Thursday, February 3, 2011

If You Are the One: From Material Girls to a Boy Searching for His Mother

“Hey Hey You You, I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend …” Twenty four lady guests enter into the studio to Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend.

So begins each episode of the most popular Chinese TV program of 2010. The 24 ladies walk through the central archway in double file, and separate at the edge of the stage, with half going to the left set of podiums and half going to the right. Each podium is numbered and is designated with the name of the appropriate guest. The host Meng Fei (孟非) welcomes the ladies, asks that the light at each podium gets turned on, and explains two of the rules of “If You Are the One” (非诚勿扰, fei cheng wu rao, literally, “Not Sincere, Don’t Disturb”):
1)     If there are 22 or more lights on after the first impression round and the male guest succeeds in convincing a female guest to leave with him, the lucky couple gets a free trip to Hawaii, courtesy of Yili Milk Corp.
2)     If the male guest gets to the last round and succeeds in convincing a female guest, then the lucky couple each get a pair of his-and-hers matching shoes.

FeiChengWuRao, this match-making (相亲) program, is produced by JiangSu TV, is based in Nanjing and is similar in format to the (British) ITV1 dating program, “Take Me Out” and the Australian Network Ten program “Taken Out.”
Each single male guest is lowered in a single-person shaft (revealing the feet first) to Jean Roch’s Can You Feel It? (“Can You Feel It? Jean Roch Says …”), as the crowd claps and ooohs and ahhhs.

After each single male guest announces his arrival (name, age, hometown, …), host Meng would ask him to look at the 24 female guests and pick his 心动女生 (literally, “heart move girl”; i.e., the one who moves his heart, presumably, in an attractive sort of way). The male guest would then punch the number (1-24) of his favorite girl in a touch pad that only host Meng gets to see (and, later, the audience in front of cable TV).

The ladies are then asked about their First Impressions which they signal by keeping or turning their light on or off. Then the first of three male guest videos are shown. The first one is a short introduction. The second one is usually a video about his expectations for his spouse. The final video is typically made up of short comments by friends and family of the male guest. In between the videos, the host Meng Fei calls on the ladies for comments and questions which the male guest would try to answer. Meng Fei’s two sidekicks, Le Jia (乐嘉) and Huang Han (黄函) would also ask questions and provide commentary.

If at any point during the show, the last light is turned off, immediately, O Fortuna from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff is played. Then the male guest is asked to leave to the refrain from the Malaysian singer Fish Leong’s (梁静茹)可惜不是你 : “可惜不是你,陪我到最后…” (“What a pity it’s not you, staying with me to the end…”)

After the three video segments, if there is one light left on, then the male guest is asked whether or not he chooses to leave with that particular lady guest. If he does choose her, then the lucky couple gets to leave to the tune of 梁山伯与朱丽叶 (“Liang ShanBo and Juliet” --- Liang SB being the male half of the “Butterfly Lovers” and Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet”; the song cleverly mixes the two classic romances).

If there are more than two lights left on, then the male contestant is asked to turn off all but two lights. Then the two remaining ladies are asked to join the host and male contestant on the main stage. Finally, the Heart Move Girl is revealed and she is also asked to join the two ladies. The male guest first gets to pick from a choice of ten questions to which the ladies have provided answers. Then the male contestant gets to ask one last question, after which he gets to choose his “match.” If he chooses one of the two ladies who had kept her light on till the end, then it is a successful match. If he chooses his Heart Move Girl, then he gets another 30 seconds to convince her to change her mind.

The first few months of FCWR was highlighted by pithy putdowns by the lady guests that deteriorated into verbal comebacks and rejections that veered on the edge of abuse. Most of the questions and exchanges centered around the male guest’s wealth (salary, car, house, …). Very quickly, the male guest’s “business” and its possible IPO became a common theme of the second video segment.

During these first few months of FCWR, the most famous of the lady guests was definitely Ma Nuo (马诺). Ma is a model who lives in Beijing. Her now famous remark came when the male contestant asked if she would like to go for a bicycle ride with him. “I would rather sit and cry in the back of a BMW,” she told him. (Many men started to send her photos of their BMWs.)
Ma Nuo finally leaves FCWR with a photographer from Beijing.

