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‘Single’s Inferno’ Returns With Better Cast, More Drama in Season 2

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Released on Dec. 13, the hit Korean reality dating show “Single’s Inferno” is back with a second season that ups the ante in both casting and drama. The premise relies on a tried-and-true scenario revolving around 12 attractive, eligible singles stuck together on a deserted island in the sweltering summer heat. If two singles decide to couple up, they are rewarded a night at a luxurious hotel called “Paradise,” where they are allowed to talk about their age and occupation — an action that is forbidden on the island. The ultimate goal for the contestants is to leave the show as a couple with the person of their choosing. 

The female contestants include Harvard University neuroscience student Lee Nadine, Seoul National University piano major Shin Seul-ki, model Park Se-jeong, Hanyang University acting major Lee So-e, 2021 Miss Korea Choi Seo-eun and model and businesswoman Lim Min-su. Their male counterparts are barista Choi Jong-woo, investment broker Jo Yoong-jae, chef Kim Han-bin, plastic surgeon Shin Dong-woo, youtuber and former South Korean Navy SEAL Kim Jin-young, and tailor Kim Se-jun.

“Single’s Inferno 2” follows the same format as the previous season, and notably lacks any new games or contests — failing to give the show a refreshing tone. Contestants compete in games that are common in Korean variety television like “ssireum” (Korean folk wrestling) and “chicken fight” (a game where players attempt to knock each other off balance whilst standing on one leg). All the games are based on physicality, lending itself to a relatively boring viewing experience. 

However, the casting is remarkably more nuanced and thought-out than the last season. The cast members had varying occupations that didn’t overlap. Their personalities and jobs were more diverse, which gave each contestant a distinct individual impression rather than season one’s arguably bland cast. They express themselves in different ways, which influences the viewer to empathize with them at varying levels. 

For example, Lee So-e is a shy and “cutesy” style girl, but as the show progresses, she exhibits a mature, outspoken character and is honest about her feelings towards the man she likes. Many of the other contestants exhibit this sort of unexpected charm in differing ways throughout the series, which significantly increases their attractiveness.

The drama was also more compelling in “Single’s Inferno 2.” Some contestants were refreshingly honest with their feelings while others mysteriously kept their inner thoughts to themselves. The chemistry between certain contestants felt more real than season one, especially in the scenes between Shin Seul-ki and Kim Jin-young. It was surprising to watch some contestants be genuinely attracted to one another given the pressure of filming for such a fast paced show.

“Single’s Inferno” marks a monumental shift in aesthetic when it comes to South Korean reality dating shows. Other Korean dating series’ like “We Got Married,” “Heart Signal” and “Transit Love” fall into a similar stylistic categorization that emphasizes Korean beauty standards and dating culture. “Single’s Inferno” may be marketed as a provocative, western-style variety show — a la “Bachelor in Paradise” and “Love Island” — but it doesn’t stray far from Korea’s traditionalist views on love and dating. 

One of the only sensational aspects that “Single’s Inferno” delivered on was the amount of skin and sexualization of the body that was more akin to western reality dating shows. Unfortunately, even with the inclusion of americanized Lee Nadine, “Single’s Inferno 2” remains faithful in reinforcing the same beauty and dating standards. At many times, the two most popular female contestants were reduced down to how “pure” and “clean” they looked and behaved, which is quite an antiquated measure of femininity. 

In South Korea, and many other parts of the world, colorism is ingrained into cultural expectations of beauty. Those with darker or tanned skin are seen as less beautiful and less desirable since they fail to meet the societal standard of “milky-white” skin. In season one of “Single’s Inferno” male contestant Moon Se-hoon mentioned how he “[liked] people who have light skin” and the other male contestants as well as the commentators were in agreement — showing how normalized these comments are in South Korean society. While there’s nothing wrong with having a type or liking certain qualities in a partner, it’s disturbing that some people fetishize lighter skin because it contributes to a society that normalizes inequality and discrimination. 

“Single’s Inferno” isn’t the type of show to topple the status quo of Korean society, rather it wants to incorporate the provocative style of western reality shows into an established practice of generally moderate TV. 

“Single’s Inferno” presents itself as an electrifying show that isn’t afraid to air the scandalous side of love and dating, but it falls short of making an impact. The steamiest scene in “Single’s Inferno 2” is significantly tame if one considers how contestants on western dating shows literally kiss and engage in sexual activities over the course of filming. This is due to conventional dating standards in South Korea that encourage a conservative course of action. Because of this, there’s little to no physical contact between the contestants. Instead, signs of attraction are shown more through conversations and body language. In a way, “Single’s Inferno” prioritizes communication between contestants in order to find love. 

Though “Single’s Inferno” isn’t the most ground-breaking reality dating series, it is fun to get invested in the love lives of young, successful and attractive people. With all 10 episodes streaming on Netflix, it’s the perfect show to binge watch during the weekend. 

Lauren Koh is an Arts & Entertainment Intern for the winter 2023 quarter. She can be reached at lkoh@uci.edu.