'Shark Tank' judges bare sexist fangs on reality show

By Long Nguyen   May 12, 2021 | 06:16 am PT
Investor judges of the business reality television series 'Shark Tank' have stirred controversy with comments focusing on a contestant’s looks instead of her product.

One of the contestants in the second episode of Season 4, "Shark Tank Vietnam" was Nguyen Thi Thu Hang, CEO of Wiibike, an e-bike startup.

When Hang asked the judges if they could see something special about her bicycle, Nguyen Xuan Phu, chairman of household appliance provider Sunhouse, responded that he had eyes only for her, and could, therefore, notice "nothing special" about the bike.

Hang was participating in the contest to pitch her idea of using lithium batteries in bicycles and call for an investment of VND1.5 billion ($64,873) in exchange for one percent of share in her company.

Nguyen Xuan Phu (L) and Nguyen Thi Thu Hang seal the deal in the second episode of Shark Tank Vietnam season 4. Photo courtesy of Shark Tank Vietnam.

Nguyen Xuan Phu (L) and Nguyen Thi Thu Hang seal a deal in the second episode of "Shark Tank Vietnam" season 4. Photo courtesy of Shark Tank Vietnam.

Later, as Hang spoke about her company's goal, Phu interrupted her, saying: "You do not need to explain anything about the business. I can see it at a glance. As I said, I do not care about business, I do not care about the product, I only care about you."

As a confused Hang thanked him, Phu suggested that he takes a 10 percent share in her company with an investment of VND1.5 billion.

Another judge, Pham Thanh Hung, vice chairman of property developer CEN Group, went on to the stage to try out the bicycle. He said knew the deal between Phu and Hang would be struck quickly as soon as he saw Phu smile on seeing Hang walk onto the stage.

"...the solution is green, the startup is beautiful," Hung said.

As Hang asked questions of Phu before agreeing to his deal, Phu said: "It is up to you, I am busy now. If you want me to accompany you, you must be proactive or I will forget immediately."

After the deal was sealed, Hung repeated: "As I said at the beginning, as long as the deal is green, clean, beautiful, it is done."

The episode, aired on May 10, stirred a debate among Vietnamese netizens who seemed to be divided on whether the judges were unbecoming in their conduct or it was just harmless flirting with a female contestant.

"Phu's words were impolite and disrespectful. He does not care about her talent and presentation of her product. Now being beautiful is the only requirement to get investment on this TV show?" one netizen asked.

On her Facebook page, Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), called the comments evidence of a "toxic culture."

"I am no stranger to the rude even blatant statements of some men, including those with high positions in society. What shocks me is that programs like this are aired on national TV," Hong wrote.

Some netizens said Phu just wanted to show his appreciation for Hang's beauty and did not mean to flirt with her.

As the debate raged on social media, Phu said on his Facebook page that "physiognomy" plays an important role when he decides to cooperate with people.

"One of three factors making 'shark' Nguyen Xuan Phu decide to invest is physiognomy. The founders or representatives of a startup must have the appearance and charisma of a leader, must show their ambition and passion for their goals," he said.

"Shark Tank Vietnam" is a TV show that helps startups source investment from prospective investors.

Apart from Phu and Hung, this year's show includes the participation of Do Thi Kim Lien, Chairman/CEO at AAA Assurance Corp; Louis Nguyen, Chairman and Deputy Manager of Saigon Asset Management (SAM) and Nguyen Thanh Viet, Chairman of the Board, General Director of Intracom Group.

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