Watch: Jennifer Marks-Gold Judges Student Talent on Popular Chinese Reality Show

This summer, International Students and Scholars Advisor Jennifer Marks-Gold represented Swarthmore as a judge on Star of Outlook English Talent Competition, a popular Chinese television show that showcases talented students and gives them the opportunity to pursue an education abroad. Now in its 14th season, the show has had over 10 million participants in its history. Marks-Gold, the only judge this year from the U.S. and the only one to represent a liberal arts college, gives a firsthand account of the opportunity below.     

Representing Swarthmore College as a judge for an English talent competition in China never made it to my bucket list. But I’m always up for an adventure, so when no one in Admissions was available, I raised my hand. And I’m glad I did.

Marks-Gold with winning contestantFrom July 8-17, I spent several long days on the set of the Star of Outlook English Talent Competition, a popular annual program produced by China Central Television (CCTV). The program (a total of nine episodes) is now airing on CCTV.

One of our alumni in Beijing—Zhiyuan Zhu ’04 (he goes by "Zee”)—recommended this opportunity to the College. Zee is business strategist/chief counsel working with domestic and international companies.

Some four million Chinese took part in the competition; the number had been filtered to 50 by the time I arrived with four other judges, representing Cambridge University; King’s College (London); the University of Sydney, Australia; and the University of Wollongong, also in Australia. The talent acts consisted of the typical fare—singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and a few others. Competitors—most of whom were extremely talented and spoke impeccable English—were not in it for the prize money. There was none. For most, the goal was to get invited to apply to a well-respected college or university.

Judges received full packets of information on all competitors—previous schooling, test scores, interests, and more. We were instructed to light our lights for those we felt should move on to the next round. Technically, lighting a light represented a formal invitation to apply, but I let several competitors know that—light or no light—they had an open invitation to apply to Swarthmore.

In addition to this being a fabulous experience for me personally, I’m confident the program will provide Swarthmore College with positive exposure in the world’s most populous country.