Single’s Inferno review: Is the Korean reality show on Netflix any good?

Single's Inferno. Netflix.
Single's Inferno. Netflix. /

After the incredible global success of South Korea’s Squid Game last year, Netflix is moving in full force with its international projects, recently dropping the JTBC produced Korean dating reality show Single’s Inferno on December 18 initially, releasing two episodes per week for four weeks. Spending multiple weeks in the global Netflix Top 10, the show (arguably South Korea’s answer to Love Island and Too Hot To Handle) has garnered millions of fans and online discourse galore. But the important questions are, what is the show actually about and is it any good?

What is Single’s Inferno about?

An 8-episode reality show, Single’s Inferno walks in the footsteps of its Love Island predecessor by placing a group of beautiful young singletons on a remote island in the hopes of finding love. Whilst, as with many dating reality shows, there are questions of scriptedness, the show generally comes across as natural and relatively uninfluenced by the production team.

This allows watchers to engage in a fly-on-the-wall viewing that gives insight into a side of Korean society that is typically presented as more traditional and conservative.

The nine main cast members are given glamorous, scantily clad introductions and one-on-one interviews as the show begins and are placed in each other’s company on the titular ‘Inferno’ beach with one main rule; they cannot share their age or occupations with their fellow contestants. This information is only allowed to be revealed when contestants make it to the luxurious ‘Paradise’ island and hotel if they successfully pair up together during voting sessions, similar to Love Island‘s ‘Hideaway’ in which couples can spend the night alone together.

The signature difference between Single’s Inferno and its sister island dating shows is that there is no cash prize available to the participants. Unlike in Love Island and Too Hot To Handle, the main point of the show is to make a romantic connection with no monetary incentive or bonus. Participants have just one week to do so, engaging in a handful of challenges throughout their time, both organized by producers and in the form of tasks such as learning to cook dinner and collect drinking water together.

Is Single’s Inferno any good?

Although the show is, unfortunately, nothing outstanding, it is definitely a fun watch, especially with friends! It is really refreshing to see a show that (ironically, considering the beach location and swimwear) doesn’t fixate on the sexualized aspects of relationships, instead focusing on the minutiae of interaction and communication.

The short season length means multiple episodes can be binged in one sitting and it is easy to become addicted, wanting to know more about each participant and where the connections between one another will lead them. The cast themselves all (for the most part) serve important roles in the group dynamic and a handful of interesting personalities has led to their success outside of the show and online presences amassing millions of followers.

Single’s Inferno’s Jia has had brand deals scattered across her Instagram feed since finishing the show.

As a concept, however, the show could be made slightly more stimulating if it included more challenges, games, or activities for the participants to prevent events from becoming too similar and monotonous. It could be that this daily boredom is part of the ‘Inferno’ concept of the island but as a viewer, it can be a little tedious. As well as this, one week seems like too short a timespan for any serious connections to be made between the cast beyond friendship and so it would be interesting to see how the show could change if the runtime was longer.

Luckily, Single’s Inferno utilizes the popularity of reviewers and reaction content online to break the show apart, with a panel of South Korean television presenters, actors and singers (including K-Pop group Super Junior’s Cho Kyu Hyun, and award-winning I Can Hear Your Voice actress Lee Da-Hee) providing intermittent commentary. Whilst this can be a refreshing break from the romance, this aspect -when combined with the show’s fly-on-the-wall concept as a whole- feels as though the show is trying slightly too hard to emulate the success of the Japanese smash show Terrace House.

Boasting multiple seasons and a film, the Japanese reality show similarly features a cast of men and women doing a whole lot of nothing, but Terrace House is somehow vastly different to Single’s Inferno, even in that the former’s hosting panel consists of comedians and presenters who provide genuinely entertaining commentary and insights.

As explored by Vox writer Aja RomanoTerrace House involves a group of participants moving into a stylish house together in a ‘slice of life’ show:

"“The residents — there are always six of them, three women and three men, all initially strangers — go about their lives, sharing meals, going shopping together, hanging out, interacting, and often falling for one another as the weeks progress.”"

Despite seeming fairly aimless, this presentation of ’empty’ reality TV has proved addictive, offering a television bubble “so punishingly mundane it becomes beautiful”Single’s Inferno on the other hand struggles to walk the line between relaxing and uninteresting. It constantly teeters one way or another between gasp-inducing moments and drawn out empty stares, and yet it somehow engages you nonetheless. This perhaps gives hope for this relatively unexplored aspect of Korean media, increasingly popular in the age of ever-growing international content.

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