Love Shows in Vietnam: Booming and Looming
After 11 episodes aired on last October, ‘The Bachelor Vietnam’ season 1 ended with Bachelor Quoc Trung choosing Thuy Duong, who later said the result was like a Cinderella dream for her. Despite the controversial format (i.e. having 25 ladies lined up to receive roses from the bachelor may somehow hurt the honour and the dignity of women from the local cultural viewpoint), the dating show has made a success when having a lot of talks and discussions around it.
Shocking twists to be mentioned include that the two contestants Truc Nhu and Minh Thu decided to ditch the bachelor to be with each other (this stirred up the LGBT communities across the globe, actually), and that Thuy Duong kept secret about her being a single mom until the very final episode even though the bachelor had asked some single mom contestants to leave the show as early as episodes 1 or 2. Having said that, the production team, however, is still excited about preparing for season two which may switch to ‘The Bachelorette’ similar to the American format.
The Bachelor Vietnam is in fact just one show among the sea of dating shows on air now in Vietnam. Just turn on TV from 8 – 10 pm and switch from channel to channel, you will find yourself come across an endless series of dating shows, both homegrown and localised versions of foreign shows.
Roughly the shows can be categorised into three main groups:
Group 1: Love Journeys for the Ordinaries
This group consists of dating shows targeting at normal people who wish to find true loves. Participants in these shows usually are aged 20-30, educated, and employed with stable incomes.
Aired on 22:30 every Tuesday on HTV7 and 21:00 every Sunday on HanoiTV2 since 2008, “Love Bus – Chuyến Xe Tình Yêu” with its symbolic pink minivan has carried 111 guys and 91 girls in its journey to love. For each ride, only 7 passengers were selected; together, they travelled to 63 provinces across Vietnam and sometimes even to the neighbouring countries like Laos and Thailand, and during the 2 month trip they could do social work for local communities and more importantly, have chances to learn about themselves and their companions to find the potential partners. As the first of its kind, the show has become a name of many households in Vietnam; its last episode was aired in 2017 ending the journey with many impressive numbers and figures: 96 confessions, 54 couples successfully matched, and 2 weddings [tuoitre.vn].
Similar to “Love Bus”, “Wanna Date – Bạn muốn hẹn hò” and “Love Frequencies – Tần số tình yêu” are produced by MCV and BeeComm, aiming to create platforms for common people to find their better halves. The former first aired in 2013 with the two famous local MCs, Quyền Linh and Cát Tường took the format of a Japanese dating show named “Punchi de Deto,” in which the two participants were selected by the production team based on their profile and sharing their ideal partners. Coming to the show without knowing each other beforehand, the participants come to learn about each other through a Q&A session and make the final decision after the show. It is the sense of humour of the two MCs and also of the participants that have created unexpectedly pleasing moments for the viewers; the videos on the show’s Youtube channel usually enjoy over 1m views each; its fan page has over 700,000 likes. More importantly, the show seems to be a really effective matchmaker for the past four years, because “Wanna Date” has connected over 450 couples, 33 of which are married.
The latter, “Love Frequencies,” aired in June 2018, help lovebirds find each other based on their smartphone using habits. The “matchmaker” panel including two local famous comedians Viet Huong and Hoang Son, who are famous for their life experiences provide consultation for the candidates. Young artists and actors are also invited to add more flavours into the show. This new show stands out for its engagement with technology, i.e. smartphones. The candidates also need to explain or answer questions from the panel about their phones, contacts, etc. to ensure information transparency.
Group 2: Springboard for Celeb Dreams
These shows are usually filmed in the studios, more or less like a game show in which participants show up on the stage. There is an MC, a body of audience and even a panel of consultants who are supposed to give advice or comments to help the main make the final decisions. The biggest difference here is the participants are famous people working in various roles in the showbiz industry. For example, in the show “Vì Yêu Mà Đến,” a localised version of a successful Chinese dating show named “Fei Chang Wan Mei”, 8 famous bachelors who are singers, MCs, fashion models, young businessmen and hot boys will “compete” against each other to win the girl’s heart [hoahoctro.vn]. Similarly, the show “Lựa Chọn Trái Tim – Choice of the Heart”, a remake of the UK’s hit “Sexy Beast” engages the popular faces among the young to participate as the main player.
Perhaps these shows hope to attract the viewers by the idea of “dating with a celebrity” or something like even famous people want true loves. Yet, it is the involvement of famous people that make the viewers doubt the sincerity of the shows and think maybe participating the shows is just another way to get their faces appeared more on TV. Many interviews conducted with famous participants also further such hypothesis.
Group 3: Combo of Talent Show + Dating Show
Perhaps the producers of these shows believe that the way to someone’s heart is through their ears. Or maybe they just wanna exploit the idea of “finding a true love” to re-heat the public’s enthusiasm for singing shows which have been rampantly broadcast.
Basically, single singing lovers are paired up by the organisers, one male with one female, to perform a song. In “Giai Điệu Chung Đôi”, the amateur singers do not know each other until they are on the stage; if their performance is voted by 50% of the audience, the curtain between them on the stage rises and the singers can see each other’s face. The show’s panel of consultants made up of well-known singers also vote for the most talented couples and give love advice to the participants. The selected couples are engaged in singing and dancing practices and of course outside activities through which hopefully they realise their calls of heart. The final prize for the winner, 300 million VND (~13,000 USD), makes the show even more a singing contest [vtv.vn].
Slightly different, in “Khúc Hát Se Duyên” aired on 7 March 2018, the male candidates need to go through four rounds to get to know the female main, and only the winner one can be coupled up with the main to sing the love song [tuoitre.vn].
Since when they had such a craze for dating and dating become a golden egg for the media attention?
Lots of reasons can be listed out. Love is such a universal value shared by everyone so anything done in the name of love, even if it is for profit, will hardly fail? An industrial life style with the irresistible and invincible invasion of technology discourages offline connection? Female independence encourages single-hood among young women? Or maybe it is just a global trend showing the world population is aging more rapidly?
For me, the format of these shows is up for discussion. Except for the LGBT couple in The Bachelor Vietnam, very few shows portrait romances outside the heterosexual community. In some shows, there are transgender candidates but they are not normally selected for the final round. Also, some projects have quite outdated gender roles in media, for example, the male main sitting to select the female candidates sitting in a row in front of him. Making the love seekers understand their values, their identities is essential to their journey to love. That is what I personally find the second group fails to do: the celebrity candidates appear in different dating shows aired on different channels and showtimes as if they are doing shows or the candidates refuse to show up at the date after seeing the candidate’s unmasked face does not reflect what the shows (or at least their names) try to promote.
By Thu Ngo