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'People are really psyched ... We've got some great stuff'

IN a helipad atop a 40-story hotel, or in the undergrowth of a city park, clues in a treasure hunt could be hidden anywhere across Shanghai's sprawling metropolis.

The hopes of 10 teams seeking to live out a dream in Shanghai rest on finding clues in a breathtaking winner-take-all race across 11 districts. Most of the 20 participants in two-person teams are foreigners.

The race, "Shanghai Rush," will hit local television screens on May 3 at English-language International Channel Shanghai (ICS). It will screen every Sunday night at 8-9pm.

The 12-episode saga is one of the most-anticipated reality television shows on Chinese TV and will showcase not only famous city attractions but also parts of the city of nearly 19 million that are rarely seen by the public.

"People are really psyched," says the show's director, Eric Ransdell. "Everyone wants to stay on the show and people are really going for it. It's great to watch and we have already got some great stuff."

After months of painstaking preparation, filming began last week and will continue through early April.

This is the first reality show produced by ICS and it screens exactly a year out from the World Expo 2010 Shanghai. It's made by Fly Films, an international production house.

The search for contestants began in February through online applications and then a string of auditions to select the 20 participants from more than 100 applicants.

The teams vie for prizes for finishing first at the end of each episode, with the last contestant team eliminated. The surviving winning team will get 12-month accommodation in a luxury villa.

Contestants come from Australia, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, the United States and other countries. They come from different professions and walks of life. There's a former Marilyn Monroe impersonator, a husband-and-wife business couple, a mechanical engineer, an English teacher and a singer-songwriter.

It is mid morning at the Shanghai Film Park and the production crew have set up on what looks like a classic 1930s Shanghai street. In the background is a soaring replica of a cathedral, just one of the bizarre sets contestants will clamber over in search of a clue hidden somewhere in the sprawling film park in suburban Songjiang District.

Norman Wong, executive producer of Fly Films, says settings like this will give viewers a fresh look at rarely glimpsed parts of Shanghai.

"We have been to places you don't normally get to see and filmed in locations the public generally are not allowed access to," Wong says. District governments are cooperating.

Director Ransdell says each team has a camera operator and assistant following their every move as they race across a district, searching for leads and then trying to complete daily challenges.

When Shanghai Daily spoke to Ransdell, it was the third day of filming. The crew also filmed at the F1 track at the Shanghai International Circuit in Jiading District and the helipad atop the Hilton Shanghai hotel in Luwan District.

Though the show was just beginning, Ransdell says competitive instincts were already starting to emerge.

American couple Josh and Anna Huddleston have a bit more at stake than most of the contestants, as they are pinning their hopes to stay in Shanghai on winning the show.

Huddleston, or "Hudd" as he is known to friends, is a victim of the financial downturn, recently losing his job that came with an expat package covering rent and travel.

The "homeless" couple who have been living on a friend's couch say they were enjoying their new digs at the Hilton ?? that's where the teams stay during the shoot.

"The Hilton dominates over our old place, and there's free breakfast," says Hudd.

"We didn't know about the villa when we applied," says Anna. "But we gave ourselves the ultimatum: By the end of the month if we don't have job or something going on, then we would return to the States. Then we went online and found this."

The couple say they are huge fans of reality TV shows and always wanted to be contestants. "This is like a dream and a life saver," Anna says.

For mother-and-son team Norma and David Bowman, getting involved in a reality TV show, at least for David, was a surprise.

David says his mother signed him up without his knowledge in hopes that the grueling race might toughen and sharpen him up.

"He's a very nice boy and girls take advantage of him," says the mother, an elementary teacher at Shanghai Bilingual School. At 49, she is the oldest competitor.

"So maybe the show will make him a little bit tougher," says the former aerobics instructor.

For local competitor AJ Chen, speaking Shanghainese hasn't given him the edge he had expected. Teamed with Marilyn Monroe impersonator Rebecca Miller from the UK, he says the long distances the show covers each day make it difficult for even a local to navigate.

"There are districts I have never been to and have absolutely no idea about," says Chen, a Chinese teacher in a language institute.

Shanghai is so big and he only knows districts close to home. "With Shanghainese, you try and talk to people to get more information, but it hasn't seemed to help."

Each day a team is eliminated and Miller says the competitiveness between the remaining teams has sharpened. On the two days Shanghai Daily visited filming, there was a marked change in the atmosphere. At first teams were more relaxed and chatted with each other prior to beginning the day's race. But later in the week, they were all business and there was little banter among contestants.

"Before I was in the show, I thought it would be a laugh, you know, meet a few people, see a bit of the city," says Miller, who impersonated Monroe and Cyndi Lauper in a Shanghai restaurant to help pay for her Chinese studies.

"But once you get into it, this is intense and we just want this ride to continue," she adds.

"Shanghai Rush"

Date: From May 3, Sundays, 8-9pm

International Channel Shanghai

Rodrigo, 20

Business administration student at Raffles University, looking for a sales and marketing internship

Fernanda, 20

Interior design student at Raffles Design Institute of Shanghai, teaching English part-time at New World Baby Center.

Justin, 23

Has been in Shanghai for a month. Student studying Mandarin.

Matti, 21

Student, works in hotels, hotel management, has a Swiss hotel association diploma.

Melanie, 24

Student and English editor at a fashion and lifestyle Website.

Marilyn, 23

Bachelor of science from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Assistant to the chief representative of an American manufacture company.

Muzi, 27

General manager of an international trading and marketing company.

Helmut, 42

Technical director at an international company for conveyer systems and lifting tables for all industries.

Richard, 33

Recently joined a startup in the health industry and is responsible for setting up their operations in China.

Alice, 34

Practice manager for McKinsey's China office in Shanghai.

Nic, 24

English teacher at LIDA Global Initiatives Institution. Also a freelance translator and interpreter.

Liz, 24

Engish teacher at East China Normal University and an editor at the Shanghai Student Post.

Rebecca, 19

Currently studying Chinese and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator

AJ, 24

Currently working as a Chinese teacher in a language institute teaching overseas students.

Norma, 49

Has been teaching for 20 years and used to be an aerobics instructor

David, 21

Student, deciding what to do next. Good at Chinese.

Hudd 28

Unemployed. Has had many odd jobs over the years.

Anna, 23

English tutor. Taught English at the Nanjing university of Aeronautics and Astronautics last year.

William, 24

Mechanical engineer and design for laptop manufacture

Lauren Jane, 28

Singer, songwriter, recording artist, model, freelance writer


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