Around the World: The Genius

"The Genius" garnet and logoThis site contends that the most interesting new TV show of the last couple of years or so comes from South Korea, is broadcast on the Total Variety Network, tvN and is generally referred to in English as the Genius. Summarising it in one short sentence, it’s “like Big Brother except with properly interesting, puzzly games”. To substantiate the claims of its brilliance, this site would point to the results of the global category of the 2013 Poll of the Year voted upon by ukgameshows.com readers, who ought to know a thing or two.

Each season, thirteen contestants start the first of twelve shows. Each show has a Main Match, which generates at least one winner and exactly two elimination candidates who play in the Death Match. (Usually, this will be the loser of the Main Match plus an opponent of their choice, though the winner or winners of the Main Match are immune from selection.) The loser of the Death Match is eliminated, and all the contestants but that eliminee survive to play the next week’s show. The final show starts with only two contestants, so just consists of a single match, playing best-of-three different games, to find an overall winner of the series.

Each contestant starts with one garnet, the main scoring mechanism of the show, and may earn additional garnets through winning, or performing well in, the Main Matches along the way. In the first two seasons, the survivor of the Death Match also inherits the eliminee’s garnets. The overall winner is paid a million won (currently nearly £600) per garnet, which will add up to enough to buy, say, a low-end but brand new sports car.

The true star of the show is the variety, quality and originality of games that are played. Not every single game sings, but at their best, they redefine how accomplished and sophisticated game-playing on television can ever become. Some of the games are principally social, sometimes with groupthink and group dynamics being key. Others have the puzzle nature even more directly, with hidden depths and even solutions, or tricks, that the best players might find. (The best players sometimes do, and it’s glorious when it happens. It’s as satisfying as seeing someone work out how to perform a magic trick, or as glorious an Aha! as you get from solving a particularly ingenious puzzle.)

There are many other reasons why the show is spectacular, too. The presentation is world class: the sets atmospheric, the graphics exceptional, the soundtrack (particularly in the first season) frequently superb. The soundtrack heavily features electronica, both Western and K-pop. (The band Idiotape is heavily represented and work splendidly in context.) The contestants are entertaining, usually very likeable and often genuinely talented at solving the games – though in a “choose who to eliminate” game, standing out from the crowd can be a bad tactic. When the show is good, it’s as good as puzzle TV ever gets, and even the relatively weak episodes are entertaining.

The one downside is that it’s a Korean show, almost entirely in the Korean language. A fan has ensured their place in legend by producing subtitled translations that are extremely easy to follow; with immense thanks to Bumdidlyumptious, you can covertly download the shows, with translations, from links provided at their Tumblr. It’s worth starting with season one; it starts a little slowly, but when it hits the ground running, it really hits the heights. This site is posting about the show now because a translation has just been posted for the first show of the third series, and it’s the best start to a series yet.

The show gets this site’s highest recommendation. If you’re not yet convinced, you can see what the tremendous, if sporadic, Clavis Cryptica had to say about the first series, posted just before the second series started, and a preview of the third season. Another excellent place to discuss the show is Bother’s Bar, probably the de facto hangout of choice; see old discussions of the first and second seasons, then the brand new third season; comments for each episode start after the subtitled version of each episode is released.

It would be lovely for there to be an English-language version of this some day, but the subtitled show is easily enough to enjoy as it is.

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