I am writing this First Impression Review of Netflix’s Korean reality dating show Single’s Inferno after having already quickly binged the first six episodes and surprisingly realizing that the final two episodes air tomorrow as of this post.
But the show has been so fascinating and enjoyable that I had to get my initial thoughts down before potentially getting my heart broken in these final episodes. (Though I doubt that would ever actually happen.)
A tl;dr right upfront: Single’s Inferno (솔로지옥) blends together everything a K-drama watcher loves about K-dramas and everything a reality dating show fan loves about reality dating shows. Beautiful people. Beautiful scenery. Juicy intrigue and heart-fluttering moments rivaling any romantic Korean drama. And just the right amount of reality competition to tie it all together.
This Netflix/JTBC production plops a group of sexy singles on a deserted island known as “Inferno” for nine days with minimal, but relatively comfortable amenities and lets them find love. The only way for them to escape the island (for a moment) is to win a night in “Paradise.” That is, the Paradise Hotel and Resort where couples can enjoy a luxurious night in a suite and be allowed to ask each other their age and occupation (both to be kept secret from everyone else while on the island).
Though there are quick games every day or so to give the singles a chance for some romantic alone time with people of their choosing, the series mostly lets the singles figure things out themselves. That is, they are left to their own devices in their quest to find love. Getting to know each other, chatting with each other; the loose format allows the singles to do as they wish with the overnight trips to Paradise as the immediate goal. And of course a love connection as the ultimate.
Now, I’m a big fan of Korean drama. But not much of a fan of reality dating shows like The Bachelor. I’ve seen a little bit of the Americanized Love Island. And I do remember watching old shows in the early days of reality TV like For Love or Money, Meet My Folks and the iconic Joe Millionaire back in the day. But I honestly wouldn’t know how or what to compare Single’s Inferno to.
My vague perception of American or even just simply western dating shows is they’re full of sexy singles hooking up. I mean, if that’s a common occurrence on a show like Big Brother (which I watch much more often than dating shows) or even The Amazing Race of all places, then I can only assume that’s what happens on any of the dating shows I don’t watch.
Obviously, I would never expect a Korean dating series to closely mirror potentially sex-filled western dating shows.
And thinking about it now, I actually have watched a few Korean “dating” shows in the past; shows like We Got Married or The Romantic & Idol. Though We Got Married was more of a typical documentary-type variety show, The Romantic & Idol is probably closer to what western dating shows might be like. That show saw actual K-pop idols attempting to find love and pair up with each other while living together in a quaint seaside pension. (A concept that you absolutely would not see today lest you want to draw the fiery rage of young fans everywhere lol)
Perhaps that experience partly informs the way I responded to these six episodes. I’m aware of the kinds of sensibilities a Korean (or honestly, any Asian) audience might have with regards to dating shows like this. So I would never expect to see anything beyond a quick kiss on the lips. (If even that!)
That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I have enjoyed Single’s Inferno so much so far. That mix of the western dating show format and Korean television sensibilities is just the right combination for someone like me.
I’m not embarrassed to say I’m a hopeless romantic. I think that’s one reason I gravitate toward Korean dramas in the first place.
There’s an oft-used meme (or whatever you might call it) regarding Korean dramas where K-drama fans feel great satisfaction with the romantic leads merely holdings hands or even having their first kiss 1/3 of the way through a typical 16-episode series. Compared to a western series where the romantic leads are already having sex in the first episode.
I relate to that very much. There’s just something about getting that earned romantic moment in Korean dramas that I believe is one of the reasons they (especially romantic dramas and comedies) have such an appeal around the world. It’s what makes Korean romantic dramas feel so satisfying.
Six episodes in (and with only two left), not a single kiss. Not even a peck on the cheek. The overnight trips to Paradise have the guy and girl sleeping in separate bedrooms in the suite. Even though they can choose whichever sleeping arrangement they would like.
Perhaps that might be off-putting or boring for many people. But for me, it’s perfectly fine. If I wanted to watch a show (or simply a video) of random singles hooking up in front of a camera, I’ve got plenty of options. Google is all our friend of course.
But that’s why Single’s Inferno has been such a surprisingly enjoyable show for me. Its simple format has somehow engaged and intrigued me (and apparently many other viewers around the world) so much. Only six episodes in, actually even back after the first episode, and we the audience are already invested in these people. We want to root for some of them. We want to raise some red flags for some of them. We want to knock some sense into some of them.
To feel that involved and invested in these “characters” who are actually real people and in such quick fashion is a major accomplishment for any show. Realty show or scripted drama or not.
It’s fascinating to be able to enjoy watching a bunch of people far better looking and much more accomplished than myself struggling through romantic relationships. I never imagined that watching people merely talking over good food or sitting on the beautiful beach hashing out their feelings with each other would be so compelling.
But Single’s Inferno has made that possible.
I’ve fallen in love with this simple, yet enjoyable show faster than the singles have fallen in love with each other. And again, that’s quite a feat.
(Hindsight Review coming tomorrow after the finale!)