When TV Nova first premiered its new talent competition “Czech Political Idol” on September 2, 2017, the reaction of the nation’s “serious” media was predictably scathing. The leading newspapers called the show “absurd,” “a travesty of the political process” and “just a really bad idea.”
But the public’s reaction turned out to be exactly the opposite. It instantly became the most watched TV program in the country. Week after week, viewers were captivated by the brilliance and charm of the contestants. By the time the last 10 of them reached the finals, most viewers had already chosen their favorite, and the show was a near constant subject of conversation among people at work, in pubs and, of course, online.
The show’s first weeks had been spent winnowing down the thousands of people who had entered the competition. The first hurdle was an I.Q. test and a series of written exams in history, geography and world affairs. This immediately eliminated 95% of the entrants, including nearly all of the known Czech political figures.
Next was a lengthy parade of three-minute auditions by the contestants, during which the judges evaluated them according to a range of criteria, including their speaking ability, charisma, sincerity, and hairstyle. One very awkward and nervous contestant was ranked terribly by the judges in nearly all those aspects, yet they let him progress to the next round simply because his written test scores had been “off the chart.” He was now among the 10 finalists and one of the favorites.
There were concerns about the show’s viewer voting process and the potential for corruption. Nova had implemented a computer program that allowed for only one vote by a person’s cell phone, but of course that still favored viewers who owned more than one phone. Nova’s position was, “Hey, folks, it’s not an actual election. It’s just a TV show.”
It might not have been an election, but what the finalists and the winner received was a major shot at the real thing, getting both huge television exposure and a share of the show’s advertising revenues towards the cost of running an actual political campaign.
“I love Vojta!” was a typical sign that audience members waved during the finals. Vojtěch Šulz was a 38-year-old lawyer who had won viewers over with his hilarious dissection of the absurdities in the new Civil Law passed by the Czech Parliament in 2016. He was short and fat, and during the auditions one of the judges had proclaimed his hairstyle as looking like “Dresden after the bombing.” But he was beloved by viewers nonetheless.
Female viewers swooned over Martin Jandourek, a tall and handsome young economist, who blew the judges away with his ingenious plan for restructuring the financing of the nation’s public healthcare system. But it was his vocal rendition of the aria “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore that had truly won viewers’ hearts.
Nearly all of the smart money, however, was on Katerina Stehlíková, a 48-year-old judge from Písek, who had stunned viewers with her intelligence, wit and charm. Every week, she merely stepped up to the microphone and began talking, about her life, her work, her views on Czech society, and her vision for the country’s future. She spoke so eloquently and with such conviction that viewers were totally mesmerized by her. And despite being physically quite plain, male viewers overwhelmingly voted her the contestant they’d “most like to wake up next to in the morning.” She laughed and blushed when that was announced.
In case you’re among the very few people who haven’t yet watched the show or heard who ultimately won in the end, we won’t spoil it for you here. Suffice to say that, with this radical new approach to finding its future leaders, the Czech nation suddenly discovered some incredible political talent it never suspected it had.
And Nova, of course, made a fortune.