For the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in KPOP survival shows and its viewership. Thus, more survival shows have been created since the success of Produce 101, in which many agencies use that as a chance to present their new trainees and build a fanbase for them pre-debut. However, survival shows have also become a tool to once again give disbanded group members, or older trainees a chance to make their debut. Korea is not unfamiliar to survival shows since many well-known groups were formed through them such as: Twice, Winner, Big Bang, 2PM, etc. Many broadcasting stations, more specifically MNET, have tested out different types of survival shows, the most popular ones nowadays are creating a temporary group that will debut only for a certain span of time.
Understandably, broadcasting channels must have an interesting concept that will be able to draw the audience’s attention. Shows such as Produce 101, Unpretty Rapstar, I-LAND, and more drew a lot of traction and success because of its contestants’ efforts. Yes, there will undoubtedly be drama between contestants, there will be tears shed; but aside from that seeing how the audience’s favorite trainees, or contestants grow and improve is what keeps them so fond of watching the shows. The production team, however, usually manipulates how a viewer responds to certain contestants, i.e.: giving others more screen time in order for them to attract more fans and avoid elimination.
“Victims” of K-pop Survival Shows
I’d like to use ENHYPEN’s Niki as an example, as well as Girls Planet 999’s Huening Bahiyyih; There is this thing called “MNET evil editing”, at least for international fans. Born in 2005, Riki Nishimura was only 14/15 years old when he began his journey on I-LAND, viewers believed that he lacked teamwork (because of how his persona was manipulated throughout the show). It began in the first episode, when he voted out his friend Ta-ki, who was a fan favorite, in order to advance. I-land’s concept was that 12 trainees will advance to a luxurious dorm to train, while the other half gets sent to the “ground”, only those who are in the top 12 after an evaluated performance will be given the chance to debut. Viewers did not hold back on expressing their dislike for Niki especially during episode 3, when he was putting his own ambition’s above the team’s overall performance. Sometimes, the line between constructive criticism and bullying is blurred when it comes to these survival shows—MNET is known for evil editing but that doesn’t justify the hate or death threats that some of these contestants receive.
This brings me to my next example, Huening Bahiyyih. No one, including entertainers and public figures, should be cyberbullied under any circumstances. This name may be familiar to Tomorrow x Together (TXT) fans as Bahiyyih is the sister of well-known member of the group, Huening Kai. Ultimately, Girls Planet 999 brought together trainees of different training styles and companies and made it really interesting to watch, and used the desperation of debut-needing trainees to create the storyline. Other survival [shows have] less than 15-20 ppl, there’s pretty much a 40-50% chance you’ll debut or have enough hype to continue elsewhere. Bahiyyih has been the target for hostility throughout the show, although she did make it in the final lineup it’s difficult to imagine what she (and the other trainees) had to go through. It is normal for viewers to have their favorites, but Bahiyyih suffered with the title of merely being the younger sister of two well-known Kpop idols, Kai and former member of VIVA, Lea, who is now an influencer. Unfortunately, Bahiyyih did not receive as much screen time as expected, and was only viewed as someone related to somebody famous, and in turn she did not deserve her place on the show.
As someone who was not formally trained prior to the show, many viewers made it a point to point out that she was only going to get votes because of her brother. She received death threats, and hate, but the reason why fans loved her was because we got to see her growth. MNET is good at stirring up drama, but even though she struggled, she never failed to keep up with the other girls in terms of singing and dance— fans watched her lose her confidence, but with all her hard efforts she eventually earned her spot in Kep1er, the Girls Planet 999 debut group.
Why Are Survival Shows So Popular?
In Korea, they tend to ride out trends and cater to what’s in demand until the public gets tired of them. The idol market is oversaturated right and there is really no reason for this many groups to be debuting. By exposing large amounts of trainees or pre-existing idols in a grueling survival show, it essentially gives false hope for those young boys and girls, men and women, who have spent their childhood or teenage years trying to debut or become successful. It’s deceiving, but the public demands new faces, and until agencies start taking care of the groups they have that are already active, that cycle isn’t ending anytime soon.