In February this year, recently graduated ANU student Allen Chen appeared on the well-known Chinese dating show, If You Are the One. I interviewed Allen about his experience, and what it was like behind the scenes.
PB: So Allen, tell us about the premise of the show.
AC: Unlike a lot of Western reality TV dating shows, If You Are the One focusses on what happens on the show itself, rather than what happens after the couples meet. It’s a bit more like a game show. The idea is that a guy is presented to the group of girls and stands behind a podium. All the girls have a buzzer. After the first introduction the girls can buzz out at any time and say they’re not interested. At the end, if the guy is still in the show, it’s up to him to choose which girl he wants to go on a date with out of the remaining girls. Sometimes, depending on the conditions of the show, you can even win a holiday trip or something.
PB: How planned was the show before you went on? Behind the scenes, do you know when the people are going to buzz you out?
AC: Not always! Some are, and some aren’t. The producers try and push the show in the direction they want, by giving you suggestions if there is an event that they really want to happen. It’s not in the contract to do what they want, but they try and nudge things in the right direction. Before the show, though, the producers gave all the guys a small bottle of spirits, and all the girls have a glass of wine underneath their counters. During all the breaks, they refill all the glasses. They actually try and get contestants pretty drunk on the show, because that’s when they make outlandish comments.
PB: No way! The show is really well known for its hilarious one-liners, are they planned?
AC: No, the one liners aren’t! I think the interpretation of the show in Australia is really different to how it is in China, just because of the differences in translation. When I hear some of those lines in Chinese they’re actually not that outrageous, but if you say exactly the same thing in English, it sounds really harsh. As a broad rule, I would say the Chinese are less easily offended than Westerners – especially when they’re describing other people, Westerners really gloss over what they’re saying and use a lot of euphemisms. In China, people are less afraid of being really descriptive. So I think that kind of cultural difference means the show has a lot more shock value here than it does in China.
PB: What do you think the differences are between dating-based reality TV in Australia, like The Bachelor, and something like If You Are the One?
AC: Well the biggest difference is that If You Are the One is more like a game show than The Bachelor. You’re not really buying into people’s lives, and you don’t care as much about their real personalities. It happens in the context of the game, and you don’t go on extra dates or anything. The audience in China doesn’t care about the lives of the contestants as much as an Australian audience.
PB: What were the other people on your episode like?
AC: They were all older than me, and because it was the Australian special they came from cities from all around Australia. I was the only one from Canberra, a lot of them came from Melbourne. It was kind of hard for me to choose a girl, because a lot of them were older. One of them even lived in China, so obviously that wasn’t going to work. In the end I only had one choice! But when I was actually being filmed, I had to pretend I was thinking really hard about it even though I had already decided.
PB: Were you stressed when you went on the show?
AC: Oh yeah!
PB: What was the most stressful part?
AC: For me personally, it was definitely having to choose a girl. I found it really pretty stressful because there were so many reasons we would be incompatible, whether it was distance or age or whatever. It was also difficult because I was definitely the youngest on the show, out of all the other competitors. Lots of people were moving into different careers or starting new jobs, and I had just finished uni, so I guess I was a bit inexperienced.
PB: So what made you want to go on the show?
AC: Well actually, I never really finished applying for the program. I saw a post on Facebook advertising the application, and so I clicked on the link and watched a couple of videos and I thought it was pretty funny. When I clicked on the link to register, it was a kind of form that saved incomplete answers. One of the questions asked me to submit a video of myself and I actually just put in a random YouTube video. Anyway, they just reached out and asked me if I wanted to go for an interview, despite the incomplete application. They seemed to like the interview, and at the end he said I could go on the show. Two days later they said I could book my tickets!
PB: Are you pleased you went on?
AC: Aw yeah. I thought I’d regret it if I didn’t go on. Sometimes people bring it up in a kind of negative way, but it’s a really fun, quirky fact about me. It was a once in a lifetime thing to do and I’m really glad I did it.