if you are the one (stereotypes for dating)

While living in China I met my friend Wendy, also a Chinese-Australian from Melbourne. We would hang out often, through the afternoon and into the evening. Eventually, though, she would run off from me, to go watch her Chinese dating show. I would make fun of her. Then we came home to Melbourne.


If You Are The One (非诚勿扰) is that Chinese dating show. I love it.

The premise is that there are 24 women, and they stay on the show episode after episode until they end up with a date. Each episode features 4 guys; they show some (pre-filmed) videos and the women ask questions, and through this process the women turn their lights off if they become disinterested in the contestant. At the end, if there are lights on, the guy can choose one of those remaining women.

Often, even if there are lights on, the guy will say no to those remaining, and leave without a date. Frequently, they will leave without a date anyway, because all 24 women will have turned off their lights. Sometimes the contestant will have a large number of women to decide between, and the women will have done the hard sell on themselves, which is always super excellent – I love a woman who puts herself forward, and is in a situation where she is supported in putting herself forward, as they all are on 非诚勿扰.

Each guy is on stage for between five and ten minutes, so everyone has to decide fast. The guys might have a better idea of the women, as the women stay on episode after episode (and are filmed and screened regularly), and viewers can get an idea of their personalities. The questions are pointed, and cover all sorts of things; the decisions are snap and sometimes seemingly random. The outcome is serious.

Prior to watching 非诚勿扰, I’d always considered dating shows boring, superficial things; nothing wrong with them, but kind of pointless and not for me. At the end of each opportunity, two people leave to have a date, and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out. 非诚勿扰 is not like that. It is portrayed as very life or death, must end in marriage stuff. If it’s going to be ‘let’s have a date and it might not work out,’ people clarify with “let’s start as friends and see what happens,” rather than the other way around.


Now that we are home, and 非诚勿扰 airs on SBS2 Tuesday through Thursday nights, Wendy and I watch it together, from our own couches. We text our often snarky comments back and forth, making snap pronouncements and guesses as to the outcomes. It is easy to do.

非诚勿扰 is incredibly stereotype based; it’s all snap decisions and assumptions, and every word and every choice is weighed for significance and, usually, allows someone to be found wanting. One contestant came out in a t-shirt, and a woman berated him for not caring about his appearance. Another woman came to his defence – she was an art gallery owner, and analysed his clothes, correctly deducing that he had designed the print on the shirt and was wearing it for the first time this evening, and based on that deduction would be happy to leave her light on for him. (He chose her, in the end)

If a contestant is a little large, or 胖, we assume they will lose a number of lights. If the contestant is nerdy looking, or old, or bald, or too ridiculous when they come out; if they focus too on one thing, or talk too much about their parents, then the women will turn their lights out.

One contestant says “I lived in Taiwan for so many years, and most girls I have met are Chinese, so I’ve become accustomed to getting along with Chinese girls…Unlike foreign girls who always keep talking during a chat, showing no respect to others, Chinese girls are generally more considerate,” said Joel. “Maybe they’re influenced by traditional Chinese culture, Chinese girls are good listeners.”

Gosh! We are, aren’t we? I know I totally am.

(the contestant’s reply to ‘every girl you know in Australia is very independent?’ was ‘i don’t hang out with locals’)

Over two weeks SBS2 aired the Australian specials of 非诚勿扰, and despite the many things I could say about the show, it is this in particular about which I would like to chat.

非诚勿扰 is allegedly based on failed Australian dating show Taken Out, and is currently so popular in Australia it’s discussed on AFL forums. It’s been profiled on the Vine, with an article entitled ‘Why we’re obsessed with If You Are The One’.

Why ARE Australians obsessed with 非诚勿扰? Why am I?

We’ve seen dating shows before, and we’ve seen this dating show in particular before, and it failed. But it’s now so popular here it’s on SBS2 three nights a week (though last night’s episode was a repeat).

How much is laughing with, and how much is laughing at? These two screencaps at The Vine really highlight that for me:

fcwr-2 fcwr-1

This is a Chinese way of speaking, of communicating; of making sense of the world. Was this cap set chosen because we’re making fun of Chinese people? I mean, I know it’s awkward in English but are we as Australian viewers being encouraged to make fun of Chinese language quirks? (an aside: I totally struggled with this when I spoke Mandarin every day)

Don’t get me wrong, I make fun of Chinese people. But that’s a thing I get to do as a Chinese person, having lived in China, understanding what it is exactly that I’m making fun of; understanding that I am, in essence, making fun of my self, of my family, of my history.

And I wonder, what is the line between real and unreal; between stereotypes for good and for bad? And how will that impact me, in my life? People take this show seriously, so I feel justified considering its messages seriously.

There is growing scepticism within China as to whether foreign specials, and participation of foreigners on the show, is viable and realistic, or simply a ratings grab. Can foreigners have stable long-term relationships with Chinese people, due to the cultural differences?

The Australians on the show (all Chinese, born outside of Australia – from China and Malaysia), if they mention dating an Australian woman, say it didn’t work out due to cultural differences.

As someone with an Anglo-Australian father, even I’ve had a whole lot of cultural differences in failed relationships with other non-Chinese Australians, yes, but to attribute all of them?

My mother, when I first started dating, advised me not to date a mainland Chinese man – for fear he would be too traditional, too feudal; he would expect me to stay at home and look after the children. The opposite, indeed, as suggested by this article:

Zhou also said she believes that many foreigners don’t fully understand China. “All they have learned is the old feudal culture, which says that women should stay at home raising children and doing housework. I also met one who didn’t want his girlfriend to be a model or an actor, as he thought that was not appropriate for Chinese women.”

Even news.com.au is talking about 非诚勿扰, and they mentioned the Australian special:

If they’re serious about a dating show, they – and you – need to get onto If You Are The One. Chinese dating show. Big there – 50-odd million viewers – but not huge given the population. It’s culty though. You wait til you watch it. SBS has now put it on Tuesday through to Thursday, because people are discovering it and its frank charm. It’s a kind of panel show, the guy comes out, there are questions, they give their assessment, he gives his, his friends appear in a video and say their piece, he picks his girl, the end. It’s sensational. None of the fakery of The Bachelor. It just feels fake doesn’t it? They’re all too scared to say anything real, I feel like. So last night there’s a guy on, Luo Si, 29, he’s from Sydney, where the universities have no gates – this is what he says – and his experience with relationships is very discouraging. “Like waves, they don’t settle down … I just want to find the right girl. But who is the right girl? Can you tell if you believe in love? What is love?” Fantastic. His friends came on – and it would’ve been better if this bit hadn’t been shown – and talked about how he was in love with a girl he chased for two years. She showed “no reaction.” Each time he was rejected, one them said, he’d drink by himself. In the end Luo Si chose the girl who said she liked cooking and cleaning.

It’s culty, they say. But what makes it culty? Is it the seriousness and the earnestness? Is it the ridiculous costumes my current favourite wears? Is it the attitudes and the silly noises and dances? Or is it the laughter, the laughing at and the laughing with?

my current favourite always wears costumes
my current favourite always wears costumes

I love laughing with it, too. And I love the insights it gives to Chinese culture, traditional and otherwise, and how it reminds me of being in Beijing, even reminds me of the friends I have long since left behind there.

In China, an article in Time suggests, 非诚勿扰 and shows like it are popular because they’re honest, and because they place capital in being honest, and there is a lot of dishonesty in China and across the world, in dating and in other areas. And I love that about it, too.

One of the Australian contestants was doing well, he had 24 lights on at the first video, and still over ten as his last video began. In it, his cousin tells a story of when they were younger, they were making dumplings and the contestant was sent out to purchase chives, and brought back ‘green vegetables’ (this usually means gailan or bokchoi) instead. The cousin laughed and said, but I’m sure he’s better now, but it was too late. Almost in unision those lights turned off, the implication already there: this man cannot look after himself. That from a 20 second tale about vegetables.

One woman, when asked how she budgets, confesses that she spends all her money by the end of the month and doesn’t save at all. A previous woman was notoriously stingy, rejecting immediately any man who she felt spent too much, regardless whether he had the personal wealth to support it.

“I can’t tell if you didn’t shave or if this look is intentional,” murmurs one woman. “You look much better in the video than in real life,” states another. I love them and their honesty and their abruptness. It seems so genuine. I think this is in large part why I love this show.

I have no real conclusions, except to state that based on the assumptions on this show, I’m only ever gonna have great relationships with other half-Chinese half-Anglo Australians from Malaysia.

If you’re in Australia, you can watch If You Are The One with English subtitles on SBS2 or on SBS Ondemand. If you hang out on twitter you can chat about the contestants using the #ifyouaretheone hashtag, which the SBS2 twitter does quite actively. If you’re not in Australia, you can watch it on the Official Youtube (no English subs).

