Who’s Your Choice? : The Era of Survival Programs
Who’s Your Choice? : The Era of Survival Programs
  • Park Ji-su (ST Reporter)
  • 승인 2022.01.16 18:12
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ST, Park Ji-su
ST, Park Ji-su

Competition is inevitable in our lives. Competitive universalism makes people so familiar with rivalry that they trample on others, and create something to compete for even when they don’t need to do so. In this cover story, ST covered a survival program that made competition a fun factor. We’re going to talk about different opinions, the light and shade of the survival program format that continues to air, and let people develop a critical view of the genre. ..............................................................................................Ed

     Now, our broadcast’s mainstream content is a survival program. ‘Survival Program’ is a format in which participants compete among themselves. In 2009, Superstar K, which used the survival format, was a runaway hit. After the success of Superstar K, programs with similar formats were broadcast. Star Audition: The Great Birth and K-pop Star are the best examples of survival programs for ordinary people. Since then, survival programs that feature trainees or have experience in related fields have also emerged. Super band, Show Me the Money, and Produce 101 are good examples. Programs that use music and the survival format are constantly being aired.

     With the success of the survival program, there are many programs that also use the survival format in other areas. The popular program is Kim Yu-na’s Kiss and Cry which is about figure skating. Challenge: Supermodel Korea is the famous survival program about fashion model. These examples mean survival program takes over the content.

     We have to see survival programs in various perspectives in the areas of the mainstream of the survival program format. We hope Soongsilians to have a balancing view about survival programs being aired in television. Thus, we will talk about the light and shadow of the survival program. 

#01 The Participants Can Get Popular


     Many participants appear, and the main focus is on them. Woo Won-jae, who appeared in Show Me the Money Season 6 and finished third, wrote, “I want to become famous,” as his motivation for applying in the program. Like these cases, the survival program is regarded as a chance for people to appear on television. The power of the survival program can make participants famous even if they failed in the competition in the program. Participants can be famous for using the survival program as a steppingstone. Even if they didn’t win, the survival program is regarded as a good opportunity.

     Sing Again is a survival program that specialized in making participants popular. The purpose of the program is to revive the careers of forgotten singers. In reality, people react to the participant’s video or music that was uploaded before the broadcast. Jeong Hong-il, who placed second in the competition, received many comments on his YouTube channel, Jeong Hong-il RED-ONE TV.

#02 Suit Peoples’ Taste and Encourage Active Participation

ST, Jeon Min-young
ST, Jeon Min-young

     The appearance of a variety of participants can be a benefit to people who watch survival programs in which all participants have their special points. Then, people can find participants suitable to their taste. Almost all of the participants show their talents to the maximum. Participants can make people fall in love with them. Survival programs’ slogan is, ‘At least one of them suits your taste.’ The program that uses this strategy is Produce 101.

ST, Jeon Min-young
ST, Jeon Min-young

     The participants in Produce 101 should complete missions to reach a certain goal. A total of 101 people appeared in the show, featuring a variety of visuals, talent, and stories. Thus, the program can offer many types that suit the taste of the audience. Produce 101 thinks the choice of the people is important, making sure that people participate in the program actively. By the vote of the people, the success or failure of the participant will be decided. The program gives the right of ‘producer’ to those who are watching. In the beginning, people have a chance to vote for 11 participants. Then they will concentrate on the participants they are voting for. They will find the participants who are suitable to their taste. Then, through the vote via an on-air message, people can express their love for the participants more directly. 

#03 Various Sources from Relationships

     The survival program is based on the participants and the competition. Since it is about competition, conflicts between the participants may arise. In the view of the program directors, conflict can be a source to attract viewers and thus these scenes usually appear in the program. Moreover, participants’ private stories and the chemistry between the participants can be sources of interest as well. These will draw more attention to the program.
     In Street Woman Fighter’s mega crew mission, WANT’s Hyojin-Choi and Emma’s conflict kept people’s focus on the program. Emma was not familiar with the dance. She lacked practice because of self-quarantine. Therefore, the leader of WANT, Hyojin-Choi, was upset, and she cried after stepping out of the stage. This situation can stimulate viewers’ interest to raise questions about their relationship after the conflict.
     Street Woman Fighter attracted people through the developed relationships among the participants. The best example is the chemistry between Monika and Lip J in crew PROWDMON. The short scenes, which revealed their friendship, are regarded as interesting to people who watch the program regularly. People want their relationship to be featured more in the program. Viewers who love their relationship upload a variety of YouTube clips and photos. It shows that the relationship among the participants is a big boost to the program. 

#04 Programs Become Brands


     As survival programs become mainstream, programs become brands. Some survival programs broadcast as series keep the same format. This is the progress of the branding. Famous programs that led to branding include Produce 101, Show Me the Money, and  Tomorrow’s Trot. By branding, programs can keep the popularity and the viewers who love the program so much. A new season of the program guarantees success. The broadcast company can reduce the danger of competition by a new program.


     Tomorrow’s Trot shows the success of branding. As the series become a big hit  consistently, the broadcast company can produce spin-off programs. The best examples are Call Center of Love and Mr. Trot’s taste, which spun off from Tomorrow’s Trot. After the Tomorrow’s Trot series and its spin-off programs, people will start associating programs related to trot, and they will remember these programs. Tomorrow’s Trot uses ‘trot’, which was earlier regarded as not interesting in other channels that use the survival format. It became a  unique point of interest and succeeded in creating a brand for the program.

