Monday, May 5, 2008

An open letter to the people behind Malaysian Dream Girl (MDG)

Other MDG posts:
The MDG Simulation Game
The MDG letter: the reply
Hanis' banner design

This is a copy of an email sent to MDG, and bloggers Kenny Sia, PinkPau, ShaolinTiger and Timothy Tiah.

[Update] I've posted a response, read it here.

[Update] No response so far from anyone, sent a copy to Capxion Media as well. Hope I get a reply, I really want to know what they think.


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Dear MDG creators,

As a viewer of the series, I thoroughly enjoyed the development of the show and how it all turned out, and I would like to thank you very much for all your hard work. However, I do have some constructive opinions that I would like to share with all of you, if you were to be so kind as to spare a couple of moments for me.

The issues I've noticed were purely as a viewer who is disconnected from everyday Malaysian life and media, and thus purely as an internet viewer. I have not pursued extensive (re: professional) research, and so if there are some flaws to my opinions due to lack of research or insider know-how, I apologise in advance and welcome your corrections. I would very much like to know your views regarding my points, and would look forward to any response you might have.

The following are my observations and identified issues with MDG (season 1), in rough order of importance:

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1. Know thyself


An identity crisis

Firstly acknowledge that MDG has an identity crisis. It is not possible to authoritatively define what MDG is, even at this point. MDG seems to want to be known as a talent-search for Malaysia's next top model. This is reflected in the comments of the hosts and judges, and also by the general theme of the show's events (photoshoots, catwalk practice, and so on).

Yes, it says on the website, it is a "Online Model Reality Search", but if I were a girl being selected by Kenny and Elaine and Jimmy, and I was asked for the reason for joining, I would be hard-pressed for an answer, as it isn't immediately clear what MDG is looking for. Let's examine why.

Generally speaking, there are two types you see auditioning in reality shows:

a. People who want the prize, and believe they have what it takes.
b. People who want the thrill of being on television (the 'Hi Mom!' guys).

Discounting the 'Hi-Mom' people, who will always appear in any public opportunity to appear on TV, you then have to define your contestants (i.e. models-to-be) by either the prize or the selection process, i.e. 'what it takes'.

Factor I: the prize

So let's look at the prize. The winner of the competition does not secure any substantial model-related reward, at least not any that the contestants were aware of in the beginning. The focus is not on modelling at all. I quote the MDG website

"The first Malaysian Dreamgirl will drive away a Nissan Latio 1.8Ti (A), a RM10,000 preloaded AmBank NexG PrePaid MasterCard, a RM3,000 Wella Professionals hamper, RM1,000 of Escada fragrances, RM1,000 of Bebe apparel, RM500 of Nose footwear, an exclusive cover spread in NewMan magazine and an experience of a lifetime."

The only model-related prize in that is the cover spread, which a winner of any kind of TV show would probably get anyway. A girl truly wanting to be a model would want something like a modeling job. You stick cars and money as a prize, you get a lot of girls telling you they join the contest for the car. Is that really a bad answer?

Factor II: 'what it takes'

Next, let's look at the 'what it takes' factor. What does it really take to win MDG? Apart from the first selection process by the judges, it's votes. The judging process, apart from a small role in the judges' eliminations (kudos to Elaine, Jimmy and Kenny) has nothing to do with modeling. I fail to see how a good model can be effectively selected purely by the general public, or rather the most motivated general public.

Even in a voted system in other similar competitions, the judges normally have something to say - along the lines of 'I know the audience loves you, but I think you have a lot more to work on compared to the rest of the contestants - at this point I simply think you're hanging on because of your voters, not because you're good'. Even just focus on this would help greatly.

Fatal flaw

In MDG, you can see that neither the prize nor the selection process have much to do with modeling. So while the creators might have started out wanting this to be a model-search, the important bits that define the motive are not model-related. Hence, the contestants largely don't give a tuppence about wanting to be a good model, and that's Fatal Flaw Number One.

