Gloomy without Running Man

The original cast of South Korean game show Running Man comprised (standing, from left) Haha, Kang Gary, Yoo Jae Suk, Ji Suk Jin, Kim Jong Kook, (seated, from left) Song Ji Hyo and Lee Kwang Soo.
The original cast of South Korean game show Running Man comprised (standing, from left) Haha, Kang Gary, Yoo Jae Suk, Ji Suk Jin, Kim Jong Kook, (seated, from left) Song Ji Hyo and Lee Kwang Soo.PHOTO: ONE
Running Man hosts Kim Jong Kook (centre, with Yoo Jae Suk) and Song Ji Hyo (right) reportedly found out about their ousting from South Korean news last week.
Running Man hosts Kim Jong Kook (centre, with Yoo Jae Suk) and Song Ji Hyo (right) reportedly found out about their ousting from South Korean news last week.PHOTO: ONE

Fans bemoan the end of the hit South Korean game show in February amid controversy over the ousting of two beloved hosts

The impending end of popular South Korean game show Running Man will leave a void in the lives of fans here, including student Lee Yiheng, 13.

Watching current and old episodes is part of his daily routine.

"Running Man made me laugh when I was gloomy, it made me happy when I was angry. The show is a part of my life. Now it feels as if something will be missing."

In the variety show, the regular hosts and celebrity guests compete in different tasks each week, ranging from obstacle courses to quizzes.

It stops production in February amid controversy over the ousting of beloved hosts Song Ji Hyo and Kim Jong Kook. The pair reportedly found out about their elimination from South Korean news last week.

Running Man made me laugh when I was gloomy, it made me happy when I was angry. The show is a part of my life. Now it feels as if something will be missing.

STUDENT LEE YIHENG, 13

Their removal was part of the producers' plan to overhaul the show to boost falling ratings in the country. News reports there cited insiders revealing plans to bring in new hosts.

The public outcry led to an emergency meeting attended by the hosts and the producers last Friday, and they came to the decision to end the show.

The popular cast has held sold- out fan meets in the region, including Singapore in 2013.

Running Man, aired on channel One, is the highest-rated variety programme across the four South Korean entertainment cable channels in Singapore: One, KBS, Oh!K and tvN. The show garners more than 50 per cent of the ratings among the four channels during its timeslot.

Running Man, which debuted in 2010, is consistently among the top three variety shows every week among streaming site Viu's offerings, since its launch here early this year. The site provides Asian entertainment content such as South Korean variety shows and dramas as well as Japanese dramas.

  • Highlights of the show

  • NAME TAG RIPPING BATTLE

    The game of catch dreamt up by producers has become synonymous with the show.

    The velcro name tags worn by contestants are their lifelines and if they get ripped off, the players are eliminated from the game. The nail-biting chase has taken place across Seoul as well as within a shopping centre at night.

    Die-hard fans even play the game among themselves. They make their own name tags or order them from online shopping sites.

    UNLUCKY PRINCE OF ASIA

    Comedian Lee Kwang Soo's spate of bad luck started from the very first episode - the rain poured down harder when it came to his turn to introduce himself.

    In a game of random luck, where members take turns to pick eggs from a tray of 30, he chooses the only raw egg to smash on his head. He repeats the unlucky feat on the second try, when the odds are narrowed to one in 20 eggs.

    The funnyman's hilarious misfortune on the show has turned him into a crowd favourite. He earned the title Asia's Prince after being mobbed by overseas fans while filming in Vietnam and Macau.

    CELEBRITY GUESTS

    Fans get to see a different side of their favourite K-pop idols or actors on the show.

    Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan easily scales walls and packs punches in his action movies. On the show, he winces in pain when challenged to jump rope on an acupressure mat with just his socks on.

    Chic rapper G-Dragon graces magazine covers and the front rows of fashion shows. In a race to reach a flag in a paddy field, he ends up getting covered in mud.

    MONDAY COUPLE

    Former member Kang Gary and sole female host Song Ji Hyo form the Monday Couple, so called because of their palpable chemistry. Why Monday? The show is typically filmed on that day of the week.

    Cheeky Kang would tease Song with sweet nothings and even planted a kiss on his lady's cheek.

    Fans should not get their hopes up about the make-believe romance turning real though.

    The duo underwent a brain scan on the show to find out their true feelings for each other. The doctor said the results revealed that they felt comfortable with each other, like old friends.

    EVER-CHANGING THEMES

    Each week, viewers expect the unexpected because there is no fixed format to the show.

    Players have to outwit, outplay and outlast the competition in whatever challenge is thrown by the producers. They have battled it out as super heroes, fought off zombies in an apocalypse and whipped up dishes in cooking challenges.

Though it is not clear why the producers chose to remove Kim and Song, viewers speculate that the gutsy and athletic pair's winning streak on games has made the show predictable.

Teacher Athena Miao, 24, is not surprised by the producers' attempt to reinvent Running Man.

She says: "It made sense that they wanted to make the show more unpredictable by firing Jong Kook and Ji Hyo, who often win games. But they forgot that the dynamics among the cast is what keeps the show going."

Though Running Man invites stars such as Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan and K-pop group Girls' Generation to appear, the longest-serving seven members are the ones who made the show a success with their wacky antics and chemistry over more than 300 episodes.

Gangly Lee Kwang Soo is the "traitor" trying to outsmart fellow turncoats Haha and Ji Suk Jin. Eloquent comedian Yoo Jae Suk enjoys teasing the group's common enemy, muscleman Kim.

Sole female host Song and former member Kang Hee Gun, better known as Kang Gary, were often teased about their on-screen chemistry, which earned them the nickname Monday Couple, as the show is reportedly filmed on Mondays. Kang shot his last episode in October and left to concentrate on his music career.

Viewer Edwin Chiam, 36, will miss the motley crew's chemistry after religiously following the show for three years.

"They reflect our families and close friends. Like how they bully the young member Lee, yet adore him. How they are concerned for the single Kim to find his better half," says Mr Chiam, the creative director of a production company.

The varied challenges are also a draw.

In one episode, viewers watched with bated breath to see if the TV personalities would jump off a 10m diving board into a pool. In another episode, the Running Man hosts gamely dressed in drag in a laughterinducing, off-key rendition of the Dreamgirls' song, One Night Only.

Viewers will best remember the show for its original game of catch with a twist, where contestants eliminate the competition by ripping off their nametags.

Part-time university lecturer Esther Wong, 44, says: "It was exciting to watch adults play the cat-andmouse game. My kids got drawn in. They made tags with their names in Korean and played the game with their church friends."

The novelty of the same old games and cliched jokes may have turned off some viewers and contributed to its declining ratings in South Korea.

Not all fans are tired of the antics, however.

Nurse Faith Koh, 29, who has followed the show since its inception, says: "I would occasionally watch a particular episode I had missed. Now that the show is ending, I might make serious plans to record all the episodes and go on a Running Man marathon."

•Running Man airs on Fridays at 11pm on One (StarHub TV Channels 124, 820 and 823; and Singtel TV channels 513 and 604). The series is also available on streaming site Viu.com and the Viu app.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Gloomy without Running Man'. Print Edition | Subscribe