Ma Nuo and the other Material Girls drew quite a lot of criticism both online and in main stream media. As a result, Huang Han, a teacher at a Party School (that’s CCParty School of Jiangsu province) was asked to join the host Meng Fei and his sidekick Le Jia to provide a cleaner image.

Other makeovers to FCWR included male and female guests who did not appear as materialistic as the early contestants and various special episodes that included two Migrant Workers (外来务工) Specials and a Teachers (教师) Special. In the Migrant Workers Specials, both male and female guests were migrant workers. In the Teachers Special, aired the Saturday after September 10th (Teachers Day), the female guests were teachers, ranging from kindergarten and elementary school teachers to dance instructors and foreign language instructors in corporations, and each male guest has a teachers fetish preferred to find a teacher as a mate.

The male contestants are now drawn from a wider segment of the population (not just the business-to-IPO types). Noted guests included the first Taiwanese contestant, the first ABC (American-born Chinese) guest (who has a JD from Harvard, now lives in Beijing, bicycles everywhere, and is looking to work for NGOs in environmental protection), and the first non-Chinese contestant. There was one failed Olympic athlete who is now a gym teacher at one of the Beijing universities. There was another athlete on the Chinese national archery team. There were street cleaners, guys who ran food stalls in markets, and bus drivers. There were IT specialists, doctors and financial consultants. There was a Ph.D. student in Geography and talked at length about his research and about jade.

The most memorable contestant is probably Wu Peng (吴朋), a 24 year old from Guangzhou. His life story came out during the back-and-forth on the show. Apparently, his mother left him when he was barely three months old. His father left his village to work in a big city. His grandfather tried to raise Wu by himself but couldn’t, and so Wu grew up in a monastery. By himself, Wu attended and graduated a Foreign Languages university and is now an Arabic translator for a company. As a final request before he chose his “match,” Wu asked host Meng Fei if he could say something on FCWR in the hopes that his mother can see him. The request was granted. Not a dry eye in the house! 

The NYT had a piece on FCWR (and other "matching-making" reality TV shows) a few months ago:

You can find FCWR episodes on youku and soku.

The official website of FCWR

Miscellany and Afterthoughts. FCWR is shown on Jiangsu-TV every Saturday and Sunday at 9:20 PM. There are plans for North American broadcasts.

诚无扰 ("If You Are The One" in English) is also the title of a 2008 Feng XiaoGang movie, that starred Ge You and Shu Qi.

The successful matches on FCWR are deemed 牵手成功, i.e., the couple is literally “successful at holding hands.”

I started to write this blog in October and was hoping to finish it before LJ and JY’s wedding, which I couldn’t attend. (Obviously, LJ and JY are highly successful at "holding hands"!)

And finally, a Happy Chinese New Year to Everyone! (And, along the themes of FCWR, an early Happy Valentine’s Day!)


Anonymous said...

hi, thanks for writing such detail on the show fcwr. :D even with the title of the background song. Can I ask you about the song played when the two remaining girls are asked to join the host and the male contestant on the main stage? I really like the song. Please do let me know if you are aware of the song title. Thanks in advance!

ZZ said...

Thanks for this detailed explanation, now I'm going to find the episode with the Taiwanese and ABC dude

Jazzy: the song is Gee by korean girl group SNSD (少女時代)

New Yorker in Beijing said...

Hi Jazzy, ZZ is absolutely correct.

sorry for not seeing your comment earlier. could not find a way to scale the GCFW in the last 4-5 weeks and could not get to my own blog...

Hi ZZ, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Whats the song in the background when the guy fails and leaves the stage. (not the one by Fish Leong but the other one?) Thx

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 离开的时候

Judah said...

may i know wats the name of the current success song?

MelbMan Australia said...

Down here in Australia if you are the one screens 7 nights a week with English sub titles. Have just watched the Wu Peng episode (Series 1 Ep 3), very touching. Being such an early episode it's surprising how early they got the format standardised, a great show and a very interesting insight into China, Chinese and social mores there.