Reality TV show Checkmate in hunt for fresh South Asian talent
When Colors TV executives were brainstorming new programme ideas for the Middle East, they realised there was a major issue they could address – jobs for young South Asian graduates.
Millennials are in a “very important phase of their lives as they evolve from students to “responsible professional”, says Sachin Gokhale, senior vice-president and cluster business head for IndiaCast, the regional distributor for Colors.
He says South Asian expats in the UAE, from Emirates Hills to Karama and Sharjah, have a “strong family ethic and emphasis on education”, which Colors wanted to tap into.
The result has been Checkmate, an Apprentice cum Dragons’ Den-style reality show where 16 contestants vie, over 14 episodes, for the chance to win a six-month internship with corporate consumer goods giant Unilever in the UAE.
Millions of South Asians live, study and work in the Gulf. According to UN estimates, the UAE is the top destination globally for Indian migrants, with over 2.8 million Indians living in the country – 30 per cent of the 9 million total population the World Bank estimated in 2015.
Mr Gokhale says there is a “lot of appetite for the unique lifestyle of South Asians here”.
When it came to creating Checkmate, he says: “There are institutions for kids to study here up to postgraduate level, but the job market has a strong emphasis on bringing in people from outside”.
But he adds: “The market is not as open as it should be to taking in fresh talent”. Many young graduates, he says, are “overworked and underpaid”, without access to the management or graduate training widely available in the West or in India.
More than 1,000 students from over a dozen colleges entered the auditions at the end of last year. That number was whittled down to eight women and eight men, aged 19 to 22, the majority of whom studied at local universities.
The finalists were all “genuinely serious” about their careers, “not just the chance to be on TV”, and saw their next move as being to work in a large company, says Mr Gokhale.
Why 16? As explained in the show, it is the number of pieces left on a chessboard when the pawns are taken out. The chess references continue throughout each half-hour show – presented by the breakfast show hosts of UAE radio station City1016, Sid and Malavika – right down to the checkerboard flooring.
There are seven tasks for the young contenders: the most challenging, they say, were selling at Ripe Market and working in the call centre at RAKBank for a day.
Sachi Bhojwani, 20, who just graduated from the University of Nottingham with an economics degree, is Indian-born but was brought up in Dubai. “I always knew I wanted to come back and work here with my family by my side,” she says.
But she adds: “It’s not easy for a fresher to get their first job. I hope to gain exposure from the show.” She would like to get into consultancy, a field where she can “do something new every day and work with a number of clients”.
Abu Dhabi-born Aashna Raheja, 19, who is studying media and communication at Manipal Unversity and wants to become a reporter, says the show has given her “confidence and public speaking skills”. She was eliminated in episode five.
Nathan Cornelio, a 19-year-old science student at Pristine Private School in Dubai, who was also born and raised in the UAE, says he applied because he wanted to “show the world what a schoolboy can do”.
Adarsh Agarwal, 20, is in his second year studying business administration at Manipal University in Dubai. He lives at home and would like to become an entrepreneur. Checkmate, he says, is a “platform to perform and show how you can tackle business situations”.
Mr Gokhale says Colors did investigate a more entrepreneurship-focused show but that “the South Asian DNA is to find a very good job”. “It’s a very conventional society in that sense,” he adds. More entrepreneurial elements are likely to be added in future seasons.
The winner will get a paid internship with Unilever, rotating between different departments. There are also three other internships on offer for the runners-up: one for a year with consumer durables distributor Ideas 91; one with Colors broadcaster Viacom 18; and one with the Fair & Lovely Foundation, a corporate social responsibility initiative run by the Indian beauty product firm.
The show started last month on Colors TV Middle East and airs every Saturday and Sunday night at 9pm UAE time. The finale – with Mr Gokhale one of the on-screen judges – airs on March 25. You can watch Checkmate on Elife channel 250, OSN or Yupp TV on channel 278 or on YouTube.
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