Towards the latter stages of his life, Charles Darwin noted that he could not read serious texts any more; the only thing that grabbed his attention was a book on romance. One of the greatest scientific minds we have known could only enjoy a book about the mating game.
One would not liken oneself to the great man, but over the last nine months one has been similarly drawn away from serious work to become a regular viewer of a Chinese dating show that goes by the name If You Are The One.
The show is a record-breaker; it has about 60 million tuning in for every episode and has been running for seven years. The presenter, Meng Fei, is a national celebrity.
There are many things about the show that grab the attention. First, it is based on an Australian show that flopped after just four episodes.
If this show had been running in any developed country, then the emphasis would have been on sex. All shows that bring men and women together with romance as the aim, always focus on that primeval force.
But the Chinese show could not be more different; while a successful outcome means that a male candidate would get a date with one of the 24 girls on the show, the focus is more on society’s need for such liaisons.
Four or five men appear on each episode and the women can indicate their interest or lack of it. Three videos are shown about the man in question and at any time the girls can indicate their lack of interest by turning off the light that is on the podium in front of them.
In what is considered a male-dominated society, the girls get the first chance to reject a man.
In recent years, a girl has been allowed to indicate her interest in a man by “blowing up her light”; this means she is there at the time when the man makes his choice.
Finally, after the three videos are screened, if two or more girls have their lights still on, the man gets to choose. He initially picks a favourite girl and she is also called up if her light is not on. Then he makes a choice – at times it could be to walk away with nobody.
There is a lot of social commentary that is woven in by the presenter and two guest commentators, both celebrities in different fields. It is entertaining and for one reason: it keep things simple.
The presenter is 40+ and that in itself is a peculiarity in a show that is matching up mostly 20-somethings with each other. The format is the same week after week, with the variety coming in catering to expatriate Chinese on some occasions.
But its success is remarkable. It must be raking in the money, else it would not be going on so long. It is one indication that they do things differently in China and that it works for them.