Ever had one of those days when you’re all excited to be the featured expert behind a finalist in a television game show watched by 300 million people, but then instead of being a star you end up getting sucked into a groundless debate with a stubborn audience member and the entire show grinds to a halt?
Here’s the setup.
Early into my consulting arrangement with a fairly large winery in the far-western Gobi Desert in China, the company owner, let’s call her Mrs Chairwoman, entered, then made it past 100 contestants to end up in the final five on an entrepreneurial TV game show called The Winner. Think “Shark Tank” meets “The Bachelorette” crossed with “The Muppet Show” for Chinese businesses that want to scale up at a rate that most Western businesses can’t conceive of. Interesting concept, possibly borrowed from the West, and highly successful within China
I was due for my next vineyard visit, mid-season. About 4 days before jetting off to the Gobi for what was supposed to be a normal consulting visit to work on vineyard details, I was told “bring a suit, we’re going to Shanghai for a day”. Nothing else. No mention of why, what kind of suit or tie, who or what we’d be meeting, how we’d get there or back. Nothing. So I obliged, erring on the fancier vestige side.
In fact, we did just as described, a contingent of 10 of us from the winery, doggedly arriving on a 40 degree day at the largest TV studio I have ever seen, and we prepared to go on stage.
The show itself was actually very legit – Fortune 100 billionaires were the judges who would finance the ideas, and the losing 95 entrepreneurs became the minor judges, who – and this is an important detail – sat in a steeply tiered judges gallery off to one side, ready to become Statler and Waldorf* at the drop of a hat.
The compere was a spritely man, reminded me of a leprechaun – very short, apparently very funny, engaging, actively hopping around the stage, and ably capable of getting the large in-studio audience of 2000 hopped up with laughter and applause.
So, third candidate up, after an adorable kid who wanted to create a Facebook for primary schools (what could go wrong?) , standing next to a tiger-mum who was convinced every clothing item on your body should be stone-washed denim, and sandwiched in amongst not one, but two entrepreneurs who wanted to get more meat into the Chinese tummy, Mrs Li came on strong, selling the idea that wine was the future of China, and the entire East Coast was missing out on their Gobi goodness.
After a few stirring words in French from a mail-it-in French wine consultant (who needed no translation…it was after all a brief treatise on wine in French!), it was left to me to sell the science of the site; its terroir, its essence, its majesty, and the magic behind the actually pretty damn good wines that were just starting to come off this property.
Picture me, in a bloody expensive suit, rambling on in English about soils and diurnal apertures, being translated to the TV audience by the assistant of one of the judges, resplendent in his daggy red tracksuit pants, to a Chinese crowd only there for the free Sprite and the chance to meet a billionaire, when, all of a sudden, off to my left, a voice pops up and says in perfect English “No! I don’t believe you. It’s too hot in the Gobi desert, and with global warming, in the next 10 years, wine will no longer be able to be grown there”. It was one of the losing contestants, a very bright engineer and a wine lover, showing that he knew just enough to get it wrong.
Well, the show literally ground to a halt. It did – I heard the screeching sounds from the show’s tires. So I turned to him, and instead of pulling a witty one-liner that would reduce him to a jellified mass of sulking blubber so the show could carry on, I engaged him in a debate on why I felt he was wrong, backed up with the science of epigenetics, phenology-targeted irrigations, diurnal shifts, climate complexes, and the nexus of altitude and latitude, for what felt like 25 minutes. ALL OF IT IN ENGLISH. My poor translator, and the compere, just walked off the stage to take a break, headed for a beer in the green room.
After what now seemed like an eternity, the compere came back, made a very obviously snarky line about me to the cameras, which got the crowd roaring, and the show rambled on again.
So of course, 3 months later, I looked to the finale with great anticipation of who had won, to catch a glimpse of the first moments of my shining Chinese TV career…..
Yup. Cutting room floor material.
Here’s a pic of my big moment closeup in the finale:
Oh, and yes, Mrs Chairwoman came in third. The winner was (all jokes aside) a man who openly stated that he wanted to be the next Colonel Sanders of Organic chicken, who was seriously struggling to keep an eye on his food chain, and who was opening 100 new stores A WEEK.
Coq au vin should be on his menu.
NB *If you don’t know who these two are then you aren’t fully evolved yet in your sarcasm game
Some more of the fun:
Set design has mercifully evolved since this…
My grand entrance, excitement building to performance level:
The big introduction…..
The whole group on stage (and the eventual winner looking smugly on from the side)
My other great closeup….head blocked out by exuberant yellow font:
If you’ve got 2 hours to spare, you can watch the whole thing here: http://www.iqiyi.com/v_19rrfw2nmw.html?src=frbdaldjunest