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Expats cross the finish line in 'Shanghai Rush' reality TV

THERE were arguments, tears and heartbreak - all the ingredients of a good reality TV - when Shanghai's first locally made reality show featuring mainly foreigners concluded last Sunday.

The winners of "Shanghai Rush," couple Richard Lin and Alice Tsui, snared themselves two luxury villas in Shanghai rent free for a year. They earned their prize through a whirlwind race through the city during a frantic 17 days of filming.

They thought they were out for good after Tsui, from Hong Kong, injured her shoulder (not during filming), but they made a comeback in the final cliffhanger episode on Sunday.

The schedule, even by television standards, was grueling: There were 12 one-hour episodes over 17 days, filmed at a variety of sites.

With less than a year to go before World Expo 2010, "Shanghai Rush" provided a showcase of the city, covering 11 of the city's 17 districts.

There was a sprawling film lot, complete with life-sized replica cathedral in the Shanghai Film Park in suburban Songjiang District, and a final challenge on the top of the towering Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong.

The contestants even got to test their driving skills on the Formula One track at the Shanghai International Circuit in Jiading District.

After keenly contested auditions, 10 two-person teams were chosen. They included a Brazilian pair who are new lovers and new to Shanghai, an American mother-son team and a Chinese-American husband and wife.

Contestants had to complete a variety of challenges in each episode. The last team to complete the mission was eliminated.

These included games filmed in Shanghai's traditional longtang (alleyway) neighborhoods and activities involving local culture and Shanghai's traditional foods. Of course there was some martial arts, some dumpling-stuffing and traditional Chinese theater.

Fly Films produced the series and executive producer Norman Wong says there were already plans for a second series.

"We are in talks for 'Shanghai Rush 2' and while nothing is definite yet, there are plans to film parts of it outside of Shanghai," he reveals.

"Shanghai Rush" earned the second-highest rating in ICS' stable of shows and Wong says their brief had been a little different from the standard no-holds-barred reality TV show.

"We got just the right amount of drama, it was an interesting look at people's personalities and how they deal with stress and competition," Wong says.

"This was also a big push for Shanghai Expo so it had to be done with a certain amount of friendliness to it and it had to be done in good fun, so we think it worked out very well," he says.

For the winners, who are both MBA-trained business managers, winning was much more than just getting free digs for a year.

The couple got two villas, though they can only live in one at a time, because rules specify that each member of the winning two-person team gets a house. Not all team members were related.

"The show allowed us to see more of Shanghai than we had in the two years we have been here, and it has allowed us to make great friends with other teams. We have challenged ourselves and tried something totally new," says Lin, who is from the Untied States.

"Normally, we would never have done something like this," says Lin. "Most important, it has affirmed a newfound confidence in ourselves."

The program attracted applicants from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Nigeria.

The series ran on ICS in prime time on Sunday for the past 12 weeks.

The couple were unlikely winners because Tsui injured her shoulder and they had to pull out after the fifth episode. She fell down a flight of stairs.

The producers recalled the couple on the 10th episode and they went on to victory in a cliffhanger last episode on Sunday.

"We thought that was it after the accident, it was our lowest point," Lin says.

"We felt we had started something and couldn't complete it. We had momentum because we had come in first and second in the previous two episodes," he says.

Another team also feeling the emotional highs and lows are Matti Pyyvaara from Australia, and Justin Rocamora from Spain.

The friends had been eliminated in the fourth episode and were back within days to take the place of Lin and Tsui.

Thrown into the pressure-cooker environment of the reality show after just three weeks in Shanghai, the pair progressed into the final weeks of the show, eventually finishing fourth.

"Every day we were discovering the city. We didn't know what the Chinese culture was like, everything was extremely different, and we were thrown straight into it," says Rocamora.

The pair was eliminated after failing to scale a wall, despite being well in front of the other teams. They didn't have the right shoes.

Saying there was good camaraderie among the teams, the friends say that when the cameras were turned on, some competitors loved to perform.

"People change so much when they were on film, some people were really acting, and fighting between each other," Pyyvaara says. "Others you thought they were getting along - and then you saw the show and you realized they were fighting all the time."


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