From 100, make one

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Heart-strung bachelor #99 has 20 minutes of “Gold Time” Chinese TV to auction himself off to a host of eager ladies. He is bolstered by the electronic display of his salary, a mediocre (but nonetheless heavily praised) singing performance and his “VCR” — a short video providing an unglamorous glimpse into his life. His chances appear slim. Or, at least, that is what the show’s title would suggest: “One Out of One Hundred,” or “百里挑一”, literal translation: “From One Hundred Choose One.”

From one hundred choose one. This might be the best method for selecting a reality show in which to indulge. But even this substantial downsizing might be too generous to the shows on offer. Valid claim? In reality…? As I see it, the number of reality TV shows worth watching may well be one hundred out of one hundred. And that’s why I’m here. Since you can’t possibly watch them all, I’ll do the gustation for you, providing a glimpse into one of the myriad bizarre reality shows circulating out there on a weekly basis.

So the boilerplate ruminations: what is reality TV, and why, oh why, do so many Joe Sixpacks and Jill Hotdogs choose to subject themselves to its contrivances while the rest of us watch from the other side of the screen, dribbles of Pringle tumbling onto our front sides? These questions are really more fun to mull over on your own, so I’ll leave them to your own rumination.

Back to our show: twelve spindly young women perch atop tall, skinny stools, their collective gaze scrutinizing suitor #99. The fluorescent blue floor highlights their unnaturally pale cheeks and eerie blue contacts while behind them, a set of wall-size video displays pulsate with pixels the size of uncooked couscous on my screen. About half of the women’s sentences begin with the line, “Kan dao ni de VCR…”: “From watching your video…” They’re clearly going off a lot. “百里挑一” makes “The Bachelor”’s (ABC) eight-week process of courtship and compatibility deliberation look nothing short of thorough.

The men descend onto the stage pinned with bright red and yellow numbers and holding crude dry-erase boards on which they have scrawled with Expo markers a line or love mantra, like “Simple Healthy Love” or “Old Boy” (in English). After the introduction, “VCR,” and song performances of the bachelors, the women open fire: “Your hair, it’s a little bit sparse, especially the bit up on top,” “Knowing how your four-year relationship ended, I’m worried because I don’t have a sense of safety,” “From watching your VCR, I can tell you are a good person.” They then indicate whether they are interested in candidate X, and the photos of those remaining show up on one massive screens. Candidate X weeds them out further by stating a few personal requirements, like “She [my ideal mate] must value career,” and “She can’t smoke,” after which any remaining gals can choose to withdraw. Anyone still involved produces a heart-wrenching soliloquy as to why she would be a good fit that is accompanied by enthusiastically schmaltzy mood music. The man gives his own spiel. If lucky, they come to an accord and hesitantly link fingers, are blessed with gifts by the hosts, and walk out under an elaborate flower awning while sending emotionally charged glances back over their shoulders. But for the most part, nothing happens, and the women, stubborn, hard to please, and no doubt indulging in the continuous limelight, remain on the show until some Prince Charming comes along to whisk them away. Not that China subscribes to Prince Charming.

Lamentably, the Chinese government recently cracked down on entertainment shows deemed “low taste.” Could “百里挑一” fall under this label? Perhaps, if you take issue at treating relationships as commodities. Or you could look at the show as providing opportunities. It’s reality TV — take your pick.

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