Chinese reality TV off beaten track

Chinese reality TV off beaten track

Chinese reality TV is replete with studiobound contests in singing, dancing and diving and Hunan TV's Where Are We Going, Dad?, which packs off five pairs of celebrity parents and children to the great outdoors, gets away from it all.

Except it doesn't entirely. An adaptation of a South Korean MBC variety show, Where Are We Going, Dad? is really a light-hearted yet thoughtprovoking parenting contest.

You can coo over how cute Mandopop idol Jimmy Lin, 39, and his son Kimi are, as you judge Lin's little decisions, such as capitalising on the four-year-old auntie-killer's appeal and letting him haggle with hawkers to make the most of the show's 50 yuan (S$10) food budget for their trip to a desert in Ningxia.

You might chuckle at bungling dads, such as music video director Wang Yuelun, 40, who has trouble tying his four-year-old moppet Angela's hair back with a rubber band, as you picture how busy their wives must be usually.

The first season of the show - featuring Lin, Wang, Olympic diving champion Tian Liang, 34, model Sean Zhang, 31, actor Guo Tao, 44, and their children - has been a runaway success in China, resulting in a record-setting film and an upcoming second season.

The premise of the show seems pretty straightforward at first.

In locations from verdant Yunnan to snowy Heilongjiang, the fathers have to survive three days with the children in an emotional wilderness, deprived of mothers, smartphones and toys. Pursuing the back-to-the-basics theme, every episode has mini-contests which test the father-and-child teams as hunter-gatherers in foraging, fishing, cooking and the like.

But as storylines take root, the show grows into a complex study of parenting.

In early episodes, Zhang's newfangled theory of being friends with his son Tiantian seems misguided, especially when the six-year-old wakes up before a trip wailing, "I'm afraid I won't be obedient if mama isn't going", and throws a tantrum almost as soon as they arrive at a village outside Beijing.

Later, Zhang looks more and more like a winner, however.

Not only does the cook-turned-model excel in the challenges every week, but he also saves other dads such as Wang, suggesting easy recipes to them and giving them his catch so they don't look like losers in front of the children.

More movingly, Tiantian turns out to be a most thoughtful boy.

In one of the best episodes, each child is told to watch over an egg which is about to hatch, then thrown into distress when the egg is broken by a rival dad who pretends it is just an accident.

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