“The Brain” Chinese reality show features contestants with truly amazing skills

Ah, spring break. For many, it is a time to travel or party. For me, well, I just go home and catch up on sleep. ūüėÄ

I’ve been watching a Chinese TV reality/game show series called “Zui Qiang Da Nao”, or “The Brain” with my parents. The program showcases people with extraordinary brainpower.

I should note that my¬†Chinese isn’t very good, my parents have had to do a lot of translating.

The first portion of the series was the Qualifier Rounds. In these, challengers would appear on the show to complete their own special challenge. Examples include distinguishing a single egg from among 300 nearly-identical eggs, identifying composite-picture faces, memorizing and identifying fingerprints, solving crossword puzzles from memory, remembering which key unlocks who’s lock, etc…. Honestly, every challenge was just as impressive as the next. There were definitely moments when my jaw dropped, my eyes popped wide open and I was like, ‘but….but that’s impossible!’

The format of this round is a bit confusing. After the challenge is presented, three panelists will give the challenge a score of difficulty, ranging from 0 to 5, for a total score of up to 15. The strange thing about this is that the three panelists will often have nothing to do with brainpower/memory/cognitive science/anything relevant to the show. The judges are often¬†“celebrity” guests such as actors, singers, and whatnot. In fact, one of the main judges, Li Yongbo, is a retired Chinese badminton player and now the head coach of the Chinese National Badminton Team. He¬†receives a lot of criticism on the internet from viewers, who are frustrated by the fact that¬†all he talks about is badminton. For example, to particularly impressive challengers, he will say things like “The Chinese National Badminton Team supports you!” or “I will send you a badminton bag signed by all of the badminton champions of the last decade!” etc. as if that was the greatest honor in the world. But I mean, I’m not sure what more you can expect from a a badminton coach… OF COURSE he’s going to relate everything to what (could possibly be the only thing) he knows about. As for the guest “celebrity” judges who are actors and actresses, they tend to give everyone a rating of 5 since honestly, every challenge seems¬†so difficult to us “ordinary” folk that, how can you not give everyone a 5?

Some of the Panelists.

After the challenge is completed by the challenger, Dr. Wei, a neuroscience expert (probably the only judge who is qualified to be one), will give a score of 0 to 10,¬†which is multiplied to the previous score from the three panelists. If the final score is above 80, the challenger is invited into the next round. The challenger will climb up a long staircase, do a victory pose at the top, and enter what I call the “Room of the Gods”, since its on an elevated platform.

Speaking of, the stage is HUGE, which serves to add to the “TV drama” with all dem flashy lights and suspenseful music that plays while the challenger walks from one part of the stage to another. I can’t even imagine how much money is spent on the production of the show. Elaborate sets are built for each challenge – for example, in a challenge in which a 7 year old (yes, 7 years old) boy memorized the prices of 100 toys and added the total price of 30 randomly chosen toys on the spot, a cute kid’s playroom-themed archway and shelves were added to the stage. In another challenge on which I will elaborate further in this post, the challenger were to memorize a long list of numbers, some of which were “safe” and some of which were “unsafe”. For this challenge, a walkway was lowered from the ceiling, and one of the celebrity judges were to step on the numbered tiles. Stepping on an “unsafe” tile meant the tile giving out and the celebrity judge falling through (of course, he was wearing a harness). ¬†In yet other challenges, the show brought out supermodels (sometimes up to 100, in elaborate clothing as well), or animals (in the case of a challenge involving distinguishing the markings of Dalmatians). Although it seemed excessive at times, all these extra details really made the show fun to watch.

There were definitely some notable moments. One that immediately comes to mind is the story of challenger Zhou Wei.¬†Though born healthy, he was “frightened by a pillow” at six months old, and from then on showed signs of brain damage. He was diagnosed with chronic low blood sugar and poor mental development and was considered brain damaged. His illness healed at nine years old, but according to his mother, no schools would accept him, since he couldn’t fit in with his peers. Zhou hated school. He even refrained from drinking porridge on school days so he would not have to use the bathroom at school. Because of his challenges, he developed an aversion to formal schooling. He appeared on the show with obvious physical and mental deficiencies. His sister guided him out to the stage – he appeared to have trouble walking and standing. However, Zhou’s special talent is in doing calculations. Zhou was able to¬†successfully solve the 14th root of a 16-digit number on the spot. The audience was moved to tears by his story of overcoming discrimination.

During the next round, the Elimination Period, subsequent contestants challenge formerly qualified contestants for a spot on the qualifying team. An interesting story from this round is that of Li Yong and his son, Li Yunlong. Li Yong had the egg challenge I described before and made it into the qualifying team on a previous episode. Li Yong came from a poor background and was in the military for over a decade. During his introductory video, he spoke about how he trains his son every day in hopes that his son will “stand on his shoulders” to achieve success in life. In another episode of the Elimination Period, his son himself was a contestant. The son, Li Yunlong, had the challenge of guiding a celebrity judge across an elevated pathway by memorizing numbers that I also described above. The son mentioned that his father trained him every day and he was never allowed to go out and play like the other kids. The son made it onto the qualifying team, but the father got eliminated on the same episode. As he left, the father proudly stated that he is happy because his son made it onto the team.

For the third round of the show, each episode consists of four contestants against four of another country. So far, I have watched the episodes against Germany and Italy. For the Italian challenge, the son that I mentioned, Li Yunlong, was up against an Italian teenager by the name of Andrea. The challenge? Memorize the order of 102 brides and grooms and put models in the correct order. The Italian boy, Andrew, presented his final answer first, and Li started crying because he thought he had put the models in the wrong order. Of course this received a mixed reaction from viewers. Some labeled the son as “too sensitive”, while many criticized the father for putting too much pressure on the son and being too strict with him. In the end, it turns out that Li put the models in the right order after all – in fact, he put them in opposite order as Andrea, which caused him to doubt himself and break into tears.

Such drama. Much wow.

Overall, I really enjoyed watching this series with my family. Seeing¬†these amazingly gifted people perform seemingly impossible challenges is really thrilling. I found myself on the edge of my seat, praying that the contestant wouldn’t mess up. (I hate it when contestants mess up. I tend to really sympathize with them.)¬†I’d really recommend it to anyone who wants to be impressed by humankind or have any interest in cognitive functions such as memory, identifying patterns, and the like.


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