Reality Show’s Casting Call Draws Job Seekers

Kompong Cham district, kompong cham province – Application in hand, Fa Sary sat outside the Phnom Pros Hotel in Kompong Cham town on Friday waiting for a chance to improve her stake in life.

Inside, auditions were being held for the Cambodia Television Network’s “CTN Coffee Shop,” an upcoming reality television series-Cambodia’s first.

But Fa Sary, a 52-year-old ethnic Cham grocer, had little interest in appearing on television. In fact, she had no idea that she had shown up and was waiting for her chance to earn a spot in a TV reality show.

“I want to know more about the ‘Reality of Life,'” she said, referring to a tagline used on the show’s application form.

“I want to understand more how to improve my career.”

Her sentiments were echoed among the approximately 100 applicants mulling about the hotel, but few, if any, knew what they were signing up for.

In “CTN Coffee Shop,” 12 ordinary people will work at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh and live together above the cafe for three months. Each contestant will receive $100 per month.

During that time, their lives will be filmed and various restrictions placed on their contact with the outside world. For starters, contestants will not be allowed to watch television, use the phone or even leave the coffee shop building without permission from the show, according to the reality show’s producer and director, Kevin Kouch.

Each week, contestants and the audience at home will vote to remove a member of the cast from the show. The last contestant remaining wins a Honda Dream motorbike.

Kouch said the program’s concept was purchased from a Swedish company and was called “The Bar”-the setting for the show in its original European form. He was unable to recall the company’s name, but according to information on the Internet, it was likely purchased from Strix Television AB, which specializes in creating reality TV formats.

Setting the reality show in a bar was dropped because of concerns that the environment could get a little out of hand, which is one the changes that have been made to make the show ready for Cambodian audiences, according to CTN General Manager Glen Felgate.

Felgate declined to mention any specific changes saying that, “for the moment there aren’t any hard and fast rules. But we do have to be culturally sensitive.”

Kouch agreed that changes had to be made to the original format. “Of course, it’s all real,” he said, “but there are things forbidden.”

Elements that would be likely edited out of the program include anything overtly sexual, the consumption of alcohol and talk critical of the government, Kouch said.

The first round of auditions in Phnom Penh for participants was not as successful as hoped because too many applicants arrived looking for work rather than seeking to be on a television show, Felgate said.

To remedy this, the network reworked its promotional spots and expanded the talent search to the provinces-interviewing candidates in Battambang, Pursat, Siem Reap and Kompong Cham provinces last week.

Despite the network’s efforts, confusion over the purpose of the audition remained the norm. As in Phnom Penh, applicants were showing up not to become part of a television program but in search of a job or training.

Even those who had an idea that it was a television program had little idea of what reality shows entail, even after being interviewed by Kouch.

Following his turn with the producer, Houn Ratha, a 19-year-old student, said he didn’t know what would happen on the show. “I think it’s a program in Phnom Penh making us have a career,” he said.

“I think that maybe they will have us experiment in life, so I think they will allow me to continue my studies,” he added.

There was at least in part an effort to conceal the details of the program from potential contestants, who were never told about the coffee shop premise in any detail in large part because the network feared the show would be copied by competitors, Kouch and Felgate said.

When asked whether he felt the show’s application and promotional materials were in part responsible for the confusion, Felgate said that if stressing the career building aspects of the show confused people, this was not intentional but was meant to draw people to auditions.

“In order to get people to apply for something you need an incentive,” he said. “But if it came across like [a job opportunity] it is something we can learn from for next time,” he said.

Kouch noted that turn out for the “CTN Coffee Shop” auditions had been good but that thousands more people come to audition for the network’s “Star Search”-like programs.

Felgate said the smaller number of reality show applicants had everything to do with the concept still being so foreign to Cambodians.

But after the first run of the show, Felgate said he is confident that there will be much greater interest from the public.

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