10 thoughts on “if you are the one (stereotypes for dating)

  1. Vi

    Since the last time you told me about this show, J and I checked it out and love it! We don’t watch regularly, just every now and again. It’s interesting to hear that it’s popular in Australia…and yeah, I’m not sure how much is “laughing at”. Myself, I’m drawn to the honesty of it as well (and I like how the translation of the show’s title is an indication of that). I like how quick the process is, and how it sparks reactions from J and I as we watch – we might be ugggh-ing at a line in the contestant’s video, discuss whether we actually think he’s good looking or not, who we would pick, etc.

    1. Plus it’s great for your Chinese! 😀

      I do make fun of them a lot but I think definitely the thing I love the most is how serious it is, how honest they are about everything. And I do love being like ‘that person is a jerrrrrk’. I think Wendy and I get more txt-y the more dickish a contestant is. And that’s fun, too!

  2. You’ve got me interested enough to tune in come Tuesday. And I was scared that SBS 2 was just going to show soccer for 6 months straight 🙂

    While I have never enjoyed an Australian reality show, I miss Ninja Warrior and Iron Chef, and I think both those shows were ones where our attention got caught because the commentary was “funny” but once our brains were tuned into the syntax of the translation, it wasn’t really funny any more, and we found ourselves intensely involved in the fate of contestants that appealed to us.

    My parents have a cross-cultural marriage that survived despite the terrible odds for Lebanese-Australian matches (something like 5 or 10% success rate?) and I take my hat off to them for their ability to make huge compromises on a daily basis. After thirty-five years, my Dad still sometimes seems shocked to find himself doing housework, and my Mum can still be blindsided by the deep family commitment he has which may not prioritise her (I love being my Australian husband’s priority, but I can find myself shocked by the Australian habit of only seeing your family once a year, at Christmas!)

    Also, you said,

    “My mother, when I first started dating, advised me not to date a mainland Chinese man – for fear he would be too traditional, too feudal; he would expect me to stay at home and look after the children.”

    Do you find that for migrants, their birth country remains completely unchanged in their minds? So that your mother’s idea of mainland China is actually the one that existed in the 60s or 70s?

    1. Hey, Ninja Warrior AND Iron Chef are on SBS2 as well! I’ve seen episodes of both of those shows in the last few weeks!

      I think you make a really great point about maybe starting off as finding something about it weird-funny but growing used to it and being able to appreciate it for what it is. That’s a big part of it for me, with FCWR in particular.

      I find my parents really similar, being a Chinese-Malaysian and an Anglo-Australian in a marriage for a similar amount of time. Sometimes I get really frustrated by their compromises and sometimes I’m so impressed by them!

      I definitely think that the home country remains unchanged in their minds, for migrants – for my family it’s even further back because the home country is Malaysia but my grandmother was born in (and left in an undocumented fashion) China 70+ years ago, and so for my mum it’s a decades old memory of someone else’s fear (which definitely contributed to her attitude when I was living in China).

  3. Rohan

    I agree there’s probably elements of australian viewers enjoying it for laughing at cultural differences and values but also just think in general this dating behaviour is weirdly entertaining.

    I used to group watch episodes of the australian version Taken Out on channel V with all my friends and laugh at the bogans, arrogant/stuck up women, selfish women, weirdo’s either scary or adorable, and the weird morals and dealbreakers of some that would come out etc. etc. And likewise the men who were most often narcissists or worse.

    But you still have a few favourite contestants who you root for and hope get a good man/girl to go out with and such. I think that goodness is there and draws people to the chinese one as much as the politically incorrect laughing at cultural quirks you’re not well versed in. So it’s popularity isn’t that concerning.

    If You Are The One is way more serious and high stakes though than Taken Out as you say I think this really amplifies the infatuating tension of it all.

  4. Brenden

    Re the screengrabs in The Vine, I think they were selected because before the recent Australian election, Tony Abbott seemed as though he was trying to convince Australians that no-one outside Australia took climate change seriously. But the concern displayed about reducing one’s carbon footprint on a Chinese dating show demonstrates that this is not the case.

    There’s nothing wrong with the language used in the subtitles – I don’t think anyone is making fun of the way Chinese people speak.

    For me the appeal of the show is that it’s fun and offers a window into the Chinese culture.

  5. Pingback: Fresh Romance: China's If You Are the One | GlobalCommentGlobalComment

  6. Pingback: If you are the one | DIGC330

  7. Jo

    I love the show. The girls are direct, the men are direct. The hosts are humourous. Love it 7 days a week on sbs2

Comments are closed.