[Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead]
The final episode of “The Genius: Grand Final” aired on the 12th of September and a new “king” was crowned. As it is produced by cable network tvN, “The Genius” is not as well-known among K-pop fans as other shows such as “Running Man” and “Superman is Back”, but over the past four seasons the show has garnered quite a large fan base both locally and internationally. “The Genius” is a variety show where 13 contestants of different backgrounds and age groups are gathered for a battle of wits that lasts throughout a season of 12 episodes where a contestant is eliminated each episode through a death match. The final winner, or the king, is given a cash prize based on the number of garnets earned by the players throughout the season. How then, you might wonder, did this intellectual show, in particular its fourth season, manage to attract so many fans? Here are five of the reasons why.
1. Complicated but viewer-friendly games
It is an intellectual competition after all, and the games that are played every episode are certainly of a high standard. Each episode is broken up into two parts, a “Main Match”, where the winners are granted tokens of life and the loser is sent into the “Death Match” along with another contestant of his choice.
Main matches take up the majority of the episode, and they range from auctions to horror races and even card games. The rules of the games are very extensive, but they are all necessary in order for the participants to gain victory.
The show always ensures that viewers know what is going on, however, by using an animated video at the beginning of the game to explain the rules. The possible scenarios for winning or losing the game are also spelled out clearly so that both the participants and the viewers will be able to understand how the game works.
When a participant makes a game-changing move (this usually happens at least once per episode,) the show will insert a special commentary of the person’s move and how his or her move would affect the game. This is a genius move on the part of the producers because it would help viewers understand what the participants are thinking and in a way, add more personality to the participants. Once viewers are able to become invested in the games they will experience a greater thrill and excitement while watching, which is one of the greatest strengths of this show.
2. It is a real-life version of “Liar Game”
If you’re a fan of the Korean drama “Liar Game,” you’ll definitely be a fan of this show as well. Seeing as how both shows are produced by the same company (tvN), this was something quite expected in terms of the format of the show and the games that were played. In fact, when the first season of “The Genius” aired, it was criticized for being too similar to the original Japanese version of the drama. Apart from the format however, what I found the most similar was the way cast member Kim Kyungran played the games in “The Genius”. She was a runner-up in season one and returned in this fourth season, She reminded me of Nam Da Jung (the protagonist in the Korean version of “Liar Game” played by Kim So Eun) in the way she constantly advocated for mutual cooperation and trust. Kim Kyungran embodied her beliefs in her actions as well, because she never failed to keep her promises and help her teammates, all of which led to this amazing moment in episode five where five participants (including Kyungran) achieved a joint victory together. Anyone else having “Liar Game” flashbacks yet?
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3. Friendly and lively cast members
The unique part about this fourth season is the fact that all the participants are people who have been in previous seasons of “The Genius”. This does not just heighten the tension surrounding the various matches and eliminations, it also ensures that viewers get to enjoy the familiar banters between the participants.
The cast is made up participants from various backgrounds and occupations including Jang Dongmin (comedian), Kim Kyunghoon (graduate student), Yoo Junghyun (politician) and so on, but they get along very well together. No matter how tough the competition is, the participants are always able to find humor and joy from each other (but this definitely does not mean that they go easy on each other!), which is very heartwarming to observe. Take the last episode for example, when the finals were concluded the whole cast gathered back in the main hall and held hands. It was a sign of unity, but more than that it was also about forgiveness.
There were many betrayals that took place throughout the show but at the end of the day the friendships that they had forged with each other were more valuable than any prize money they could have won. It’s an important lesson, and one that the show brings out actively.
In addition, tvN releases “behind the scene” footage of every episode, which gives viewers an insight about how the episodes are filmed. Most of it is hilarious and fun, and these videos once again show how close the cast have gotten as they spent long hours filming this program together.
4. The editing is always on point
No matter how interesting a cast or a game is, it is definitely difficult for an intellectual show like “The Genius” to be humorous and enjoyable for mainstream viewers. But that’s where the production side comes in.
Everything from the captions that are used to the background music that is thoughtfully selected for every scene contributes to the delightful program that is “The Genius”. Suspense levels are kept very high with the numerous twists and turns in every episode. The best example of this would arguably be in episode four, when the tables were completely turned contestant Oh Hyunmin, who was portrayed as the most likely victor throughout the whole game, when a secret alliance was revealed at the end and Hyunmin was in last place. It was such a surprise, both for the participants and for the viewers alike, and it is surprises such as these that keep viewers engaged and excited.
The background music that has consistently been used for this program since the first season is mainly provided by a band called Idiotape. Their music is highly electronic in nature and is very climactic with a clever use of the drums, which suits the nature of “The Genius” to a tee. Idiotape’s music has become an icon of the show, much like other aspects, such as the socalled “Bandage Man” and the main dealer, Hong Jiyeon.
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5. Jang Dongmin
And finally, arguably the star of season four, is Jang Dongmin. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my personal bias speaking, but I had started out this show with a very low expectation of this comedian and my impression of him has completely changed. I had watched him in “Crime Scene Season Two” previously, but apart from being impressed at his amazing memory, I did not think that he was an exceptional participant. I certainly did not expect that he would be such a loyal yet cunning player, with good social and leadership skills.
As mentioned several times during the season by his fellow participants, Jang Dongmin has the perfect skill set and ability for this show. He may not be the best mathematician or the boldest gambler, but he knows when to show off and when to play safe. He is also very driven and determined, as can be seen by his face-off with Oh Hyunmin in a deathmatch game of Tactical Yutnori, a new take on a traditional Korean game. In season three of “The Genius,” this was the only game that Dongmin had ever lost, and it was also against Hyunmin, one of this season’s forerunners. Dongmin saw this chance as an opportunity to prove himself and show his improvement, and boy, did he succeed. Apart from proving his own abilities, Jang also desired to show that comedians were not a group of people to be looked down on, but that they are intelligent and valuable people who deserve to be respected.
The show highlights the fact that Dongmin grew up poor and less privileged than some of his fellow contestants, so it becomes a triumph even for the viewers when he succeeds in matches and challenges. By being on this show, Dongmin disproved a lot of common stereotypes and thus gained a lot of respect for it. No matter who the fans supported, they never begrudged Dongmin of his success, to which I must say kudos to both Dongmin and the show for portraying him in such a manner.
As a bonus, Dongmin’s interactions with “The Genius” constant, Dealer Hong Jiyeon are both adorable and hilarious. It’s amazing to see the normally cold-hearted dealer turn into a smiling and flustered woman in front of this charming comedian, and tvN certainly realized it, judging by the number of times she ended up featuring in their “behind the scene” videos this season.
“The Genius: Grand Final” is a show packed with humor, heart and thrill. I’m definitely looking forward to the next season of it!
Are you watching “The Genius”? What do you think about the evolving variety scene in Korea? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.