For my autoethnographic project I want to explore the popular Chinese dating show, ‘If You Are The One’. I know others are also exploring it because of its popularity. I want to investigate how it is that If You Are the One (IYATO) became the most-viewed dating show and the social and cultural impact it has had in Asia and even Australia.
I first encountered this show when I was flicking through channels and landed on SBS2. I hovered on the channel long enough to wonder what the hell the show was. My housemate at the time said, “You’ve never heard of this?! It’s amazing.” Since then I’ve watched odd bits and piece of the series. At first I thought it was completely ridiculous, but later became enamoured with the show because of how blunt both the contestants and hosts are. It was completely different to anything I’ve ever seen, that being said I’ve never experienced any other Asian dating or reality TV shows.
Meng Fei is the much-loved host of the show, often affectionately referred to by contestants as Grandpa Meng because of his wise advice. There are then another two co-hosts who give romantic advice and weigh in every once and a while. The basic premise of the show is that there are 24 women that stand at podiums, whilst one bachelor at time comes to the stage and introduces himself. He then shows a series of videos to give the women an insight into his life. In between, the women ask questions and converse with the man. At any point, they are able to turn off their light to show they have no interest in the man. If they all turn off their lights before his turn is over the man leaves without a date, however if all goes well he will hopefully leave with one of the women.
Because the show is shown on SBS I am able to easily access it on SBS On Demand. I just scrolled down and clicked on a recent random episode (season 8 episode 78).
What strikes me as I’m watching IYATO is that it’s set out more like the game shows I’m used to rather than dating shows. With people at podiums and live audiences. Most dating shows in Western culture are filmed in advance, like the Bachelor. The other western dating show that comes to mind is Love Island, a reality TV show I became far too obsessed with that is filmed in real time so the public can vote for their favourite/least favourite couples, kid of like Big Brother. But it’s still filmed somewhere else and not at all like the very straight-forward and simple set up of IYATO. The women enter the show on a catwalk and it reminds me of a beauty pageant.
Chinese traditions come through in the show and it’s really interesting to compare what they expect in relationships in China to what people expect on Western countries. Often what they say can sound rude or sexist, but people are rarely offended. Perhaps this is just Chinese candour and deep-rooted tradition but these kind of comments make me huff in frustration. I remember one of the first episodes I saw when the man first arrived he said, “My future wife must be beautiful for the sake of our children.” Similarly in this episode the first bachelor says, “Like all men, I hope my girlfriend will be pretty, with a good figure so she can bear children from me.” And “She must be able to cook.” No one flinches, in China it appears this is the norm. The brash candour is not one-sided, the women, when asked as to why they’ve switched off their light will often reply honestly: “I don’t like men with glasses.” “He doesn’t look like he exercises enough.” “He’s not manly enough for me.”
The episode I watched I notice that they poke fun at Americans on multiple occasions. One girl mentions she came second in a hamburger eating contest and won a trip to Hong Kong and Meng Fei (the host) replies that they should have sent her to America. At another point they’re discussing weddings and whether you would invite an ex, at this point Meng Fei says that would be too much trouble because Americans have too many exes.
The second guy that came out was an American that had been living in China for some time. He ended up leaving with a girl who wanted to get married instantly and then have children. Not sure if she was joking but pretty sure she wasn’t.
That’s not the face of a woman that’s joking, right?! Anyway, the man didn’t seem a all phased and they walked
into the sunset together out of the show together. Joking aside, the candidate was evidently desperate to be married soon, something which seems to be demanded of Chinese people whilst they’re in the early 20s. Once they reach their mid-to-late 20s the pressure to get married is extreme, as seen by many contestants that come through show. Whilst I’ve often faced the awkward relationship conversations at family gatherings, I’m glad I don’t have to endure the same level of pressure regarding my singledom.
The show explores the cultural aspects of Chinese life, not only those solely relevant to dating. One contestant reveals he has a somewhat strenuous relationship with his father, his father who is in the crowd says that if he praises his son he will become too complacent and that’s why he constantly pushes him down. When Meng Fei encourages him to say something about his son that makes him proud he says his son has a good sense of responsibility. This then results in a discussion on Chinese parenting and one of the girls breaks into tears because her own father has never praised her. The co-hosts say that she should not be sad as it is rare for Chinese parents to praise their children at all. This conversation in particular made me realise the stark contrasts to my own upbringing. My parents constantly praised me and told me they loved me. Encouragement and approval has never been lacking.
Additionally, I noticed the pressure surrounding finding an appropriate match that seems to be prevalent in Chinese traditional and social constructs. Most candidates will often turn off their light because they don’t think there family would approve.
What I hope to explore in more depth is the cultural impact of this show and why it’s had such extensive popularity in not only China but across the globe including Australia. They claim to have a viewing audience of up to 50million an episode. What?? No doubt that beats the Bachelor by a long shot. Why is it that we’re so enamoured with a show so separate from the reality of our own dating lifestyle. Or perhaps there is something relatable about the show that we don’t notice instantly amongst the different culture. Is it the interest in a different culture? The brutal and hilarious one liners? The individuality of the contestants themselves?