Asian Reality Stars Shine Bright

My friend Michelle, who currently resides in New York, recently became close friends with Jun Song, a Korean-American Manhattan-based former investment banker who also happened to be a contestant on Big Brother season four. When I found out, I stalkerishly Wikipedia-ed Jun and discovered that she was not only a contestant but had actually won. She was also, as I expected, the only Asian American in the house, before they brought in her ex as a ratings-boosting twist. Still, in the end, she came out on top – with a whopping 6-1 housemate vote in her favor.

Her win got me thinking about Asian Americans on reality TV. There aren’t that many. Rarely more than one on a given show, if any. Yet, despite the odds against them, they usually fare pretty well.

First you’ve got your beauties. Half-Korean Cher Tenbush was a contestant and winner of “Beauty and the Geek” season two, a show that pairs a beautiful girl with a geeky guy, and takes each pair through a series of challenges that test the beauty’s intelligence and the geek’s social IQ. Cher not only won the $125,000, but was also dubbed by TV Guide as “a beauty with brains.” Likewise, full-blooded Korean-American Jamie Chung competed and walked off with a six-digit cash prize on “Real world/road rules challenge: the Inferno II”, a reality guilty pleasure that tests its contestants’ physical strength, endurance and alliance-wielding abilities.

Asian Americans also proved they are amongst the most skilled and gifted on Bravo’s reality lineup. Vietnamese-American Chloe Dao became top designer on season two of “Project Runway” and Vietnamese-American Hung Huynh proved that he was indeed the consummate culinary master when he won season three of “Top Chef.”

Then, you have your movers and shakers, a category in which Asian Americans have built a league of their own. Japanese-American Ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi tore up the dance floor on “Dancing with the Stars” season six and went home with top honors. But it was MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” that really showcased the multitude of Asian American talent, bringing AA dance crews from all over the nation to the forefront of entertainment. There had been three completed seasons of ABDC so far and all three seasons had seen Asian American crews in the final two. The two most notable crews were season one winners the JabbaWockeeZ and season three winners Quest Crew. The JabbaWockeeZ is a San Diego-based crew which includes one Vietnamese, two Filipinos and one Chinese, while Quest Crew is composed entirely of two Japanese, one Filipino, one Chinese, one Korean and two members who are a mixture of at least three different Asian ethnicities.

My point? Reality TV may be bad for traditional small screen talents, but for Asian Americans, it provides a rare undiscriminating platform for the deserving to flourish. For the first time, we Asian Americans are free to show the rest of America what we have to offer outside the realm of academia and maybe even break a few stereotypes in the process. After all, we are not just book nerds in pursuit of higher education, we are also physically-fit babes with both brains and street savvy. We are creative minds both in the kitchen and behind the runway. Oh and by the way, we can also salsa, waltz, tut and spin on our head for hours on end.

Well, some of us can.

But for the rest, we can sit back, enjoy and be proud. Besides, it’s not a bad rep to have. The only thing, it seems, that we have left to prove is our vocal abilities. Unfortunately, thanks to William Hung, this may take a while.