These values are emphasized, as survival programs become mainstream broadcasts. 

On the other side, harmful consequences appear evidently at the same time.

#01 Manipulative Editing

     The feature of the survival program is to record and deliver the natural appearances of the participants. However, it also releases provocative scenes by distorting their intention. It’s called manipulative editing.
     The easiest targets are participants without any authority. All situations are organized to put a specific frame on a person. Usually, the interviews are sent in negative nuance through malicious direction. It is also portrayed as if they are in conflict with others when they are preparing to step on the stage. Judges are no exception. First, the expressions and words they make when they judge are caught. Then they are edited with tense camera composition and background music. For a representative example, advice to the participants is maximized as if they were harsh criticisms.
     Manipulative editing causes misunderstanding in the individual personality, talents, and relationship. Most people accept scenes without much regard for authenticity. After the broadcast, accusation can be brought against the contestant. Among them are excessive vicious comments, such as acts of defamation and threats. Eventually, all consequences of this editing are directed to the person under controversial circumstances. Not only is it up to the participant to endure strong criticism but must also explain all circumstances.
     Manipulative editing will not disappear as long as survival programs continue to be created. It is becoming a trademark of survival programs. Producers want their programs to be a hit. There is even a purpose to actively support certain people. Participants can be victims of manipulative editing at any time. However, they are obliged to accept all the progress of the program. Because they desperately want to succeed, to resist irrationality is almost impossible for them.

#02 Ranking Manipulation

     Ranking manipulation in survival programs is a crime. The production team adjusts the ranking to the number of votes calculated according to the results that are already set. A representative example is the Produce 101 series of Mnet. There was a ranking manipulation in all four seasons. If there were no manipulation, two trainees could debut in Season 3, and three in Season 4. Groups that successfully debuted were also adversely affected. X1 from Produce X in the last season was disbanded. In the case of IZ*ONE, they suffered from the same suspicions until the end.


     Likewise, Idol School from Mnet have been suspected of manipulation. According to the survey, the answers of 223 people, including duplicates, were manipulated. Contents that were different from the actual voting results were broadcast. Eventually, the producer and the broadcaster who were deemed responsible were punished for the charges that were filed. Hefty fines were also decided. 

     Once a survival program starts, it promises to value fairness above all things. Strict standards are required for fair judgement to prevent the occurrence of unsavory incidents. Also, it must not reflect the interests of the broadcasting officials. However, it is difficult to see the real situation accurately because several processes are not transparent. Controversy may erupt if there is any suspicion of manipulation of casting participants, judges, or voting results. Consequently, all survival programs are not free from controversy. 

#03 Young Contestants in Danger

     Young participants become major issues in the program. For example, there were people who became famous after 
participating in seasonal trot programs when they were still elementary and middle school students. Though they were young, 
each show depicted them as adults. Furthermore, among the themes of their songs are love and sorrow. Several issues have 
been raised about their mature appearance. First, songs and performances do not fit their age. Many pointed out that they 
were exposed to adult culture too early. Second, it’s competition with adults as well as they could with their peers. Since there 
is a line between victory and defeat, it can be more burdensome to the participants than appearing in other programs. 


     It is the same in cases participated only by young participants. Competition among them has been reduced to a means of a program focusing only on issues. There is a program called My Teenage Girl, which was scheduled to be aired on MBC in November. After the participants’ profiles were released, their age bracket drew attention. They ranged from 12 years old to 19 years old or older. The program promotes the participants’ young ages. Public response isn’t that good. Some are demanding age restrictions. Participants may suffer from vicious comments, such as defamation and sexual harassment. There is also stress from competing in a state where there is a lack of sociality. Moreover, they must endure extreme schedules. They are not properly guaranteed any rights. They are unhinged from the care of society just because they become celebrities.

#04 The Red Ocean of the Survival Program

     The survival program market is called Red Ocean. It is now a survival among broadcasters. Since they are all produced in the same format according to trends, nothing particularly stands out. Many respond that there is only one cliché, instead of tension due to the predictable repertoire. Freshness has disappeared. It is hard to expect the same syndrome as before, unless there is another format that eliminated the factors of failure.

     As the entertainment business increases, the broadcast of survival programs will prevail. The composition of the participants and the style of the contest will also diversify. The program develops by itself and is established well in the broadcasting industry. The values of survival programs are important not only to broadcasters, but also to the participants and the public. Broadcasters derive benefit from the branded programs and the successful participants. Even if they fail to become a hit, they can create a craze with a new format. Both the contestants and the public realize each other’s dream. They do their best to succeed in their goals.
     It should be recognized that the problems are as clear as the benefits. If the broadcast is marked by violations of fairness and human rights, all survival programs in the future will also be stigmatized. Deceptive damage to participants and the public needs no further explanation. Endeavoring for fairness in respective positions is required. Viewers must have clear subjectivity and a critical eye. We should think about the intentions of the production team and the participants. As Soongsilians, let us enjoy survival programs in a healthy and pleasurable way.


Park Ji-su (ST Reporter)
Jeon Min-young (ST Reporter)

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