2. Thou shalt scrutinise the elimination system (not necessarily the usual SMS la-di-da)

Elimination flaw I - do the public know they are selecting a model? Do they know how to?

I'm not saying that purely public voting is necessarily wrong. Do the public really know that this is a modelling contest? In fact I'm still not sure if it is. When I watched the first episode, I had trouble identifying what to look for to decide who I wanted to win this competition. Is it good modelling? I wasn't very sure, as I was told at the end of the episode to 'vote for my favourite girl'. Alrighty, I'll vote for *insert name here* then, I know her/think she's hot/think she's nice/she made me crack up. In other words, do the public really know that they are judging them from a modelling perspective? Do you think they know enough about modelling to judge?

Let's expand on this. One may argue that on similar shows that searches for vocal talent in singing, a pure popularity contest proves effective. That is all very well, but performance in singing and selling records are also directly correlated to public popularity. Look at West End and Broadway, amazing singers everywhere, but they're not selling jillions of records. On the other hand look at Britney Spears (ok, maybe not right now, but when she was like hot cakes). Ergo, Popular Singer equals Profitable Singer, whereas Good Singer not necessarily so, if he/she is not popular.

Modelling (and sometimes subsequently marketing), is a whole different ballgame. Marketing works sometimes by the fact that the public aren't privy to certain tools of the trade. Words are angled to signify speed. A friendly tiger promotes sugared breakfast cereals. Fonts are come in Old English format or similar to establish class. And so on and so forth.

What I'm trying to say is that the public may not necessarily buy a brand that they designed themselves, because the public does not know what it is attracted to in marketing. They may design a brand and think it's cool/hip/whatever, but slap it on some merchandise and sometimes it looks ghastly, and the public may be the first to agree. So why put the public be the sole judge to select the ultimate fashion marketing tool?

Elimination flaw II - consistency counts for nothing

I once had an argument with a friend over a pool game called 9-ball. In 9-ball, the winner is decided by who legally pockets the 9-ball, and only the 9-ball. In other words, it doesn't matter who gets balls 1 to 8 - all that is just buildup before getting to 9. While that's the rules as I understand it, every person I've explained the rules to thinks "they're stupid". Why? Because pocketing just the 9-ball isn't an accurate measure of your skill in pool games. A total dunce could have a possibility of winning against an experienced player if he happened to be the player to shoot the last easy shot in. Hence, you do not feel that the rules are adequate enough.

Similarly, the voting process in MDG. I was a bit surprised that the eventual winner, or even for the various stages of elimination, were selected by votes tallied purely in the few particular days.
Given that this was an online series, where viewers do not necessarily view the episodes all at the same time, I would have expected a lot more time to vote for the winner in the finale, or even elimination for that matter. I'm no reality-show-creation expert, and forgive me if I sound naive (really), but what would have been so wrong with a cumulative vote aspect? A constant performer would have been more justly rewarded and thus outshine one who scrapes through inconsistently and by some wild-card or another, have a random spike in votes in the end. After all, if the MDG is looking for a good model, surely a better pick would be Constant Performer instead of Random Spike? For lack of better vocabulary:

Contestant 2 - a fair winner?

I'm not saying that consistency should count for everything. I just think it should count for something.

3. The flaw of the reward system

Flaw I - the challenges with nothing to challenge for

Firstly, the challenges. Yes, they are a good idea, and they definitely add variety to the show and inject a theme into the episodes. But come on, guys, you can give a better reward that some Ambank Mastercard thing. I understand you have to appease sponsors, but surely you can give the girls a more attractive reward as well? I'm talking about gameplay rewards, such as immunity for that round, an edge for the competition (extra catwalk/makeup coaching), 5 minutes of extra time to talk/woo viewers, whatever. There are literally no limits to the variety of rewards that you can think up that would seriously be desired by any contestant wanting to win. And they make the competition less monotonous than a simple process of elimination.

