‘Where Are We Going, Dad’ was a banger in 2013, but not now

March 22, 2023 — by Minsui Tang and Sarah Zhou
Every five minutes, there is a scene exactly like this one.
Unlike the actors in this show (thanks to plastic surgery), this show really does get old.

From watching “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” (喜羊羊) to reading “Journey to the West” (西游记), while snacking on Haw flakes (山楂片) and Chinese Rice Krispies (沙琪玛), almost all Chinese American children have also indulged in C-dramas or reality TV at least once in their life.

However, while brainstorming shows that define our childhood, the first thing that comes to mind is “Where Are We Going, Dad?”: a Chinese reality TV show based on the original South Korean reality show “Dad!” In the show, five male celebrities take their children to different spots in China to complete tasks in order to strengthen their familial bonds. 

Here’s a brief rundown of how each season goes: First, interviews are conducted with most of the participants. The adults repeat the usual sentimental recounts about how fast their children are growing up while the children scream incomprehensibly — all of this accompanied by the occasional “boing” sound effect, a 2013 equivalent to the Vine boom sound

At the beginning of each episode, each family is shown riding in their fancy cars with a personal driver — the dads wearing matching sunglasses with their kids to add to the swag — and drones zoom out to show cars speeding on a rural highway with the speed-up and slow-mo combo of action movies.

Then, the host greets the participants at a destination (usually a rural village in the middle of nowhere) and is met with whining, more cringe-worthy sound effects and unenthusiastic clapping by the dads as the children run around smooching each other, exclaiming how much they’ve missed each other. 

The participants are then whisked away in black and white Infinitis, all filmed by drone. We’re typically greeted by a time-lapse of the sunset and sunrise as the iconic  — but repetitive — way for the show to tell us a day has passed. 

After this, you’re in for an hour of listening to crying and whimpering due to children losing challenges, getting wet from the rain and being confronted with the idea of being separated from their dads for 15 minutes. 

Of course, there are also lots of heartwarming moments in each episode — such as the children bonding with puppies who live with the villagers and seeing them willing to sacrifice some of their own treasures (like a lollipop or the money to buy a new pair of shoes) in order to help their fellow friends — that make us wonder what in our childhood education went so wrong that we don’t have the patience and maturity to handle situations as well as they do. 

Let’s be honest: If we were to go from living in a luxurious cityscape mansion to a bucolic cabin, we’d probably have cried and begged our dads to withdraw our contracts with the show. 

From portions of Season 2, the least favorite character is quickly identifiable — 曹华恩 (“Grace”) who is arguably one of the most annoying children to walk the planet Earth. Her nickname 姐姐 (older sister) comes from the fact that she is the youngest and constantly wants others to look up to her so she can boss other kids around since she’s so obviously spoiled at home. But given her young age of 3, everything she does is cute and means she has the exclusive privilege to sit back and watch other kids burn in hell to complete challenges.

When we were younger, we idolized everyone on the show and secretly cried ourselves to sleep wondering why we weren’t born into a famous family so we could have fun on these reality shows. But in retrospect, most of the dads’ hilariously bad attempts at trying to take care of chores, their unintentionally funny comments made when insulting their kids to encourage them to finish their challenges and the close-up shots of the crying children really make this show an enjoyable and perfect candidate for when you are in the mood to laugh at silly kids for hours straight.

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