Fuzhou Foreign Idol (Part 1)

Posted in Me on TV, Random Goofiness at 9:23 pm by Benjamin Ross

A few days ago I received a phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to be on a Chinese TV game show. The pay was alright (500 RMB, aprox. $60 USD), and I’m generally not one to give up the chance to make a complete ass of myself to a television audience larger than many European nations.

Chinese TV game show
In China, anybody can be on a game show…as long as you aren’t Chinese.

This won’t be the first time I will have appeared on a Chinese game show. During my first year in Fuzhou, I made frequent appearances on a show broadcast on the Fujian provincial TV station, and shown all over Southeast China. The show was a cross between America’s Funniest Home Videos and Double Dare. Only instead of Bob Saggat and Mark Summers, the show was hosted by a Chinese guy who looked like Mr. Sparkle, and a girl who wore more makeup than a hooker at a costume ball. For each episode six foreigners would be chosen to dress up in traditional Chinese costumes with cowboy hats, and compete in a mix of activities akin to those of Mark Summers’ famed physical challenges. I appeared on the show four or five times, and because the foreigner community in Fuzhou is relatively small, most of the other contestants were people I knew.

The show would begin as two Chinese muscle-men wearing nothing but speedos banged on a large gong on the side of the stage. After each successive bang of the gong, one of the contestants would emerge through a cloud of artificial fog, and dance his way to center stage. (Foreigners on Chinese TV always have to dance.) After all of the contestants had arrived on stage, we would be joined by two Chinese dancers, who would lead us in a semi-choreographed line dance. (see video clip) We would then be divided into two teams and compete in various events which would expose our own respective stereotypes, and emphasize the fact that no matter how long we had lived in China, we still were not Chinese. The events involved tasks such as reading a Chinese poem off a board of calligraphy, or singing a Chinese song into a microphone, while simultaneously listening to it for the first time through headphones.

Some events involved eating and drinking. One of our personal favorites was a Chinese beer drinking contest, where we would race to see who could polish off a tall glass of Qingdao in the shortest amount of time. In one of the more Double-Dare-esque events, we would compete in a dumpling eating contest, only the dumplings had to be fed to the contestant by one of his teammates who would stand behind him and operate the chop sticks.

Fuzhou Fujian TV show
Wily (cut) and I (white cowboy hat) pathetically attempt to act out “Aladdin.” Rolf of course, doesn’t get it.

In another silly event, one team member would stand and face the audience, while a giant screen behind him projected an English word. The other two contestants would then have to act out the word, while the other one had to guess it…in Chinese. Usually the words were quite simple, such as names of animals or fruits, but sometimes they would come up with obscure words such as “astronaut” or “Aladdin.” On one occasion when I was doing the acting, the word “cock” came up on the screen. I was lost for actions until the host reminded me that “cock” actually means “male chicken.”

The end result was usually a train wreck, which was exactly what the producers wanted. To put it in an American perspective, imagine a game show where an Indian immigrant who barely speaks English, has to sound out the words “Welcome to the Kwiki-Mart, Would you like a slurpie?” from a large sign board as a crowd of young American children laugh and cheer him on. All I can say is that if our game show ever came out in the US, the ACLU would be all over it like Fred Phelps at a gay pride parade.

From an artistic standpoint, the show (like most Chinese TV) was pathetic at best. However, it was amusing to be able to turn on the TV every Sunday night and watch people you know get buffooned in front of millions. It was also amusing to be introduced to my students’ friends and families, only to find they already recognized me from TV. All in all, the mockery was fun and games, and you only got humiliated if you took it seriously, which nobody did.

Chinese TV foreigner
more word guessing game, and first rate acting

As one-dimensionally entertaining as the first show was, it was finally cancelled about a year ago. This came as bad news to most of the Fuzhou foreign community, who not only got a kick out of being on TV, but also enjoyed the 400 RMB (approx $50) paycheck for each appearance. So it was good news to all to hear there will be a new foreigner show on the airwaves in Southeast China. The new show, which is on a different network, is going to be a singing competition between eight contestants who will all be foreigners. The contestants will be judged by a panel of three judges, who will rate them on their singing ability, and give an award to the best one. Hmmm…I don’t think ANYBODY has ever done a show like this before. Presumably, we will all suck, and this will provide entertainment to millions of Chinese people who watch this ridiculous programming simply because there is nothing better on the tube.

This time though the show is going to be different. Yes, it is still a competition, and yes, it will still derive its humor on the folly of the non-Chinese, but this time I have a plan. I am going to WIN! No more embarrassing cultural gaffs, no more fumbling over words, no more goofing off. This time I am in it to win it, and get the last laugh. I have been honing my skills in Chinese karaoke rooms for the past two years, and now is my chance to shine on the national stage. The competition will be fierce. It consists of two German guys, an Indonesian girl, an old guy from the Philippines, a Scottish girl, my former colleague Wily from Canada, a Vietnamese kid who does a mean Michael Jackson impersonation, and a guy who’s name I can’t even pronounce. They are all going down! I will be representing the USA, and I will be the next Fuzhou Foreign Idol!!! Who will join me in my quest? Results should be in by Tuesday. Stay tuned.

continued in Fuzhou Foreign Idol (Part 2)


  1. James China said,

    March 13, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Ben, video clip里最右边那个带白色牛仔帽是你吗?除了穿橙色衣服的Wily以外,你跳得不会比其他几个差。我想你的歌唱比赛应该也不会太差吧,你应该介绍在什么电视台播出,还有预告一下播出时间,让我们看看明星风采。另外,需要帮忙发短信投票吗?

  2. Matt China said,

    March 13, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Look out Da Shan!

  3. Benjamin Ross China said,

    March 19, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    (translation of James’ comment)

    Ben, who’s the guy on the right in the video wearing the white cowboy hat? Other than Wily in the orange clothes, your dancing isn’t as bad as the others. I don’t think your singing competition will be that bad either. You should tell us what station it will be on ahead of time so that we can see you be a star. Also, we can send in text messages to vote for you.

    (this comment is meant to be sarchastic and goofy, but I don’t think it comes across in translation)

  4. vivi China said,

    March 25, 2007 at 5:23 pm


  5. kevin China said,

    September 3, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Benjamin Ross 翻译得不错,水平不赖啊,国人当如此。

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