A woman and a man find their match in the show Hello Mr Right in Kenya. (Photo: Agencies)
Deiz Nandako, a 21-year-old student at University of Nairobi, and Godfred Wafula, a 25-year-old restaurant waiter, had never imagined they could be shot by Cupid's arrow during the filming of Hello Mr Right, a blind dating TV program in Kenya produced by a Chinese company. This couple, among many other prospective lovebirds, recently found partners on the show.
Hello Mr Right was created by Chinese digital television provider TopStar, a subsidiary of StarTimes. The Beijing-based company is now a media group with 10 million subscribers across 30 countries in Africa.
The company has a large base of young viewers and media networks across Africa. The company gave technical support for filming and production. This is the first time a Chinese company cooperated with African local television stations to create a dating program.
A show for Africans
The show follows a simple format. Eight women stand in an arc, each behind a podium. A single man comes on the stage. A video clip introduces his background such as his occupation, interests, job, what he is looking for in a mate, and dating history.
Specially designed for Africa, men and women are given an opportunity both in the auditions and shooting to show off their talents with a dance or a song to warm things up. Women can decide if the man is "date-worthy' by keeping a light on or turning it off. The man makes a selection from the women with their lights on. After giving his final questions, he then makes a decision by taking the winner's hand, or departs alone.
The program will premiere in Kenya soon, after successful runs in Zambia. The Kenya version's female host is Vera Sidika, one of the most influential celebrities on social media. She recently hinted on social media that Hello Mr Right will be all about the fun and challenges of relationships in its first season.
The hosts, content planning team and male and female guests are all from Africa. "We hope it to be a show grown in African, and for Africans," Zhao Chengxu, the producer of the Chinese production team, told the Global Times.
Talking about potential concerns about production in culturally conservative Africa, Zhao acknowledges that religious and cultural differences had to be taken into account. For this reason, "The Chinese production team provided support and guidance only at the technical level, leaving the local partners space to develop the content."
The design of the show's interactions and selection criteria during the auditions was all left to local television partners. The program uses both English and Kiswahili.
"We can only give suggestions such as 'simplify the program format,' because an overly complex process makes it harder for the audience to understand in the very first season," said Zhao.
"Love knows no borders. It is an eternal theme, and a studio dating show is a good format. We found local dating shows in Africa were lacking. As it happens, the broadcasting channel developed by TopStar in Africa is a drama channel with love as the main theme. I thought our target audience might be interested if we opened a new blind dating show," said Zhao.
Thanks for the chance
"Hello TopStar thank you for posting my video, I was really curious to watch it," commented Emmanuel. He felt excited to see a short clip featuring his dancing uploaded onto the official social media account of Hello Mr Right. This 20-year-old young African man is a recent participant on the show in Zambia.
In the comments section of the social media account, one person after another showed their curiosity and enthusiasm amid comments about Emmanuel's short video.
"What should I do if I want to participate?"
"How can I compete... Or be part of the show... I really want to find my dream girl... My Miss Right."
The show, in cooperation with the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), was launched in Zambia earlier this year. A total of 25 male and 40 female guests from Lusaka, Livingston, Ndola, and Kitway participated, with a dream of finding their true love. Participants with great talent result in huge climaxes during the love competition, explained Zhao.
Deiz Nandako and Godfred Wafula are now happy together, since they met up on the program in Kenya. Nandako was full of anxiety and skepticism before the show.
"When I went there, there were so many beautiful ladies. I thought there is no chance for me. But at the end of the day, I was the one who was chosen, and I just thank God for that," Nandako told the Global Times. She is 21 now. She believes it would be awful if she did not have a boyfriend by 24. She did not sound very confident in a telephone interview.
Wafula, her partner, who works as a waiter and an actor, quickly interrupted during the phone interview to reassure her.
"Yes I saw a lot of beautiful ladies as she said, but one thing caught my attention, her appreciation for what I do," he said.
Nandako said almost all of her friends advised her against joining the show, because of their doubts about its authenticity.
"They thought the show was fabricated, the guys were fake, and I was coming here to find a fake thing. They want something real for me, not just for having fun but for a serious thing. Now I can prove them wrong because I have already found my perfect match," she said, sounding satisfied at the other end of the line.
"African people are normally real and unsophisticated, so we don't usually preset templates or over-glorify participants' backgrounds in the programs. We want to give them a real, pure show," Zhao told the Global Times.
"Africans fall in love and get married at a younger age than Chinese. Many young people in their early 20s participated in the auditions. The show is a new way for them to make friends and find potential dates. In Zambia, many students aged under 18 applied for the auditions. This is very novel for students, but we have to set an age limit," she added.
Three Chinese appeared on the program in Zambia. They are all employees of Chinese companies based in Africa. Oscar, 28, came to work in Zambia in 2016. This Chinese man was looking forward to meeting some suitable African girls, or more new friends, to explore Zambian culture together.
"For Chinese people, being unmarried at 28 will worry their parents," he told the Global Times. Like many Chinese employees in Africa, Oscar can only return home once or twice each year, leaving no chance for a long-distance love. His work in Africa was so intense it restrained him from getting to know more African women after work. He heard about the blind date show, and knew it was time for him to find love.
He fired up the audience in the program with a performance of a Chinese Peking Opera selection. "I am not good at singing or dancing like other participants, I just wish to show my own characteristics," he said.
"Many were fascinated by the Chinese opera. They left messages for me, showing their curiosity and desire to know more about Chinese culture. That made me feel proud and satisfied, though I failed to find a girl on the show."
"I feel very natural about marriage between Chinese and Africans. More and more Africans are willing to consider marrying Chinese people. And the program host treated me as an ordinary male guest throughout without deliberately magnifying my identity as a 'Chinese guy,'" said Oscar.
Cooperation and challenges
The cooperation between production teams from China and Africa sparked opportunities and also challenges.
Brian Mulamba, the host of Hello Mr Right in Zambia, appreciates the bringing in of many Chinese advanced techniques and resources. "China's media and broadcasting industries are more mature than Zambia's, so this helps us to know the latest changes and trends for broadcasting and television," he told the Global Times.
Jack Kafukilwa, the leading engineer of ZBNC, expects that such cooperation will continue. He hopes that his crew can be invited to see programs produced by TopStar elsewhere.
"The difference between China and African teams in working rhythm is actually a small challenge. For instance, Chinese team tends to quicken the process if it is rainy during the outdoor shooting, while the African cameramen still move the camera leisurely while humming a tune. They can enjoy the process more than us, and we should get used to their rhythm," Zhao told the Global Times.
Since its debut in Zambia, the show has set a new record for the channel's best ratings. It received 3.11 percent of the audience in Uganda and 2.58 percent in Nigeria. The show was well received on social media in both countries.