The Korea Times

‘Infinite Challenge’ opened golden era for reality show

- By Park Jin-hai

“Infinite Challenge,” one of Korea’s oldest-running and most successful reality shows, has put a period on its 13-year run.

With the airing of the 563rd and final episode of the six-man show, dubbed “the nation’s variety show” for its nationwide popularity, audiences can no longer see the outwitting of challenges by the cast, who say themselves they have “less than average” intelligen­ce, every Saturday evening.

Although they didn’t exclude the possibilit­y of a second run, with the show’s cast and director leaving, viewers bid a tearful goodbye to the show that gave them years of laughter.

In recent years, however, the director and cast complained of cutthroat schedules, and running out of fresh ideas.

Rumors of the show’s imminent demise always met with fans’ protests. When its closure was known, some even filed petitions on the presidenti­al Cheong Wa Dae website, pleading for the show to go on, saying it was more than just a show but a “part of their life.”

The show debuted in Aril 2005 as a prototype with four men including Yoo Jae-suk having a tug-of-war against a bull. Since then it has offered fresh and sometimes reckless stunts each episode. The current six-man system was settled on later in 2005.

Over the years, the scale and depth of the challenges have grown.

The popular show visited Japan’s Hashima Island and covered the pains of fallen conscripte­d Korean civilians forced to labor under Japanese colonial rule, while it has also dealt with environmen­tal issues and nonmainstr­eam sports like rowing, expanding the realm of the fun-for-fun’s-sake entertainm­ent show to include social issues.

“It was something we could do and that we should do. We had this urge that we wanted to return the love we received from our fans by making life better,” the show’s producer Kim Tae-ho said during a recent press conference. “Some complained we went too educationa­l, but we wanted to take up issues that call attention to all society.”

Its viewership, started with 4 percent, but peaked at 30 percent in a 2008 episode where they parodied the historical period drama “Yi San.”

It had 40 advertisin­g sponsors and generated 522 million won a week in TV advertisin­g, making it one of the country’s most lucrative TV shows.

The six cast members — Yoo, Park Myung-soo, Jung Jun-ha, HaHa and later Yang Se-hyung and Jo Se-ho — have successful­ly built each of their characters. Original member Yoo has become a top-ranked entertaine­r and a powerful influencer whose presence could not be replaced with anyone else throughout the show’s run.

It has created a K-pop idol-scale fandom as well. Viewers have actively suggested ideas, and these have been reflected in episodes.

Culture critic says the show made the audience its seventh member. “It changed the whole TV-watching pattern. Audiences being immersed in the cast, turn to active viewers, from passive ones consuming what was seen on the small screen,” said Kim Kyo-suk, a culture critic.

It also changed the Korean entertainm­ent show landscape. By adopting the one-man-one-camera system, with one camera following and observing each cast member, unlike the previous two cameras filming entire scenes.

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