Supermodel and actor Godfrey Gao (高以翔 Gāo Yǐxiáng), who grew up in Canada and spent his career mostly in Taiwan and the mainland, died on November 27 after suffering a heart attack while filming a Chinese reality TV show.
According to multiple sources, the 35-year-old was in Ningbo, on the set of Chase Me (追我吧 zhuī wǒ ba), a competitive sports reality show broadcast on China’s Zhejiang Television, when he collapsed sometime after midnight. He was taken to the nearest hospital in critical condition. After about three hours, he was pronounced dead.
As a model, Gao was best known for being the first Asian model to appear in an ad campaign for the fashion house Louis Vuitton. In Hollywood, he played roles in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and The Jade Pendant. In mainland China, he gained a large following by playing a disabled architect in the romantic soap drama Remembering Lichuan (遇见王沥川 yùjiànwáng lìchuān).
Gao’s sudden death has raised a series of alarming questions about the program and the network behind it. Classified as “urban action variety,” a genre of game reality shows in an urban environment, the premise of Chase Me sees a group of people selected from its audience running after celebrities who take on extreme physical challenges such as rock climbing along the way.
Despite the dangerous stunts on the show, there were no safety experts or emergency medical personnel on the set. According to a person who claimed to be in the audience on the day of the event, the show failed to provide immediate and adequate medical assistance to Gao when he fell to the ground and became unconscious. Before Gao received basic CPR from a volunteer in the audience, Huáng Jǐngyú 黄景瑜, another celebrity who was on the set, could be heard shouting, “Where is the doctor?” About 45 minutes after Gao’s collapse, ambulance personnel arrived at the scene and took the star to a hospital.
This is not the first time people have been injured or died while participating in variety shows produced by Zhejiang Television. In 2013, a staff member in the management team of Shì Xiǎolóng 释小龙, a Chinese actor and martial artist, drowned in a pool used for Splash! 中国星跳跃, a show where celebrities try to master the art of diving. In 2018, Chinese singer 张杰 Zhāng Jié reportedly fainted after using glass pipes to blow Ping-Pong balls in a competitive program called Ace vs. Ace 王牌对王牌.
The news of Gao’s death has generated a tremendous amount of anger on Chinese social media, with hundreds and thousands of internet users calling for a boycott of the show. In a viral post (in Chinese) shared more than 90,000 times on Weibo, one user raises 10 questions regarding Gao’s death and presses the network to give answers. “We need to know how Zhejiang Television will console Gao’s family and his fans. We also need to know how it will prevent similar tragedies from reoccurring.”