Then, last winter, my college ex-boyfriend, David, appeared as a contestant on a popular Chinese dating show called He’s been living in Beijing for the past six years, having moved there the summer after our college graduation and our break-up.
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Male contestants take the stage encircled by a panel of 24 female candidates—standing at individual podiums in a configuration known as “the avenue of love”—who use lights to indicate their interest.
As the women listen to a suitor banter with the show’s host, reveal information about his life in video clips, and watch him perform in what amounts to a “talent” portion, they can elect to turn off their podium lights and clock out of the competition (similar to ).
American expats appearing on Chinese TV is not uncommon: As explained in a June 2012 episode of This American Life, seeing foreigners perform and do “silly” things on TV—speak Mandarin, wear traditional garb, dance—is novel and hugely popular.
I’d seen David before on a talk show whose bare-bones set resembled something you’d see on an American public-access channel.
My reality TV doppelgänger wears a slouchy hat and a pea coat.
In a soft-focus flashback, she wanders alone through a generic cityscape, accompanied by somber piano music.
(I tried to imagine the conversation between David and the show’s producers about how to construct the story of our two-year relationship for a 30-second spot.) As the reality TV version of me gazes toward the sky in the style of a My Space picture, David explains in voiceover that I was a student when we met, a bookworm, and an aspiring professor.
But I was also the prototypical American woman: strong, independent, and not reliant on a man—the implied reason for our break-up.
As a student of cultural studies, I was intellectually fascinated: The philosopher Jean Baudrillard portentously wrote in 1986 that “everything is destined to reappear as a simulation”—even the events of your own life.