[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Hellish way to make a heavenly match

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[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Hellish way to make a heavenly match

Once upon a time in Korea, stars did not have lovers. They were sweethearts to everyone. A scoop on a hotshot entertainer going out with somebody headed straight to the front page of the sports tabloids -- in giant pink headlines. Fans would then emit heavy sighs of disappointment at news of their idol's mortal condition.

Times have changed, though. Most entertainers nowadays are up front about their amours. Being a star couple is even said to boost a pair's popularity, and in recent years the number of celebrity couples has grown. Programs that promote entertainers' romances have even sprung up. "Match Made in Heaven," Saturdays at 6 p.m. on MBC-TV network, is one such example.

Each week, the program, which debuted in October, gathers a group of four men and four women entertainers under this hopelessly garbled heading: "Nonfiction, situation and love variety." It's not heaven, but the master of ceremonies Gang Ho-dong and the producers undertake the almighty job of matchmaking in the program. "The goal is to provide busy entertainers with chances of meeting their Mr. or Ms. Right," says the producer Yeo Un-hyeok.

The path to true love is full of thorn bushes, however. Participants in "Match Made in Heaven" put their dignity at stake, remaining true to the only-the-brave-deserve-the-fair principle. The action begins with cast talent shows -- the funnier and more eye-catching the better. A star may opt to perform a stupid dance routine, which he would never dare do on a real stage for fear of becoming a laughingstock. But in front of love, all become fools. After the not-so-smart talent show, the cast makes a decision during what is nicknamed a "cushion ceremony." Each of the women sits on a stool and turns her back to the four men, who sit on cushions. It's the moment of judgment for the men. If a guy is attracted to the woman, he slides over to her on his cushion. If a woman candidate claims more than one potential suitor, she must choose one. Four couples are thus born, but it's only the beginning.

In the second round, the couple wanna-bes join in a series of absurd games. Standing in a row, the men and women must deliver a piece of paper to the opposite sex by mouth. If the paper falls, the relevant pair must smooch. Also in the show, male cast members boast about their strength by dangling from an iron rod as long as possible. After all these tests, participants make a final decision -- a popular vote, which is the grand moment. The two stars with the most votes from the other gender are honored as the couple of the week and receive bouquets and a free vacation.

In November, another major network, KBS-TV, launched a similar matchmaking program. Titled "War of the Roses," the show features male entertainers and "civilian" young women.

by Chun Su-jin

"What's on Korean TV" appears Wednesdays in the JoongAng Daily.
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