Recently, variety shows starring ordinary people have been gaining significant attention. Variety shows such as EXchange, The Wedding War, and I Am SOLO have been winning over audiences with their fresh and unfiltered portrayal of ordinary people. Ordinary people who are refreshing, genuine, and cost-effective. When did TV shows start taking an interest in ordinary people? Let’s hear what pop columnist Kim Tae-hoon and culture critic Kim Heon-sik have to say about the popularity of these shows.
You Quiz on the Block turns the stories of ordinary people into content
In the past, it was not common for ordinary people to appear on television. Starting in the 1980s, viewers began sending their home videos to TV stations for indirect appearances on television, and candid camera shows targeting ordinary people enjoyed a period of popularity. Entering the 1990s, ordinary people began appearing directly on television through public-interest variety shows. Over time, they featured in different formats like observational reality shows. A prominent trend was the emergence of matchmaking reality shows, where ordinary people were placed in restricted, often intimate settings like islands or secluded houses.
Among these, talk shows featuring ordinary people as main guests have secured consistent popularity. You Quiz on the Block began by capturing spontaneous conversations with people on the streets, delivering authenticity and a sense of being on the scene. It remains popular thanks to the unexpected humor and touching stories from various guests. The presence of naturally entertaining ordinary people adds a distinct and enjoyable flavor to the show.
EXchange garnered widespread viewer empathy by focusing on honest emotions
Why are the formats featuring ordinary people so popular? The popularity of these formats stems from the viewer's desire for natural laughter and fresh content.
Reality shows with ordinary people cater to this need, with "EXchange" being a prime example. This reality dating show that reunites ex-couples to re-examine past relationships and seek new ones, launched in 2021 and aired through season two, has garnered attention domestically and internationally and won the Best Variety Program at the 1st Blue Dragon Series Awards. Breaking away from the typical format of highlighting their lack of relationship experience, EXchange introduces a unique concept by bringing former couples together, creating a dynamic tension and showcasing the genuine emotions found in everyday relationships.
The remarkable success of EXchange is rooted in its authenticity. Celebrity dating shows often seem staged and lack long-term relationship viability, making them hard to be reliable. As a result, the questionable authenticity of these shows diminishes their appeal and makes them less relatable to viewers. In contrast, dating shows featuring ordinary people delve into the genuine psychological and emotional evolution of the participants, creating a more authentic connection with viewers. Additionally, viewers typically resonate more with the romantic dynamics of individuals from their own cultural environment, contributing to EXchange's heightened popularity in regions like Asia and the Arab world, where English is not the primary language.
The Wedding War Opened Up New Horizons in K-Survival Shows with Its Unique Format
Survival shows featuring ordinary people competing intensely for prize money have also become a trending topic. While the Anglosphere has traditionally dominated this genre, Korean survival shows have been relatively weak due to being stuck in the morality and ethics framework. However, with the expansion of the OTT market, Korean survival shows are now beginning to explore various strategies to tap into the global market.
Physical 100, a representative K-survival show, received a positive response for emphasizing the challenges and achievements of ordinary people, moving away from the traditional focus on winning. Likewise, The Wedding War, where real-life couples engaged in an extreme survival competition to win 290 million won for their wedding, received praise for pushing the boundaries of survival programs by blending elements of survival and romance.
The Rise of Ordinary People in Variety Shows! What's the Next Step?
The development of cameras and video platforms has blurred the boundaries between celebrities and non-celebrities. As appearing on television has become more accessible, we are seeing more ordinary people on variety shows due to the relatively low barriers to entry. This is because the candid and friendly appearances of fresh new faces, as well as the unexpected emotions and laughter, served as a great draw for viewers.
As the viewers welcome the appearance of ordinary people, an environment where talented ordinary people can freely showcase their abilities on air should be prepared to better incorporate this trend into variety shows. However, with the rising moral and ethical standards, ordinary people are also being held to a high moral standard according to social conventions, and a level of vigilance is needed for some participants who may be motivated by publicity rather than authenticity. Furthermore, we must explore entertainment formats that promote positive impact, such as environmental awareness, charitable donations, and volunteerism. This would align with the interests of “Generation Alpha” (those born after 2010), who are interested in environmental issues and ESG.
Given the proliferation of cameras, the diversity of platforms, and the ever-growing demand for authenticity among viewers, we can anticipate that the participation of regular individuals in variety shows will remain a strong and enduring trend for the foreseeable future. Consequently, the responsibility of content production companies and creators is becoming increasingly important, and we hope to see more programs that can resonate with diverse generations and cultures.
※BEHIND TALK was created based on Con Ssul Ting from CJ ENM's YouTube channel.