Godfrey Gao's death casts spotlight over extreme challenges on TV shows
By Ai Yan

Chinese actor Godfrey Gao died on the filming site of a variety show in Ningbo city, Zhejiang Province on Wednesday, triggering huge waves of doubts and debates over extreme challenges on television programs. 

Witnesses say he collapsed at 1:45 a.m., and after several minutes of emergency treatment, he was transported to a hospital where his death was confirmed three hours later. He died from cardiac arrest.

The incident went viral on social media. While mourning over Gao's death, the public have also been questioning the responsibility of the variety show's producer team and Zhejiang Television.

Are challenging extremes on TV shows necessary?

Godfrey Gao attends an event promoting his film in 2017. /VCG Photo

Godfrey Gao attends an event promoting his film in 2017. /VCG Photo

Gao's sudden death occurred while participating in Zhejiang Television's reality show "Chase Me," which features races in the CBD area during the night. One of the show's selling points is challenging human physical extremes.

The CBD area was set up into a "cyberpunk world" during the night, and participation involves a lot of exercises such as running, jumping and even climbing a 70-meter building from outside. A number of celebrities participating the show, including former professional athletes, have complained how exhaustive the show is.

"Every time we returned to the hotel, it was already 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. I always say I love sports, but not to that extent like running during midnight," Chinese singer William Chan said in an interview before the incident.

In one of the aired episodes, gold-medal winning boxer Zou Shiming fell from a roasting roller from exhaustion and was submerged in a ball pit for a while before he was rescued. After Gao's death, the footage was reposted on Sina Weibo, raising public concerns about the production team's security measures and emergency response. 

The filming site of "Chase Me". /VCG Photo

The filming site of "Chase Me". /VCG Photo

Though there is no clear evidence suggesting Gao's death should be blamed on the intensified exercises, the public are calling for an thorough investigation into the whole production, arguing that intense outdoor sports at midnight in winter could easily cause cardiac failure.

In a footage leaked online Thursday, Gao was captured stumbling after finishing a race.

Meanwhile, the program was also suspected for not being able to provide timely medical devices or treatment despite the official statement of Zhejiang Television insisting that first aid was provided immediately after he collapsed. Many witnesses argued that the first "golden four minutes" were wasted, and urged Zhejiang Television to unveil the timeline of the whole incident.

"I feel so bad for such a perfect young man!" Chinese director Xu Zheng wrote on his Weibo post, adding that"the producer of the show has poor safety awareness, and they should definitely be held responsible."

He was echoed by a barrage of online voices. 

While outraged at the loss of the young actor, questions were put forward: Whether it is necessary for such extreme challenges to be featured in variety shows, and whether they have protective measures to guarantee the security of the participants.

A still of Xu Zheng's Weibo post mourning Gao's death.

A still of Xu Zheng's Weibo post mourning Gao's death.

An old interview was also brought up, in which singer Zhang Wei complained about the extreme challenges in variety shows.

"I don't understand why we cannot just let the singers sing and let the actors act. That's their specialty. Why do we have to exhaust ourselves in reality shows nowadays? It is such a waste of their talent," Zhang Wei said in the interview, adding that endless variety shows would damage the industry and the artists.

The irregular system of the entertainment industry has also been questioned. According to insiders, most of the singers and actors have been working overtime. Only a few of them could have working and resting hours written in their contracts. Even though, they often have to work for over 10 hours during the filming. 

"We can't move on," say fans and colleagues

Gao's death have also triggered overwhelming griefs and laments, with his fans and colleagues taking to social media, expressing their sadness.

"You are such a gentleman, loving animals, enjoying life and always passionate about your life," Qin Lan, an actress who worked with Gao in his last TV drama, said on Social Weibo. "You are such a nice guy."

Jiao Junyan, the heroine of Gao's most popular TV series "Remembering Lichuan," recounted that he was a modest young man, who was a little bit shy and always smiled.

"You are the one who made me believe in my character, and it was such an honor to complete the television drama with you," Jiao wrote in her post.

Fans mourn over the death of Godfrey Gao in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. /VCG Photo

Fans mourn over the death of Godfrey Gao in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. /VCG Photo

On Thursday, fans gathered at the reality show's filming site, laying flowers and putting up posts, bidding farewell to their idol.

"Thank you for passing by my youth, and thank you for everything beautiful you had brought to us. See you next life," a fans wrote on a goodbye note.

As of Thursday afternoon, Zhejiang Television and the show "Chase Me" have altogether published two statements, saying that they are willing to deal with the aftermath with Gao's agency and family. They also vowed to "reflect on the reasons and give a thorough inspection into all the links of the producing procedure." However, the public are still asking for an explanation.

Many fans quoted from Gao's TV drama "Remembering Lichuan": "We don't move on. We cant' move on." 

Cover image: Qu Bo