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Soldiers of good fortune

Updated: 2012-02-14 12:39
By Sun Li (

Soldiers of good fortune

Contestants crawl through mud during the training session for Yunnan Satellite TV's reality show, Soldiers' Sortie. Photos Provided to China Daily

Soldiers of good fortune

Two contestants cook a meal during the training session.

A reality show seeks the military police's top cop by pitting contestants against the hardest hardships and toughest troops. Sun Li reports.

The soldiers are awoken by the screech of a reveille at 2 am and, standing drowsily in the cold, are blasted with frigid water from high-pressure sprinklers.

Their eruptive drill sergeant barks: "So! Now you're awake!"

The shivering privates are then loaded with weights and sent through a grueling obstacle course and faux battlefield.

These scenes are from Soldiers' Sortie, the country's first reality show to identify elite military police.

The 18-episode series, which took three months to film, pits 100 officers from Yunnan province in a competition to see who will be crowned the "King of Cops".

Contestants will undergo a three-day "demonic training" that includes running, climbing, jumping and wilderness survival to test their speed and endurance. The 18 toughest competitors will go on to the second round, tackling such missions as defusing explosives and nabbing spies.

Three finalists will be recruited by the Yunnan Special Armed Police.

"The initial idea was to make a program for Chinese born after 1990," producer Chen Wudong says.

"The country's reality TV has produced many talent shows that not only attract young fans but also put out new youth idols. But it has yet to be seen what this generation can do aside from singing and dancing. That's what I want to explore."

Chen came up with the idea after seeing a military exercise of young officers in Yunnan, who impressed him with their toughness.

Through Yunnan Satellite TV, Chen contacted the province's Armed Police Corps, the authority of which then agreed to the production of "a documentary-style program about young soldiers' Bildungsroman that will present pulse-quickening training programs".

Chinese TV has offered little insight into what Special Forces officers have to endure to become guardians of the country, Chen says.

"Even if some shows have some scenes about military training, it's likely fictionalized," he says.

"The totally real show will, therefore, be more appealing."

All scenarios are taken from actual training, including the physical readiness tests and active shooter responses, says Zhao Wenzhong, with the station's program department. The Yunnan Armed Police Corps' senior officers selected every situation the contestants face, Zhao says.

"Many will be revealed to the public for the first time. Some training scenarios, such as those related to weaponry and high-tech military devices, can't be shown because they're classified."

The show is co-produced by Yunnan Satellite TV and Changsha, Hunan province-based Tianze Media.

All contestants are younger than 22 and vary in background.

"One was a top-notch professional computer games player, while another is a child of the country's nouveau riche," Chen says.

"Such diversity builds a more complete picture of soldiers born after 1990."

Chen says the 100 soldiers were handpicked from 1,000 applicants, so they have outstanding military skills in the first place. But the Special Forces' weeklong training program was abridged to become a three-day session.

Drill instructors underwent the tests before filming to ensure contestants' safety.

Military surgeons and ambulances were also on standby during the shooting.

"The challenges confronting the contestants posed the same difficulties for the production team, especially for our cameramen," Chen says.

"They also needed to crawl through the mud and dodge snakes in Yunnan's jungles, while carrying their equipment. Many were covered with scratches and bruises after days of hiking. We spent months living with the soldiers. We, too, depleted our stamina."

The show's pilot has generated much online buzz.

Many netizens question the abusive language hurled at the top cops by drill instructors.

But Chen suggests audiences not think of it as personal.

"The main purpose is preparing soldiers for hardships," Chen says.

"They'll face life-or-death situations. It's necessary to toughen them up."

The show also features the province's signature landmarks, such as Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Nujiang River and Fuxian Lake.

"We used aerial and underwater footage to fully capture the breathtaking scenery," Chen says.

The second installment of Soldiers' Sortie is planned to focus on women.

The show, which will end in April, airs Fridays on Yunnan Satellite TV.