The Korea Herald


'The Zone: Survival Mission' wraps up with bittersweet ending

Disney+’s original variety struggles for the international recognition

By Lee Si-jin

Published : Oct. 17, 2022 - 17:47

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Comedian Yoo Jae-suk tries to survive a zombie apocalypse in Comedian Yoo Jae-suk tries to survive a zombie apocalypse in "The Zone: Survival Mission" (Walt Disney Co. Korea)

While Disney+’s star-studded unscripted show “The Zone: Survival Mission” caught local viewers’ attention, its lackluster performance elsewhere around the world cast doubt on the possibility of repeated success of Korean reality shows on global streaming platforms.

With its final episode released last Wednesday, the reality show became the second most popular show on Disney+’s Korean top 10 chart, data released by streaming analytics firm FlixPatrol showed.

“The Zone: Survival Mission” remained on the Korean top 10 chart since its first entry on Sept. 15, a week after its premiere, and became the service’s best known Korean unscripted show.

Starring top comedian Yoo Jae-suk, actors Lee Kwang-soo and Kwon Yuri, a member of K-pop girl group Girl’s Generation, the program was the only non-drama series to make the Korean top 10 chart before the premiere of the dating show "Pink Lie" on Oct. 5.

Featuring a zombie apocalypse – a popular subject in hit Korean series -- “The Zone: Survival Mission” owes much of its success in Korea to its format that was unlike that of other escape room-style games.

However, the show struggled to receive global attention.

The eight-part reality show fell short of making it to any of the European, American or African charts.

“The Zone: Survival Mission” ranked in the top 5 chart of three Asian regions, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Its success in these regions can be credited to the stars -- Yoo Jae-suk and Lee Kwang-soo -- who are already well-known there for their roles in SBS’ long-running TV variety show “Running Man.”

Culture critic, Jung Duk-hyun, explained that it is difficult for unscripted shows to gain global popularity.

“Drama series have their individual genres. Viewers (everywhere) can easily understand the stories, as the projects are either action or thriller. On the other hand, the differences in the humor code and cultural background present big obstacles for reality shows,” Jung told The Korea Herald.

The critic felt that “The Zone: Survival Mission” made many attempts to win the global viewers' hearts, such as dealing with a universal theme of surviving disasters. Also, fewer subtitles were used.

“Many Korean creators continue to introduce new shows to satisfy both local and global viewers. If a global hit is created, they can study it and develop it further to capture a wider audience,” Jung added.

In October, Disney+ and Netflix released the dating reality show “Pink Lie” and the music program “Take 1,” respectively, aiming to win over both Korean and international viewers.

Netflix’s eight-part program “Singles Inferno” was the first-ever Korean reality show to soar to the No. 5 slot on the service’s global chart in January.