Stars take Chinese viewers on globe-trotting adventure in reality show

Supermodel Liu Wen (right) joins Norwegians to prospect for gold in Svalbard, together with Taiwan singer and host Aya, the resident travel guest of the show Encounter.
PHOTO: China Daily/Asia News Network

To help young viewers slake their thirst for globe-trotting adventure without having to leave the comfort of their own homes, Encounter, a documentary-style reality show on Tencent's streaming media platform, packs popular celebrities off to experience extraordinary locales and challenging activities.

Celebrity guests spend week-long trips outside their comfort zones and undertake bucket-list busting escapades, such as chasing tornadoes in the United States, assisting anti-poaching efforts at an elephant orphanage in Zambia and climbing to the peak of Puncak Jaya in Indonesia.

The show, which forgoes flamboyant editing and overbearing effects, garnered an overwhelming thumbs-up from its viewers, who are eager to better see the world. It gained 9 points out of a total 10 on review website Douban.

To the delight of its fan base, the first episode of the second season premiered on Oct 22 and will be followed by a new episode each week.

Compared to the first season, the second introduces a greater diversity among the guest travellers. In the first season, celebrity guests were drawn from "artsy youth" circles like ballad vocalist Pu Shu and jazz singer Mavis Fan.

The second season reveals a stronger sense of "inclusiveness", according to Aya Liu, simply known as Aya, a singer from Taiwan who also hosts the show as the "resident" traveller that accompanies each star guest.

"If we only open our door to a certain type of traveller, it's not open-minded," she said at a pre-screening of the show in Beijing. "As long as the guests are curious to explore the world, they are welcomed.

"Due to their well-groomed image, people, including me, often have preconceived ideas about their life and their personalities, but the truth is that they are not always as you imagine them," she adds.

In the first episode of the new season, actress and model Yang Ying, aka Angelababy, joins Xu Yukun-the 72-year-old who 12 years ago embarked on a global cycling odyssey-en route to Vancouver for the final stage of his ride across Canada.

Meanwhile, Feng Shaofeng, an actor most frequently seen in historical dramas, joins a team making a crop circle in the United Kingdom and supermodel Liu Wen joins Norwegian locals as they go prospecting for gold in Svalbard.

Her perfectly coiffured public persona slips a little while she is navigating the archipelago by boat, which results in an unfortunate bout of seasickness.

"It's my first time camping," Liu says in the programme. "All the public know about me is the image that has been portrayed through cameras. But, during the shoot for the show, when there was no phone signal of any kind, I stayed true to myself."

The programme's producer, Li Xiao, explains that while the first season focused on the relationship between people and nature, represented by the harsh environments and extreme destinations, the second season seeks to highlight the interpersonal relationships between people when travelling.

Li says: "We want to get close to people that live different lives and listen to their ideas."

For example, Aya and Feng managed to mediate between farm owners and crop circle artists in the UK to create a piece of work which is dedicated to a woman who spent her life studying mysterious crop circles that still remain unexplained phenomena.

The programme hopes to demonstrate that love and warmth can overcome disagreements among people, Aya says.

It also shows concern for social issues, such as Alzheimer's sufferers, or children left behind in rural areas when their parents migrate to big cities for work, by having celebrity guests travel with them.

Moreover, the show gives the floor to controversial figures who may be misunderstood by the public.

The veteran cyclist is one of those people. He grew up as a farmer in Henan province, yet has been criticised for bucking the traditional Chinese view of how senior citizens should behave-he left his wife behind to cycle around the world alone, just to "pursue his personal dream of expanding his horizons".

Xu explains in the programme why he is able to spend more than 10 years living such an unstable life, mostly living off instant noodles and bread soaked in water.

"Whenever you have difficulties, never be angry and never give up," he says.

However, not everyone can keep pace with the septuagenarian's unstoppable wheels.

In the programme, for several days in a row, Angelababy, who just couldn't get up early, chose to sleep in, then rent a car to catch up with Xu later, rather than set off on the journey together early in the morning.

While some internet users doubted whether "her choice to save her energy" was right, the programme's director, Zhao Qi, did not interfere.

Zhao says: "I didn't know what would happen next, and I didn't want to have a script.

"Encounter is like a scalpel cutting directly to the core of real life. In the show, without any limitations, the celebrities reveal their personalities on screen.

"The show can be a place to welcome different attitudes in life, rather than catering to audiences' expectations."

Aya adds: "Celebrities have the same concerns and anxieties as anyone else. However, our exploration as portrayed in the show might inspire viewers to have confidence in their own life choices."