Creators of 'Single's Inferno' credit contestant's honesty with show's success
After the hit Netflix Korea original dating reality show “Single’s Inferno” ended on Jan. 8, four couples were left standing from a total of 12 contestants. But because the actual filming took place 6 months ago, viewers were left wondering what has become of these lovebirds and how many have actually stood the test of time.
“Single’s Inferno,” which began streaming on Netflix from Dec. 18, brought together 12 extremely attractive single Koreans and dropped them on a secluded island dubbed “Inferno” without any means of communication with the outside world.
Over the course of eight days, the contestants' sole mission was to show the most appealing sides of themselves to potential love interests in a bid to be matched up and escape the island to "Paradise" for a night.
Although some of the contestants, such as beauty YouTuber Song Ji-ah and dancer Cha Hyun-seung, were already popular on social media, the rest were leading normal lives out of the public eye. However, that changed quickly when the show proved not only to be a hit for local audiences but also international ones. "Single's Inferno" became the first-ever Korean reality show to enter the top 10 rankings of Netflix's most popular shows.
The creators behind the series are two producers from JTBC — Kim Jae-won and Kim Na-hyun, who credited all of the show’s global popularity to the contestants’ charms.
“We couldn’t believe it for ourselves when our show climbed into the world ranks,” Kim Na-hyun said during an online press interview last week. “We are both grateful and amazed at the news, [...] but we believe it’s all due to the charisma of our contestants. The keywords to describe them are confidence and honesty, and I think that people liked seeing them being true to their emotions. Since it’s a group of very honest people, their fluctuations of emotions were rapid and they were very active in going after what they wanted. Another reason why we thought the show was so appealing was our lack of usage of subtitles. We decided to use as little as possible unless we really needed it due to the audio or we were going over important rules. I think this method lowered the barrier to the distinctness of our local sentiment that is often incorporated into our subtitles, so viewers could interpret the situations for themselves.”
The producers said that they used a variety of methods to recruit the contestants, following popular hashtags on Instagram and contacting them through direct messages, accepting recommendations from their acquaintances and even taking to the streets to personally hand out flyers to find fresh faces.
They also considered the potential chemistry the candidates would feel for each other.
“We were really considerate about selecting the right candidates,” Kim Jae-won said. “During our pre-interviews, we would meticulously ask about their ideal type of boyfriends and girlfriends, and selected them thinking that we were their matchmakers.”
Kim Na-hyun said, however, none of the creators anticipated that the three new contestants who appeared from the middle of the show would not be matched up.
“We thought that they had plenty of charisma and charm to appeal to others even though they were latecomers into the love circle,” Kim Na-hyun said. “We had asked them if they were okay with coming into the group late, and they were all very confident but we never anticipated they would not be matched with anyone.
“We also considered their personalities,” Kim Jae-won added. “People who could mingle into the group faster [than others], and the bigger consideration was to find and insert newcomers who have different attractive traits from the original contestants. Because those who’d already been on the island for a few days might have not found their ideal type yet, so we had to consider the possibility that they [the newcomers] could be the one.”
But the producers did anticipate how popular two of the contestants would be among viewers.
After the show ended, the number of Song Ji-ah’s subscribers on her YouTube channel “FreeZia” surged from some 500,000 to over 1.9 million, while Cha Hyun-seung's Instagram followers now exceed 1 million.
“In the case of Ji-ah and Hyun-seung, we actually received suggestions to contact them for our show,” Kim Na-hyun said. “I saw Ji-ah’s YouTube and as we talked to her during our meeting we thought her characteristics just clicked with the direction of our show, so right away, without any hesitation, we asked her to appear in the series. We can’t say we’d anticipated that she would be this popular, but we were confident that if she appeared on our program, then she could really show off the color of our show, and it would definitely become more entertaining.
“We received recommendations to contact Hyun-seung too, and the biggest reason why we had him come in late to the show was because we thought of him as a very alluring contestant who would appeal to the females [no matter the time constraint].”
The creators emphasized that none of the scenes had been scripted or pre-planned and specifically mentioned Se-hoon’s decision to choose Ji-yeon to take to the Paradise for the third time, despite being rejected by her multiple times.
“I think dating programs are all about the choices people make,” Kim Jae-won said. “The moment of choosing derives from hours of agonizing.
"Throughout that day, we could see that Se-hoon was really mulling over in his mind [before choosing] and during the pre-interview he’d only told us that he was deliberating between two females but he didn’t say whom. We obviously thought it would be either Su-min or Min-ji but when Se-hoon called out Ji-yeon’s name everyone was dumbfounded. There were other contestants who yelled [out of surprise] — we found it thrilling, but we worried [for him too]. I know that people have different views regarding his choice — some view it positively, while some negatively. To our relief, Se-hoon did well on the Paradise island and got his happy ending, so from the perspective of an observer, we were, in a strange way, proud of him for achieving that, and I think it showed what kind of a character Moon se-hoon has, so it was a moment of catharsis as a director of a dating program.”
Different responses over Se-hoon’s apparent refusal to accept Ji-yeon's rejection were not necessarily divided by Eastern and Western cultures, according to the producers.
“I don’t think the East simplified Se-hoon’s choices as romantic or being loyal — in Korea alone, there were a variety of mixed responses over Se-hoon,” Kim Jae-won said. “And the responses varied just as much in the West too, so I think it’s all based on personal experiences people had.”
Local and foreign sentiment over the contestants varied depending on how open and honest they were about their feelings, Kim Jae-won perceived.
“I think Korean fans feel a little awkward in expressing what’s on their mind,” he said. “I saw them criticize the way the contestants openly discussed what was on their minds, but foreign fans thought of it as being confident and honest, so I guess there’s a different cultural context regarding that. Local culture seems to think it’s a virtue to hide things, but since this is a dating reality show, contestants’ thoughts and feelings have to be exposed but they [Korean viewers] seem to think of it negatively, which was unfortunate from the standpoint of a creator.”
Due to the show’s success, season 2 may be on its way, although nothing has been decided as of now.
“From the feedback we’ve heard from the contestants, they pointed out that the time period of eight nights and nine days seem to be too short for them to really get to know each other, so we might consider expanding the number of days," said Kim Na-hyun.
"We are also considering how to diversify the games they play, but we do not believe that the concept of ‘Single’s Inferno’ will drastically change for season 2.”
“It’s true that the contestants’ emotions are heightened because they are cut off from the outside world without smartphones, and can only focus on dating,” Kim Jae-won said. “Which is why I believe they were sometimes clumsy and awkward even though they’re highly attractive people, and I think it’s one of the factors that people were entertained by, so that’s an important factor that we would keep.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [email@example.com]