Popular variety show ‘Infinite Challenge’ ends 13-year run with open ending

April 4, 2018
This file photo shows the cast of the popular MBC variety show "Infinite Challenge." (Yonhap)

This file photo shows the cast of the popular MBC variety show “Infinite Challenge.” (Yonhap)

SEOUL, April 2 (Yonhap) — In the summer of 2005, South Korean singer Cho Yong-pil held a historic concert in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Four months earlier, MBC TV started to air a pilot program that later changed its name to “Infinite Challenge,” opening a new chapter in Korean entertainment history.

At the weekend, history was made once again as Cho returned to the North to perform, heralding a new dawn in the always precarious inter-Korean relations, while the long-running variety show came to a close amid an outpouring of disappointment from its avid fans.

Nearly 70 petitions have been filed on the bulletin board of the presidential Cheong Wa Dae website, pleading for the network’s decision — to wrap up what is arguably the country’s most successful entertainment show — to be overturned.

One “heavy-hearted” petitioner, who “strongly” opposed the closure, wrote that the show had helped his family take great comfort and forget difficulties after emigrating to America. “I saw my mom laugh for the first time since we arrived when she was watching the show,” read the petition.

As its name suggests, the program had its cast members, with comedian and show host Yoo Jae-suk at its center, challenge themselves with various — mostly foolhardy and reckless — missions.

Producer Kim Tae-ho is shown in this photo provided by MBC. (Yonhap)

Producer Kim Tae-ho is shown in this photo provided by MBC. (Yonhap)

They cleaned skyscraper windows by standing on a cleaning platform mid-air, carried a luggage to a mountain top in China, cleaned dirty laundry by hand in India and practiced for months to compete in a rowing race. They had a basketball game with NBA star players Stephen Curry and Seth Curry, played soccer with French professional footballer Thierry Henry and auditioned in Los Angeles for a part in an American TV series. And the list goes on.

The program managed to survive the volatile cycle of ups and downs in the entertainment industry. It was a steady mainstay on the network’s schedule, largely due to the trendy ideas of the team led by producer Kim Tae-ho and to a passionate fan following.

The 13-year-old show went on air even during last year’s monthslong protest by union members who boycotted production in protest at management’s alleged interference in news coverage.

So it was not surprising that February’s news of the producer quitting the show met with disbelief, disappointment and even anger from fans. But at the same time, rumors about a possible ending had been circulating for months, as Kim often vocalized his fatigue from having produced the show for more than 10 years without a break.

“It’s been hard to keep the show’s original color while maintaining freshness,” Kim said during a press conference in Seoul on Friday. “The decision (to end the show) is not about me taking a rest but about how to make ‘Infinite Challenge’ better.”

This image shows stills from the final episode of "Infinite Challenge," broadcast March 31, 2018. (Yonhap)

This image shows stills from the final episode of “Infinite Challenge,” broadcast March 31, 2018. (Yonhap)

Despite the subtle hint of a possible return, he said he didn’t have a plan to come back anytime soon.

“If I could say I would be back with the second season within six months, I wouldn’t have left the show in the first place. … I rarely had time for dinner with my wife and son over the past 13 years. I want to go back to my family. I need to teach my son ‘hangul,’” he added, referring to the Korean alphabet.

The final episode, aired Saturday, garnered an 11.1 percent viewership rating, according to Nielsen Korea, the highest among programs aired in the same time slot.

During the emotion-packed finale, Yoo Jae-suk said “The program is my life so I feel bittersweet and sorry for fans.” But he added the decision to conclude the show was “necessary” in order to “give more fun” in the fast-changing environment.

“The show has been at the top of Korea’s entertainment shows for 13 years. … Without ‘Infinite Challenge,’ MBC might have been ignored by viewers long ago,” Choi Seung-ho, the network’s president, wrote on his Facebook page after the show’s final broadcast.

“Producer Kim Tae-ho will take some rest and return with a new picture for another infinite challenge,” he added.