HIV/AIDS prevention efforts will test the manhood of Cambodian men in July on TV3 asking about 1,000 male contestants if they are “real men” in the reality show “You’re the Man.”
The show, in its second season will premiere July 7 on TV 3, and is designed to raise ideas about what makes a real man and the responsibilities that manhood entails, said Caroline Francis, associate director of the NGO Family Health International, which is organized the show. “It will not only ask them if they are real men, it will ask them to prove they are real men. We believe there are lots of these men around and we want to recognize them,” she said, adding that responsible behavior includes devotion to family and responsible sexual behavior such as condom use. “We realize that of course that these guys are really the key for HIV prevention because men generally determine where, when and how sex happens, so they can decide if it is safe sex.”
The show, funded by USAID and private donors, will begin with about 1,000 contestants filmed at five sites in Battambang town, Siem Reap town, Kompong Cham town and Phnom Penh. And, in the style of American Idol, the men will be whittled down by judges and audiences to 15 contestants over 12 episodes. Audiences will make the final vote and the winner will receive $2,000. The show will cost about $150,000.
Contestants will be subjected to an obstacles course, a cooking contest, and quizzes about gender topics like harassment of women, Ms Francis said.
She said the focus on men follows a large body of research on sexual behavior of Cambodian men and high-risk activity at places like karaoke parlors.
According to a 2009 study by Population Services International, an HIV-AIDS prevention NGO, only 81.6 percent of respondents reported using a condom with a prostitute consistently and correctly during the prior three months.
Ms Francis said that years of straight-forward messaging about condom use has caused some men to be desensitized to prevention efforts.
“For a lot of these men that may be engaging in high risk behavior, it’s not sinking in, because they don’t think it has to do with them personally,” she said, adding that “You’re the Man” offers a more comprehensive entertaining approach.
“No one would ever listen to us and watch our show if all we talked about was HIV,” she said.
Keo Som An, a 29-year-old restaurant manager in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district and a contestant for the show, said he wanted to set a good example as a man, demonstrate his manhood and the importance of being a responsible husband and father.
“I am excited to join ‘You’re the Man.’ I want to be the real man,” he said. “I want to show others about my ability and also want other men to do as I do.”
Dr Tia Phalla, vice chair of the National Center for HIV/AIDS Dermatology and STD, said he believes directly educating men about the importance of condoms is effective.
But he questioned whether the program will be as effective as possible and attract viewers, as the name is derived from American pop culture.
“I am not much interested in “You’re the Man,” he said. “The message is not related to Khmer culture.”
Sok Sodary, a marketing manager at TV3, said she expects the show to attract a large audience with its entertainment and education value.
“It’s an educational program and a new one too. It will attract a lot of audience,” he said. “Audiences will learn a lot about social duty from this program.”