Photo by Ben Woods
Six Cambodian men were spirited away to an unknown location, stripped of their privacy and made to perform extreme tasks that played on their fears and tested their limits, all for the sake of education and entertainment.
“Six guys, one secret location, 75 extreme tasks,” is the catch phrase for You’re The Man, which will broadcast its first episode of season three on January 8 on TV5.
The Big Brother-style reality show locked Khmer male contestants, whose backgrounds range from an ice-cream seller to a psychology student, aged 19 to 31, in a private villa outside of Phnom Penh for two weeks and “put them through hell”.
“We stripped them of everything, pushed their buttons and then watched to see what would happen,” Cade Advertising creative director and producer of the series Jo Clifford said.
“They had nothing, we took away their connections to friends and families and gave them all sorts of horrible tasks and fears.”
Contestants were rewarded or punished at the end of each challenge, with some punishments including “coining” – a health treatment Cambodians use where a copper coin is put in tiger balm and rubbed vigorously all over the body.
Clifford declined to delve into the details of the challenges; “I don’t want to give away too much, we want it to be a surprise,” she said.
“But I’m sure a lot of Cambodians will think, ‘What on Earth did they do to those guys to get them to cry and be so emotional?’”
One of the contestants said during the filming, “We spent most nights worrying about what we will have to do next.”
Another said, “I accused the producers of being really cruel, I couldn’t believe they would make me do that… but afterwards I understood the reason and I felt sorry that I’d called them cruel.”
Heartless as it may sound, the show and its grueling challenges is an HIV prevention program driven by Family Health International 360 with the underlying purpose of educating young Cambodian men about male leadership, responsibility, empathy and endurance.
“We are working on the premise that people don’t set out to get HIV, rather it’s their lifestyle choices and judgments that lead them down that path,” Clifford said.
“We hope that through everything they were put through in the house they will reach their own conclusions to challenges in life and inspire other young male Cambodians to be responsible. The guys in the competition learned and demonstrated this without us having to tell them.”
Through the fun and games, tears and laughter seen in the show, contestants were given the opportunity to overcome struggles and gain a sense of achievement. It also allowed them to open up emotionally and share their more vulnerable sides.
“We were constantly told before we started this that reality TV like this wouldn’t work in Cambodia because Cambodians don’t like to show their emotions, they don’t like to lose face or put themselves out there like westerners do,” Clifford said.
“But we stuck to our guns and we are so satisfied with how it has turned out. The guys in the house formed an incredible bond and they really opened up emotionally – we had a lot of tears.”
Though the filming was complete it is still unknown, even for the contestants, which of them will walk away with the grand prize of $7,000.
Viewers will get to vote on the contestant they think demonstrates the best measure of male responsibility, leadership, empathy and endurance the best.
“Even if I don’t win the $7,000 I’m so glad that I’ve done this. I learned so much about myself,” one of the contestants said.
You’re the Man was a joint production by InDevelopment Productions and Cade Advertising and was funded by USAID.It will air on TV5 every Sunday at 8.30pm.