are too easily manipulated by forces they have no clue even exist, and then become part of a grande narrative of China-good-other-countries-bad. The producer girl was simply too "cute", I guess.

Hey Wu Di, maybe China shouldn't be such a dick.

the weirdest thing is all the alleged spies from other networks as contestants! Sounds like a Korean comedy or something

And this is the culture that's supposedly going to rule the world in 50 years? They steal a U.S. concept for a TV show, rig it, control the rigging by lying to the participants (to all of them, not just Matt), use the result to mock their perceived political enemy ('typical Americans'), then are too cheap to pay what they agreed to. Sounds like fear and control to me, and that's just for a tv show.

And then Wu Di gives a classic response...blame the other guy when there's a danger of losing face.

Do you judge Western culture based on reality TV shows?

Benedict: I guess some Chinese media executives aren't that different from those elsewhere (talking about dicks and all).

DS: I agree w/ your argument China stealing the U.S. concept for a TV show and all. Just one addition: Seems that China stole the concept for a U.S. TV show that sucks--and that exploits whoever is young, naive and immature enough to participate in it.

Jeremy: No, but culture ('Western' or not) includes the phenomenon that many people all over the world spend their valuable time watching 'reality' TV shows. Doesn't reflect well on us humans, or does it? :)

I don't know where you are getting this naive and immature judgment from. I'm a good friend of Matts and we were joking about how he was going to be exploited throughout the whole process. To him, this was an acting job, an opportunity to get some Chinese practice, and have some fun. He and I both knew why the people at Henan T.V station wanted him on the show. We both suspected that the newspaper would make him look bad and they would cheat him of his money. There was no naivety here, we both knew the people involved in this are a bunch of cheats and liars. Perhaps instead of banning young foreigners from television they should ban cheats and liars.

So you're saying that Matt was fully aware that he'd be exploited and decided to do it anyway? Well, guess then my characterization 'naive' was apparently wrong. Sorry.

And I agree, they should ban cheats and liars from making TV shows. But well, realistically they get promoted because they have the skills it takes to be successful in that business...

He complains that the newspaper "portrayed me as a playboy", yet when referring to the producer he calls her a "cute producer girl", and when it all inevitably turns to jelly he subsequently turns her into a "Not-So-Cute-Anymore Producer Girl", as though her human qualities hinge upon her looks. Why is he complaining of others representing him as a playboy when he is portraying himself as a (typical) playboy? Next are we going to hear about all of his Chinese girlfriends? Come on Matt, tells us the truth about your desire to go on TV. Let us not forget Erich Fromm: the lust for power stems not from strength but from weakness.

Does cute have to be physichally cute? Mannerisms, voice, style etc. can all be cute. Quite often people often use cute to just describe someones general style, not necessarily their appearance... I use cute mainly to describe style, mannerisms and personality, then move on to attractiveness.

I'd imagine a female producer trying to get someone to appear on a show the next day at 6am would try and be very cute and kind to get what they want, maybe appearance wise but most definitely attitude wise. You're not going to go in like Winston Churchill and demand this person stop their life for 6 days starting tomorrow morning. When they are attempting to swindle you out of money the cute facade may stop.

Reality TV shows... the rear-end of television culture everywhere.

Why would anyone willingly go to Henan? What did you expect?

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