What could make better entertainment than a reality television show about one of the mainland’s most venerated national sports? Diving.
The programme showcases celebrities from across the region and has all the lights and stage glamour of a high-production variety show on HD primetime state television - obviously.
Despite a star-studded roster of contestants including Hong Kong canto-pop singer Charlene Choi Cheuk-yin, South Korean K-pop star Chae Yeon and mainland singer Abao, as well as national diving champion-turned-actor Tian Liang as a “consultant”, the show hasn't impressed.
Right off the bat, celebrities criticised the show as a form of exploitation and for putting contestants in danger - especially after the pilot episode featured 64-year-old actor Niu Qun performing a daring three-story dive, feet-first. Injuries were common. Choi reportedly injured her back during training, and Chae allegedly perforated an ear drum.
“Artists and singers are not athletes. How is it possible that they can just receive a few lessons and compete in a sport that requires so much professional training? Diving from 10 metres high is way too dangerous!” said Hong Kong singer Denise Ho Wan-si on Sina Weibo.
“How do the artists’ agents agree to this stunt show, I really do not know,” wrote another weibo user.
Then there was the overall quality of the show. A scathing commentary in the Beijing News called the show an “extravagant waste of money” which failed to contribute anything new or innovative to the mainland’s long list of cookie-cutter variety shows rehashed from the West, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Like the popular Voice of China – essentially modelled off American Idol/X Factor-esque singing shows as well as Taiwan’s hit One Million Star – Celebrity Splash is based on Dutch forerunner Sterren Springen, and its US/British versions Splash!
The Beijing News editorial criticised the show for its lacklustre entertainment value, while the actual focus of the show – the diving – comprised only a few minutes of the entire episode.
Buying the rights to a franchise that Britain’s The Telegraph dubbed “utterly dreadful television” and The Guardian “utterly awful” was probably not the best sign. But ZJSTV probably picked up the show for other reasons. Diving has deeper meaning in China.
Like basketball is to the US and soccer is to Brazil, diving has long been an Olympic forte for China. In the last three Olympic games, the country has won 30 diving medals, 18 of which were gold. China has become the top performing country at the sport.
China Celebrity Splash is unlikely to be a boon for the sport or the country’s shortfall in global cultural capital.
Perhaps the only good coming from the show would be its pledge, in co-operation with China Women’s Development Foundation, to solve water pollution problems in western regions of the country.
Every point a contestant recieves from a judge, 1,000 yuan (HK$1,200) will be donated to the cause, according to ZJSTV. On each day of a given contest, one weibo post or repost about the show by viewers would translate to a 1-yuan donation to rural primary schools "to solve their water safety problems", the network said.
But given the show's negative reviews and the current sorry state of China’s environmental problems, I wouldn't hold my breath that there will be any impact.