The Korea Herald


TV’s great outdoors

Korean survival shows hitting global circuit

By Korea Herald

Published : May 21, 2013 - 20:15

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When KBS’ iconic “Two Days and One Night” segment hit the small screen in 2007, it pioneered the tough outdoor survival format.

By pitching comedians, actors and singers against each other in a sort-of Darwinian situation, where team members would have to battle one another for lodgings and grub, the show made waves.

It was hard. It was dirty, but it never got ugly. In fact, it was downright funny.

Ratings went through the roof. Not only did the show do well on home turf, the program was also exported to Japan, China and Thailand.

Nearly six years later, it looks like the outdoor program format is undergoing a revolution and, like its KBS predecessor, it looks like it may have some serious hallyu potential.

While “Two Days and One Night,” currently in its second season which kicked off in 2012, continues the tradition of filming within South Korea, the latest crop of shows is upping the ante by going international and making survival more than just a game.

SBS’ popular “Law of the Jungle” is one of the earliest shows to display this new format. 
“Law of the Jungle” lead star Kim Byung-man feeds a trio of ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. (SBS) “Law of the Jungle” lead star Kim Byung-man feeds a trio of ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. (SBS)

From the start “Law of the Jungle” was bold and brash, kicking off in Namibia in 2011 and taking its lead star-and-comedian Kim Byung-man and a changing cast of celebrity adventurers to faraway locales like the Amazon and Vanuatu.

Far from a picnic, the cast fend for themselves in the wilderness, foraging and hunting for food, even dining on worms or insects to quell their hunger.

Gritty, rough and thrilling, the show is a viewer-ratings success and also seems to have a global appeal. According to an SBS Contents Hub representative, “Law of the Jungle” has been exported to Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Another brand new SBS outdoor-style program that also might be on the verge of making waves abroad is “Barefoot Friends.”

The broadcaster unleashed the urban survival show in April, starting off in Vietnam and then moving on to Indonesia for the latest episodes.

Featuring high profile celebrities like hallyu stars Kim Hyun-joong, Yoon Si-yoon and U-ie, “Barefoot Friends” sends cast members into the city and to the great outdoors to tackle physically demanding jobs and earn much-needed cash.

Still in its infancy, nationwide viewer ratings remain in the low four percent range, but, according to the SBS Contents Hub representative, the program is currently available to viewers in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, hinting that “Barefoot Friends” might have growing global appeal regardless of how it performs on at home.

Meanwhile, MBC announced it will launch its own survival reality program this June.

Titled “Final Adventure,” the upcoming show features 14 celebrities including singer Jo Sung-mo, Tony An and ZEA’s Jung Hee-cheol.

“Fourteen members will be divided into groups of two for a total of seven teams,” an MBC representative explained. “This is a survival program where one team will be eliminated at a time and the final winner is given a cash prize. The show will kick off in Thailand.”

It is too early to tell whether or not international viewers will take interest in “Final Adventure.” If overseas audiences do take to the new program, it looks like a new Korean survival show trend might be able to take its place in the global circuit.

Considering that the latest batch of programs features popular Hallyu stars ― for instance 2AM’s Jeong Jin-woon and MBLAQ’s Mir guest-starred in “Law of the Jungle” ― this might not be such a surprising outcome. By combining a cast that has overseas appeal with action film thrills, these new outdoor programs seem to possess the elements needed to cast a wider global net.

By Jean Oh (