Flaw II - the performance-reward asychronisation

I'm pretty sure you are aware, but there is an asynchronisation of performances from the girls and the voting that leads to elimination. Let me explain further. If Girl A gets eliminated in the end of Episode 3, she is really being judged based on her performance in Episode 2. All her activity and effort in Episode 3 is effectively wasted. And while it isn't terribly important, isn't that a mark of bad planning? A viewer might be really impressed by a certain contestant, only to have her eliminated in that very same episode, with no control over that as the votes have already gone in and been counted.

4. The power of the feedback loop

This is a contentious issue. I'm not sure if this is a suggestion of simply something to be considered. I did notice that after a few weeks of living together, friction between some contestants (inevitably) surfaced. This is good. This is drama, and it's exciting, and it engages viewers. However, it would have been a lot better if this friction was left to grow on its own, without a Stabilising Force. What do I mean by a Stabilising Force?

This.

The allowance to call home is a contentious one. I admit, that without it, Season 1 would not have certain dramas that they did. But going back to early episodes, when dramas were beginning to develop between certain contestants, they were quickly quashed when the contestants received feedback from outside calls telling them to tone it down. I believe that the show had the potential to have so much more interesting developments had the contestants weren't allowed to receive feedback. But I admit that's a debatable issue as we did have drama developing anyway - my argument at that point would be that the reason for said drama was that the 'feedback' was up for a fight as well.

6. Say cheese...all the time

The cameras. I'm not sure what to do about this one. One constantly occurring issue I noticed as a viewer was that I get the feeling that I'm seeing a put-on show by the contestants, and not really as it happens - for example when dramas develop, we never have footage about anything controversial happening, and the reason I see that happening is that the contestants are always on their best behaviour when the cameraman is around. This leads to a undesirable situation where the viewers see one thing happening on screen, but the contestants (in their 'heart-to-heart' sessions) tell us a different story. It's confusing.

I have two possible suggestions to counter this problem.

Suggestion I - make like a Big Brother

This is pretty self explanatory, if you know Big Brother. Cameras would be installed in every room, and will be on 24 hours (need not be all viewed and monitored if you don't have enough human resources, but at least you can search footage based on comments from contestants and be inserted into episodes). The idea is to record them all the time so that the contestants pretty much don't care after a while.

Suggestion II - a little something for everyone

An interesting variation (and potentially a sponsor moment too) would be to hand each girl a video camera, to be filmed with, say 30 minutes of footage each week. The cameras could be programmed so that the recordings cannot be erased once recorded, so that puts an interesting perspective as to what the contestants choose to record. Interesting footage can be aired with viewers knowing who is the cameraperson as well, be it the contestant herself, or recording others, etc.

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So there it is, my thoughts and musings on what could have and can be done better on MDG. I hope this has been good food for thought for you, and I sincerely hope to have a response from you on what you think.

I would also like to thank you again for the show (especially the online aspect of it) in keeping a group of us entertained these few months.

Best regards,
junkie
internetscavenger.blogspot.com

10 comments:

Stan said...

Well written and objective. Respect Junkie.

Your ratings just spiked over 75 points in my Bingo book.

Now...what was that point about being consistent...??

PS: No more whineys about no comments jo.

Hanis Zalikha said...

WOW. WOW. WOW. Thats a triple wow from me. They really should take this seriously if they want to improve. Good job! Great job!

Hanis Zalikha said...

BLOODY HELL MDG GAME IS THE BEST GAME EVER! SO CREATIVE AND HILLARIOUS!

chzehong said...

LOL @ the MDG Game!

abso-freaking-lutely hilarious!

Smokin' Aces said...

Brilliant game... Kudos...

btw i did try sending an email to the producers about the timing of the voting but got a dumbass response....

excellent post....

junkie said...

Wah, hanis commented! :)

Thanks for the comments guys, I'm currently trying to get a better response from Jerad Solomon....

j

[G]cheryl[min] said...

great 1 junkie!
it's good to see ppl really speaking out their thoughts about MDG.

was d girls in dreamland back then?
lol

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