Every once in a while I happen upon a new television program that really captures my fascination, especially these days with online content being as great as it is. While there are plenty of shows I follow, rarely do I ever happen upon a show and it instantly becomes one of my all-time favorites. That is exactly what’s happened with the show I’m talking about in this post, and what’s even more surprising than me finding a new favorite show on YouTube is where the show comes from; South Korea! I never imagined I’d be binge-watching a Korean show, or even writing a review about it, but I really feel like this show is such a gem that it needs to be raved about. So I’m going to use this little blog platform I have to promote what I think is one of the greatest competition shows I’ve seen; The Genius.
The Genius is a Korean game show series that bears some slight resemblance to the U.S. series Big Brother. This show similarly pits a group of contestants in a confined space to play a set of games that require a good deal of strategy and politicking in order to survive. Unlike Big Brother, The Genius doesn’t keep the contestants locked up in a house 24/7 or make them fight physical challenges for survival. Instead, the beauty of The Genius is in the games they play in order to determine survival and elimination. The show relies heavily on what are deemed ‘Main Match’ games that require contestants to strategize, make alliances, and find any available loopholes to succeed and survive to live another week. The game is a true mental test for everyone involved, and for a strategy nerd like me, it makes for a highly entertaining show. I think there is so much to love about this show; it offers a little something for anyone who likes shows like Big Brother, Survivor, or even MTV’s The Challenge. These are a couple of the main reasons why I enjoy the show, and the things I think make not only an excellent game, but also a really fun and exciting show that American viewers might want to check out:
#1 – The set-up of the game-play
- The Genius game itself is set up in a pretty interesting way. The contestants all compete in a Main Match contest to decide the winner(s) and loser(s) of that round of competition. The variables of the games they play is what keeps it fresh and exciting however, as the games they play can have multiple different outcomes depending on the way the contestants work together. There will be games where a single player wins or loses and others where people can team up and become co-winners. The most fun thing about The Genius Main Matches are how mentally challenging they are set-up to be. Unlike any competition show I’ve seen, The Genius is set-up to challenge contestants’ mental fortitude with tricky, vague games that the contestants often have to figure out as they go. The challenge of figuring out the game is a huge part of the excitement in watching the game, and is probably what drawn me into the series. I love trying to figure out the games along with the contestants and seeing how they all interact and try to work it all out. Once the Main Match concludes an Elimination Match takes place between the loser of the game and the person they choose to face in the sudden death elimination contest. This part reminds me a little of MTV’s The Challenge series, but in this show the contest is all mental and often includes opportunities for politicking as the contestants sometimes are capable of throwing support behind one elimination candidate or another depending on the specific game. The way the show sets up its Elimination Matches adds a lot of layers of drama to what is already a pretty crazy contest and always ensures each episode ends with an exciting, dramatic build-up to finding out who wins and stays and who loses and get eliminated. The Genius game is unlike any other contest I’ve seen, it’s clever, though-provoking and highly entertaining to watch and follow along with.
#2 – The politicking and alliances
- Another really intense element of The Genius, one that truly sets it apart from similar shows is the social game, and the necessity other people play in one’s survival. The games are all set up rather ambiguously, forcing the players to form alliances to figure out the best ways for survival. On any given week the Main Match can be a team game, or an individual pursuit, but regardless, the smartest and most successful players in the game usually end up being the ones who find a way to put their heads together with other contestants for mutual success. And the producers of the show formed the contests and the rules in such a way that bribery and backstabbing are concepts that are always on the table. Players in the game receive garnets as game money, earned for winning contests or beating another player in an Elimination Match, and these garnets can be used in the Main Matches to buy or sell influence or earn advantages in certain contests. I can’t think of any other TV show off the top of my head that sanctions bribery as part of the game rules, but I’ll tell you this; it adds a great deal of excitement to the show. The Genius is a show that relies heavily on the contestants to define the action, to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable game play, and that, in it of itself, is a huge part of the show’s charm.
#3 – The cultural differences
- While it’s not really a part of the game, as an American who’s really only watched American shows before (for the most part), I find it to be really interesting watching show set in a completely different culture, spoken in a language that I’m not familiar with at all. I like watching how people in a different culture interact with each other, and trying to pick up on the lingual differences between Korean and English. Not only do I love the game of The Genius, but I find watching it is, in a small way, expanding my horizons to a new culture. Not only have I immersed myself in this show, but I find myself checking out the music of some of the Korean pop stars that were contestants on the show and really liking some of it. I’ve also found myself watching clips of other variety shows and other stuff of that nature, and even though I can’t follow any of it without subtitles, I’m gaining an appreciation for their culture. I don’t know, it’s not really important to dwell on the cultural differences to enjoy the show or the game itself, but I do like stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit to enjoy a show set in a language and culture I’m not used to. Different can be good!
#4 – The editing and storytelling aspects
- Another interesting aspect of The Genius, one that really sets it apart, is the way the show is edited. Unlike most competition series I watch, the timeline of the broadcast of this show jumps around a little bit, with an emphasis on intentional foreshadowing to show what happens later on. As the Main Match goes on, the show strategically does these little flash forwards breaks to show a little glimpse of the kind of drama that comes as the game comes to an end. This isn’t my favorite aspect of the show admittedly because I prefer not to be too spoiled on the outcome, but the flashes are a fun editing aspect. Also, the show tends to run commentary on some of the conversations the contestants have during the game, in a light-hearted, joking way. Even though the game is kind of intense at times, you can tell the producers tried to keep the commentary as fun as possible to balance the tougher to follow mental aspects of the game with lighter banter. The show is edited in a very different manner than similar American shows, and it may just be another cultural difference that I’m not terribly aware, but still, it’s yet another way the show is distinct and entertaining.
I really can’t rave about The Genius enough, it is a brilliantly designed game that is both thought-provoking and highly entertaining. It’s a cerebral game show, yet it’s also a ruthless contest of wits that never fails to deliver episode-to-episode. The coolest thing about trying to watch The Genius is that, even though it’s a Korean show, its first season is available on YouTube with English subtitles, so it’s very easy to follow. Now I’m not usually one to make show suggestions, but this is a program that I would highly recommend to anyone who loves Survivor or Big Brother from a strategy perspective. The Genius has quickly become a favorite for me, and I think it deserves some recognition in the United States. Here’s the link if you want to give this show a try: