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The hunt is on for real men

A promotional poster for You're The Man, spruiking the grand $7,000 prize.

At the InDevelopment office on Street 306, executive producer Anji Loman Field looms over the roofless white model of a house. Marked with architectural guides and inhabited by several gummi bear-shaped denizens, the model is a scale mock-up of an existing residence – location undisclosed – that Loman Field and Cade Advertising creative director Jo Clifford are busy turning into the set of You’re The Man season three.

You’re The Man is a reality TV show initiative of Family Health International, which pits young Cambodian men against each other to prove their manliness, while also promoting a more progressive ideal of machismo: responsibility, empathy, and leadership.

But while the past two seasons have put the men on the road to participate in feats of strength and character, Cade Advertising now has the tender to run the show, and together with the InDevelopment production company, they’re taking it in a drastically different direction.

For You’re The Man season three, they looked to a western reality TV staple that has somehow not been emulated in the kingdom: Big Brother.

“We looked at all sorts of options: whether to do a boot camp scenario, or a jungle-type Survivor-style show, and in the end it felt more contained to do something like this,” said Loman Field.

“The previous two series were out-and-about and quite task-led. They were very plot-led, ours is very character-led. It’s the difference between an all-action movie with very little character development and something that’s more of a…like an intense Chekhov play,” she laughs.

Come January, contestants will be penned in a locked house, where they’ll vie for the crown (and the $7,000 prize) while living with no communication to the outside world, no media, and no clocks.

The show is now recruiting applicants from all over the country, and after September 15, producers will begin to whittle down the list to six lucky men. From an initial list that Loman Field estimates may run into the thousands, Cade Advertising, InDevelopment and FHI will carefully hand-pick their inmates.

“We don’t really want a guy who’s completely brilliant and good, because there’s no drama in that,” Loman Field says.

“I think we’ll be looking for a good mix of people, but we don’t want everyone to be a goody two-shoes because that would defeat the purpose. They need to be brave, to show courage, tenacity, determination, integrity, empathy, all of these qualities we feel leads to the modern hero.”

Of course, applicants will also be diverse enough to ensure that the house has some heady chemistry.

“The core target audience for this show is 18-35-year-old urban men; men with a little bit of cash to spend. But I don’t think that means we need to rule out other kinds of guys from the show at all…I think it would be nice to get somebody who’s really quite young and modern, not the archetypal good student but perhaps a little bit more funky. And it would be nice to get a 35-year-old dad with three kids and a wife. They can learn from each other in that situation.”

Having worked for the BBC internationally, as well as for several dramas in the UK and NGOs in Cambodia, Loman Field was able to tap into her own impressive experience to plan the show. But she also had the unique advantage of being able to draw on the advice of her ex-husband; an alumnus of the British Big Brother crew.

The result is a hybrid of the traditional Big Brother format and close-camera doco, with three cameramen documenting the trials and day-to-day life of the house, and webcams supervising the participants after hours.

The new format means that – weekly challenges aside – the men will face a much tougher environment than previous years.

“There’ll be situations where maybe you mess with their body clocks a little bit, so they won’t be able to sleep through the whole night,” says Loman Field. “There won’t be any clocks in the house, so they won’t know exactly what time it is.”

And the diary room, where contestants confess their thoughts and feelings, may be the scariest prospect of all.

“It’s an interesting aspect for Cambodians, because the culture is quite guarded – it’s not normal to be this open. So that’s one of the challenges we have in the recruitment process, to find guys that will be able to do that and talk about their feelings.”

As for the weekly challenges themselves, Loman Field would not share specifics of what's in store.

“Some of them will be physical challenges, testing endurance and bravery… Some tasks will be similar to the ‘Hands on a Hardbody’ contest held the other week. You don’t need to be physically stronger than anyone else, you just need the tenacity, the wherewithal to keep going when you feel like you’re going to pass out.

“There may be creative challenges, mysterious to solve, moral dilemmas to think about. They will all be thought provoking in some way. Some will be more entertaining than others, slapstick in a way.”

When the winner is finally voted in, and the doors are unbarred, Loman Field hopes that the audience will have a better idea of what truly makes a man.

“Cambodia doesn’t really have role models for men or women,” she said. “I suppose you could say some singing stars and actors are now coming into their own, but mostly if you ask a Cambodian who their role model is, they’ll say ‘My mum, or my dad.’ Or they’ll say ‘Hun Sen’. Which is fine, but you need to have other role models, people you can relate to. It’s about looking up to people for the right reasons, and being inspired by them. And what we’re hoping to do is put guys in here that can be looked up to. And hopefully the guy who wins it, which we can’t control because it’s a public vote, but hopefully he will be the epitomy of the modern Cambodian hero and a real man.”

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