Watching TV in Chinese is a great way to learn vocabulary that actually sticks in your brain. But if you’re not into historical dramas, then you might find that even watching TV becomes a chore when you’re looking for ways to incorporate Chinese in your daily life. Introducing Chinese Reality TV Shows!
As a Chinese learner myself, I’ve never really been much a fan of the shows that my Chinese friends are into. The language in these shows is often flowery and idiomatic, too much for my laowai brain to handle. I know that forcing myself to watch these shows definitely does help in learning the language, but it just hasn’t been fun. I’ve tried tricking myself into thinking I could get into one, but at the end of the day, especially when I’m tired after work, the last thing I want to do is figure out some complex, melodramatic storyline that requires a deep understanding of the Chinese historical context. I may be a language nerd, but sometimes I wanna just pop open a pint of ice cream and switch my brain off!
So, I sought out a better way that, as a bonus, also satisfies my guilty pleasure of watching trash TV (that’s right, I admit I watch that nonsense and I like it)! Ever since I arrived in China, production quality has improved exponentially in Chinese TV. I can’t even scoff at the commercials anymore like I used to. Chinese are going pro when it comes to TV and to them, that means going Hollywood. Within the last year or two, many of my top guilty pleasure reality shows like America’s Next Top Model, Top Chef, Road Rules, etc., now have a Chinese equivalent and as icing on the cake, China has upped its production quality so that it looks, feels, sounds just like the Hollywood version. Crying and cat fights included!
I’ve had my friend, Chamcen, here at Written Chinese scour the web to find me the highest quality, most exciting, hottest trending Chinese reality TV shows on the web today. Doing the research for this post has been far from a chore! The following TV shows are all available online for free if you are able to search Chinese websites. Here’s a list of Chinese websites that have tons of TV and movies both in Chinese and English. Go ahead and try copying the Chinese name (without the Pinyin) for the TV shows below into these sites to get watching:
Having trouble accessing the Chinese websites? We’ve uploaded some of the episodes to the Written Chinese YouTube channel to get you started watching right now.
Learn this Chinese word! Reality Show = 真人秀 (zhēnrén xiù)
So, listed in order of how popular these TV shows are in China, let’s get cooking with the top 10 picks for Chinese Reality TV that you’re actually gonna have to admit you love…
花儿与少年 Divas Hit the Road
Closest Show Equivalent: I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! + The Amazing Race
What do you get when you take 5 female Chinese celebrities and 2 male Chinese celebrities then make them travel abroad without their credit cards? Some good trash TV, that’s what. Watch as this group of normally pampered stars, race around the world on a shoestring. It’s funny, entertaining and addictive even for new Chinese learners. Plus, you’ll even get a brain break when they’re forced to use their English skills abroad.
– Original Chinese source: https://so.mgtv.com/so?k=%E8%8A%B1%E5%84%BF%E4%B8%8E%E5%B0%91%E5%B9%B4%20&lastp=so_result
– Want more? This is a similar show: 花样姐姐
爸爸回来了 第二季 Dad is Back – Season 2
Closest Show Equivalent: Based on the original South Korean reality show Dad! Where Are We Going?
Watch out, Dad ‘cuz Mom is out! Chinese superstars are filmed as they take care of their babies without the help of their wives. As we’re dealing with babies here, this one’s a great one for newbies to learning Chinese as some of the language gets repeated and it is more simple dialog than typical reality shows. Ladies with kids, I’m sure you’re going to love this one.
– Want more? This is a similar show: 爸爸去哪儿 （This one is very very popular, but Season 3 won’t come back until the summer holiday. On the bright side, you can catch up with Season 1 and 2 in the meantime.）
我们相爱吧 We’re in Love
Closest Show Equivalent: The Choice
6 celebrities are selected to split into 3 couples in order to date each other. You’ll definitely be picking a team fast and rooting for them as they go through obstacles. Think the last 2 paired up will be left behind? Wait and see!
爱上超模 I, Supermodel
Closest Show Equivalent: America’s Next Top Model
This is a personal favorite of mine, and it didn’t take me long to pick a favorite and start rooting for her as the show progressed (it’s Kiki- I love you, Kiki!). 14 aspiring Chinese models travel to Australia to compete to win prizes and fame, just like in America’s Next Top Model. Each week after competing challenging and often hilarious challenges, 1-2 models are kicked off the show and sent back to Beijing. The production quality is excellent, and the drama will keep you hooked, even if you don’t understand exactly what they’re saying. Guys, don’t think there’s nothing in store for you- the models already get nude in episode 2!
– Original Chinese source: http://www.iqiyi.com/a_19rrhc213d.html?vfm=2008_aldbd
– Want more? This is a similar show: 超模学院 = Supermodel Academy
真正男子汉 It Takes a Real Man
Closest Show Equivalent: Think “Survivor” but in the military and with celebrities
Strap on your polished boots and camouflage! In this action-packed series, 6 stars of different ages head to a military training camp where they’re trained like serious soldiers. Let’s see which ones survive, and which ones scurry back to their plush homes with tails between their legs.
– Original Chinese source: http://www.hunantv.com/v/1/108863/index.html#
前往世界的尽头 Exploration of Earth
Closest Show Equivalent: Man vs. Wild
China’s sending out 6 people from various background to the ends of the earth! Watch as they travel together and learn to survive in some of the most beautiful, dangerous and exotic locations on the planet. Trust me, you won’t only learn Chinese while watching this one!
– Original Chinese source: http://www.hunantv.com/v/1/110042/index.html#
星厨驾到 第二季 Star Chef – Season 2
Closest Show Equivalent: Food Network’s Celebrity Cook-off
Get out your cooking gear and get ready to watch as Chinese celebrities, some of which have no idea what they’re doing, compete in the kitchen! Being both highly entertaining and drool-worthy makes this show a good choice for learning Chinese. Plus, beginners can even feel proud of their Chinese levels as they pick out commonly heard food vocabulary.
– Original Chinese source: https://so.iqiyi.com/so/q_%25E6%2598%259F%25E5%258E%25A8%25E9%25A9%25BE%25E5%2588%25B0?source=
12道锋味 Chef Nic
Closest Show Equivalent: Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations + Iron Chef
Join one of China’s top stars, Nicholas Tse (who is amazing at pretty much everything, btw) on a cooking adventure. Head outdoors as he travels around the world with another Chinese celebrity while whipping up interesting dishes. Both chefs learn to cook the local cuisine strictly under local rules and the food shown here will be sure to make you salivate! Beginners, this is a great one for you!
– Original Chinese source: http://v.qq.com/detail/7/7958.html
厨王争霸 Greatest Chef
Closest Show Equivalent: Top Chef
This is nearly identical to the all-time classic cook-off: Top Chef. Watch as these hungry and daring competitors complete challenges and cooking competitions. Learn a bit about Chinese cooking and flavor palette while you refresh and expand on your food vocabulary.
– Original Chinese source: http://www.iqiyi.com/a_19rqz6dd76.html?vfm=2008_aldbd
行者 Heavenly Mission
Closest Show Equivalent: Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends
Forget about all the product placement and competition and step back into this relaxing travel program, with a sole mission to discover and to share experiences around the world. This is basically a travel diary and will peak your interest in places you may not have heard of while teaching you relevant vocabulary that will be useful for your own travels in and around China.
-Watch Season 1 EP 01 on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOi2gi8b4UI (Sorry about the lack of sound!
So there you have it! If reality shows aren’t your cup of tea, or if you’re looking for more great suggestions for TV that will help your Chinese, check out our article 10 Chinese TV Shows to Help You Learn Mandarin.