Every four years, people get hyped for the Olympics and watch a bunch of obscure sports like trampoline and rhythmic gymnastics just so they can claim patriotism when an athlete from their country wins. “The biathlon? OMG I love that sport!”
For Asians, every TV show is like the Olympics, except we know no geographical boundaries. China, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia — it doesn’t matter. I’ll even cheer on an Indian or Pakistani if they’re available because, you know, they’re technically Asian too. From “America’s Next Top Model” to “Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team” (yes, that’s a real show), I find myself continually rooting for the one Asian contestant available. Who cares if she can’t take a good picture and fights with everyone in the house? You do you, Gina!
Episodes of “Chopped” are even worse. There, the Asian contestant always tells the same story: “My parents never approved of my decision to become a chef. They wanted me to be a doctor/engineer/accountant. I’m here to prove my worth because the guilt they’ve instilled in me still hasn’t subsided even though I’m in my thirties.”
Cue to me, sobbing in sympathetic agreement with their story as if it were the same as the 8-year-old Chinese gymnasts who are forced to live away from their parents and train for Olympic gold medals seven days a week.
I mean, who among us hasn’t watched an episode or two of “Fixer Upper” solely because we assumed Joanna Gaines was some kind of Asian? (She’s half Korean, for the record.) Name a non-“Housewives”-related reality show and chances are, I’ve watched it just to cheer for the success of the Asian participant. (For the record, the last season of “Top Chef” was especially gutting with Asians Shirley Chung and Sheldon Simeon both losing out to Brooke Williamson in the finale.)
This continental pride extends into scripted television as well. The best part of “Grey’s Anatomy”? Cristina Yang, obvi. The show has been in steady decline since Sandra Oh’s departure. “The Good Wife”, too, never recovered from the loss of its scene-stealer, Archie Punjab as Kalinda Sharma. If there is an Asian in a show (and let’s be honest, there is usually only one, if any), I will automatically find him or her the best character. It just happens.
But what happens when there is more than one Asian? What about shows like “Fresh Off the Boat”? Or “Asia’s Next Top Model”? (Which, btw, skips all of Tyra’s smize nonsense and uses real English words because all the contestants speak English as a second language.) At that point, I can finally relax from my [self-appointed] role as Asian liaison and watch the show like normal people. I can judge contestants on their personalities, skill, or my personal favorite, how little or much they annoy me with their first impression — pretty much anything but the almond shape of their eyes. It’s so freeing!
Of course, Hollywood being Hollywood, shows with more than one Asian character are rare (goodbye, “Hawaii Five-O”), so I don’t get that opportunity often. So until that day comes, I’ll keep cheering for the miniscule representation we get on screen like there’s some kind of medal count by ethnicity for winners of “The Bachelor”.
Anna Gracia is a writer in San Francisco. She is working on her debut novel about an Asian-American teenager growing up in the Midwest. You can read her thoughts about recent movies on her blog, TheSnarkyReviewer.com, or follow her political rants on Twitter.