In Australia, women aren’t in charge. The fabulous hit Chinese TV dating show If You Are The One is a world where women get to choose men and most of the men walk away spurned and dateless. So what’s so different about China? It appears women are a rare species and they are the ones that can afford to be fussy. If You Are The One is funny, sad, and a fascinating glimpse of what is different about Chinese dating, and what remains the same.

24 women eagerly waiting

Let me run you through the format in case you haven’t seen it. 24 women stand behind podiums in front of a live crowd. Various candidates appear in front of them and spruik their wares, hopeful of a date.

The candidates glide down in a lift as a toe-tapping tune is belted out and everyone claps loudly. We see shoes, then trousers, shirt or jacket along with hands, and finally the face of the hopeful man. As he is arriving, we cut to the women as they watch eagerly. It’s a tease, and must require some fortitude from the men who are completely objectified. This is a female gaze – a delicious reversal of the norm.

The hosts

The hosts in the show that is currently screening in Melbourne are the charismatic Meng Fei, with Le Jia and Huang Han, a Chinese psychologist, adding her calming influence. The women are deferential to the hosts, and the hosts are often surprisingly honest but also kind to the dates and the women. This is really the overall feeling of the show – honest but also kind.

Pick your favourite girl

The date is given the opportunity to choose his favourite woman, which he does on an apparatus that looks like an electronic ping-pong paddle. We are privy to who he chooses but the women themselves aren’t until later in the show. In their choice the men reveal themselves to be typical men in that they usually pick the youngest and the prettiest.

The date then exchanges some repartee with the host and the women are asked to make a decision about him.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Each of the women has a button on her podium. When the candidate first appears all the lights are on but as the women make a decision they turn out their light, which means not interested.

Judging a book by it’s cover

Some women turn their light off after the initial introduction. When questioned about this the women say things like “he’s too short”, or “you had your hand in your pocket, you looked lazy”, or even “your hair makes you look old.” This is one tough market. Just so you don’t miss it, each light turn-off is accompanied by a sad-sack electronic tone, and a large tally out of 24 is kept on a scoreboard.

There is also the possibility of ‘blowing up’ your heart, which results in a giant flashing red love-heart on the tally-board. This means one of the women has gone crazy for the date. Love at first sight sort of thing. She then automatically joins the women on the final selection platform. It actually doesn’t seem to increase her changes of being picked.

Digging his own grave

The intrepid chap now has the opportunity to present some videos about himself. The level of honesty here is frequently excruciating, and it’s usual to hear the lights being turned off in a cascade of sound as the tally of remaining lights (interested parties) plummets.

The videos usually feature sound bites from friends or colleagues. In the West you would expect these to be recommendations but it’s not unusual for these so-called friends to highlight weaknesses in the dates character; “he’s a workaholic”, “he’s a terrible cook”, and even “I pity his future wife”. Is this a Chinese thing? Is honesty more important than loyalty? It’s hilarious but it does make us cringe.

How will you take care of my parents?

The women also have the opportunity to ask the date questions. These questions often involve the sort of conversations you expect to have a lot later in a Western relationship; “would you come and live in the city where I work?” “How will you take care of my parents?” “Where do you want to be in five years time?” Questions about money and ambition predominate. This is not a date, this is an audition and it’s an audition for life.

Final showdown

It’s quite usual by the end of the date videos for all the podium lights to be out, and the man must leave the show dateless. If there are one, two or three lights still on, the women come up onto a special platform. The date’s favourite woman is then revealed and she comes up as well. Nine times out of 10 she’s already turned her light off so it is a special sort of surprise when she is still interested as well.

If more than three women still have their lights on, the date may go up and switch off lights until he only has three left. This is a rare occurrence.

With the final women up on the platform, the date is asked to select from a number of topics which each has a prepared answer to. These pre-recorded video segments include things like hobbies, work, dreams for the future, my bedroom.

The man’s choice

At the end of the show, the date gets to choose if he takes a woman “home.” He is allowed to pick his favourite, but he’s warned that if she has already turned her light off, he may leave empty-handed.

Here the men often reveal themselves to be like men all around the world; they find it hard to think no actually means no. Many still choose their favourite woman, seemingly ignoring the fact that she has already voted with her finger. Predictably, being voted favourite doesn’t change their mind.

Success is infrequent but sweet

Just occasionally everything works out. The man chooses another woman, not his favourite, and they leave together hand in hand, happy to share a prize of a trip to the Aegean Sea. Or his favourite changes her mind (once in a blue moon).

What about an Australian version?

Some of the appeal of the Chinese show is how innocent these people appear to be. In an Australian show I think sex would never be far from anyone’s mind – if not text at least subtext. I think there will be a lot more bitchiness between the women. I would also be surprised if Australian men would subject themselves to that level of scrutiny by women.

The Chinese seem to think finding love is as important as buying a house, or building a career. In the West we treat so many of our relationships as temporary and throw-away. I think for us to have a little of the gravitas shown in If You Are The One’ would be an improvement.