Apr 21st, 2020, 06:44 PM

"The Life of Others" - An Authentic Travel Show

By Stefan Levchenko
The host interviewing the Nepali ex-goddess. Image Credit: The Life of Others
Learn about lives of common people in different countries through this amazing Russian travel show.

Welcome to the house of a Nepali ex-goddess, Yunika. Before hitting puberty, she used to live in the castle, and the Nepalese would come to her for blessing. Now, Yunika lives in a small apartment with her family, and another girl has moved into the castle to occupy Yunika’s former position as a goddess. The government pays the ex-goddess 44 U.S. dollars every month, and will grant this sum monthly till the end of her life. This is not nearly enough even to settle apartment’s rental fee though, and the ex-goddess will have to adjust to the earthly ways of survival. This is “The Life of Others”, a new Russian TV-show that provides insight not on the touristy sides of different countries, but on the quotidian lives of their inhabitants.


The host interviewing the Nepali ex-goddess Image Credit: The Life of Others

In 2020 reality, watching travel shows is nearly the only way to travel. Fortunately for everyone quarantined, numerous travel shows can be accessed online. Most of them however, focus on the sightseeing aspects of travel. The primary goal of “The Life of Others” is to show the lifecycle of common people everywhere from Mexico to Tunisia, from Cuba to Cyprus.

Have you ever wondered where the costumes for the carnival in Rio are created? Who makes them? Or why do almost all Argentinians frequent a psychologist at least once a week? Whether the Finns really go to the sauna on a daily basis? Or who switches on and off the famous Geneva Water Fountain? The answers to these and hundreds of other questions about the daily lives of people in different countries are provided by “The Life of Others.” 

In each location, show’s host Zhanna Badoeva visits a maternity hospital, a kindergarten, a school, a university, two or three places of work, an institution for the elderly, a cemetery and, of course, throughout the whole episode, people’s homes. Talking to a middle school student, Zhanna might ask whether the food in the canteen is tasty and what subjects do they study – the host was surprised to learn that schoolkids in Thailand have an obligatory meditation lesson. In conversation with an adult, Badoeva will necessarily ask about their occupation and how prestigious it is – if you are a waiter in Morocco, she learns, your job is very highly reputable.

Morrocan man explains the hardships of being a waiter in his country Image Credit: The Life of Others


A 22-year-old French citizen Paul Giraudoux, for whom Russian is not native, shares that Zhanna’s language is very universal and, through subtitles, is easily accessible to all groups of population around the world. Paul says that host’s down-to-earthiness and joie-de-vivre are quite irresistible. Giraudoux also specifies that Zhanna’s choice to ask school's principal about how easy is it to cheat during an exam in France added authenticity as Giraudoux himself experienced a three-year suspension due to cheating. 

An educator discusses cheating. Image Credit: The Life of Others

A 19-year-old Vera Kulikova from Saint Petersburg says that she waits for the new episode of the show every Sunday morning, and always watches it with pleasure. Vera praises host’s fashion choices as Zhanna changes two or three outfits throughout the program.

Examples of Zhanna's outfits Image Credit: The Life of Others

My personal relationship with the show was no less positive than that of Vera and Paul. During the third semester of university, I found myself very depressed. “The Life of Others” served as a great distraction from my personal troubles, and eventually, however cheesy this may sound, cheered me up so much that my depression was gone. It works in pretty much the same way for other viewers. The comments on YouTube are generally extremely favorable praising the revolutionary format, the host’s warmth and objectivity, and the montage that provides the viewer with a lot of expressive b-roll elements of interior or aerial shots.

Every Thai family has a photo of the royal couple in their homes Image Credit: The Life of Others
A spring in Iceland Image Credit: The Life of Others

Some people say, “I’ll just scroll Instagram if I want to see the authentic picture of a given place.” However, images on Instagram do not always transfer the reality as, quite often, its users only choose to show the more glamorous, the more globally approved version of their lives. Zhanna, to the contrary, does not neglect showing Moroccan slums or a self-organized elementary school under the bridge in Delhi and talking to people whose life passes there. The host even went to quarantined Venice to interview students put on remote education, teachers in empty schools, and cemetery keepers who found themselves alone with the dead on the graveyard as no visitors are allowed. Zhanna went through every aspect of the life cycle, which she normally does in her program, but this time adjusted for quarantine.

Zhanna interviews a quarantined student in Venice Image Credit: The Life of Others

Zhanna Badoeva ends every program with an inspirational reference to the show’s title. For example, in Bali episode, where most people seem very cheerful, Zhanna concludes, “So, if you don’t like something about your own life, on the example of the life of others, let’s learn how to love our own.” In Seoul episode, where Zhanna devotes her attention to locals’ obsession with plastic surgery, the conclusion is the following; “In pursuit of beauty, we can lose ourselves. And then it won’t be our life any longer, but the life of others.” My favorite conclusion of all is from the Prague episode; “Though everyone has their own recipe for being happy, we can easily grab a couple of ingredients from the life of others.”

As of 21 April 2020, “The Life of Others” has three seasons and 43 episodes. All episodes are accessible for free on show’s official YouTube channel and, starting with the Finland episode of season 1, with subtitles in English. Singapore is the most viewed episode with almost 1.5 million views; the runner-ups are Israel and Monaco with about 1.3 million views each, however, they do not have subtitles yet. The most viewed episode with English subtitles is the one about Paris with more than 1.2 million views.

Image Credit: The Life of Others