The game of love

One contestant’s experience on a dating show

At the end of the show, female contestants would take the hand of the male contestant she preferred.

I never guessed I’d end up on a dating show.

Call me old-fashioned, but my idea of finding a potential date doesn’t involve Ellis Hall’s auditorium and competing against nine other students. But on Sunday night, I took part in the Queen’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association’s “Take Me Out” dating show.

This may have been in part because I was asked to participate at the last minute and chose to do it for The Journal, more so than a real interest in getting a date.

The event was based on a Chinese dating show, “If You Are the One”, which has a pretty simple concept: 10 potential male suitors compete for the affection of one young bachelorette. There are four rounds, each with a new woman and recycled men.

The male suitors sit behind lights with a switch at their fingertips. If their interest in the young woman on stage dwindles, they turn off a light in front of them, symbolically turning out the lights on a chance with the girl. 

Each potential date had several chances to turn off the light, as the female contestants had three videos — one showcasing personality, one showcasing their thoughts on relationships and one from their friends to show off a talent to the audience and their possible partners.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been thrown into an unfamiliar dating situation — in the past I tried online dating. That experience forced me to confront my feelings of potentially going on a date with someone I’ve never seen. Sunday’s experience left me with a completely new challenge.

I’m a naturally competitive person, but not in the context of dating. The idea of competing against other people for someone’s affections was a little nerve-racking — especially considering there were very few chances to actually show what mattered to the female contestants other than my looks.

One major thing I picked up on while taking part was the cultural disconnect between myself and the show. As a non-Chinese participant, there were times when my inability to understand comments made in Mandarin or Cantonese went over my head. 

This slightly lessened my experience because I felt like I was missing out on something that could have been important. Luckily, there were a few other contestants who didn’t speak either language, so I wasn’t alone in not understanding the humour.

Of the show’s four rounds, I sat out the first one, watching from the audience, which was packed with over 100 students. This allowed me to get a better understanding of the rules than a quick briefing from the organizers. I sat with mild curiosity while the opening contestant made her decision.

The game opened with each guy on stage keeping his light on while the contestant came down. She had the option to pick her “heartbeat guy” off nothing more than looks, revealing it to the show’s MCs. He was guaranteed to be one of her final choices, even if he switched his light off. 

A video played introducing the female contestant’s interests and personality to the audience and the potential prospects. More than a few lights turned off at this point, as interest waned. 

Continuing onwards, the female contestant showed off her singing talent by performing a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Fearless”. Despite a pretty solid performance, a few more lights shut off, with one of the men on stage quipping that he couldn’t be with a girl who would “outshine him.”

At this point, I began to wonder what it would be like when I inevitably had to get up on stage and take part in the show. I realized I didn’t really have a desire to do so, though I understood why the whole process could be rewarding.

The whole thing wasn’t for me. I didn’t really get why I’d want to take a chance on keeping my light on, when it doesn’t actually prove anything. A few questions doesn’t really determine whether couples are compatible, especially the questions posed that night.

One of the questions was a contestant’s thoughts on sex before marriage. He answered honestly, basing it on his religious beliefs. I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as cordial if that had been asked to me.

Ultimately, the female contestant was given the choice to turn off the lights of the remaining guys and pick one final eligible bachelor. Along with the “heartbeat guy”, he was brought up on stage and she picked between the two. In a slightly surprising move, she went against her “heartbeat guy” after a period of indecision, despite him having left his light on.

As the couple walked off, there was an opening on stage. I was called up and took a spot behind a light. At this point, I realized I’d made a mistake agreeing to this. I didn’t want to do this. I’d no desire to meet somebody off the basis of a few questions and a talent.

But there I was, in it for the long haul. 

The same format went into play as the next contestant came up. I figured I’d give the contestant a fair chance.

Maybe my head was somewhere else, or maybe it was because the entire concept of the show confused me, but it was clear my heart wasn’t really in the show.

I gave the contestant two videos and the presentation of her singing ability before turning off my light. While I was more or less pessimistic about the show, there was definitely a fun vibe emanating from behind the podium. Jokes were being made by the male contestants and I was called “savage” by Cameron, the contestant seated next to me, after turning my light off for the first time. 

That vibe continued with the third female contestant. After she came down and showed off her hip hop dancing and twerking skills, one of the contestants popped a balloon in front of him, indicating his interest in her and guaranteeing himself a spot amongst her final choices. He may have been impressed by her performance, but another male contestant gleaned that she had “a nice butt” from her dance. 

It ultimately didn’t matter as she’d chosen him as her “heartbeat guy,” and they left together, with the promise of a potential all-expenses paid trip to Eastern Canada.

Despite being prodded by The Journal’s Lifestyle Editor to at least keep my light on until the final round — giving the female contestant the ability to decide my fate — there was no way I was going to. I just wasn’t enthused about the idea of taking part in it. Even if it was fun for the people involved, I just wanted to focus on the show being over.

Some more humour came through, as a male contestant’s dancing elicited laughter from the audience and more than a few chuckles from those of us still behind the podiums. Even if my feelings towards being on the show were less than positive, it was still something I’d have enjoyed from the audience side of things.

The final contestant was able to select her “heartbeat guy”. He left his light on until the end and they walked off together.

If given this opportunity again this time next year, I’d politely decline. But if you’re looking to have some fun, or for that special someone, who’s to say you won’t meet the person of your dreams?

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