Get your rackets ready for another round of Variety Roulette where we’ll take a swing at the fairly new sports show on the KBS lineup, spearheaded by nation’s MC Kang Ho-dong: Our Neighborhood Variety Sports. The premiere beat out its Tuesday night competitors (namely Incarnation) with a solid 6.2% in ratings.
And the numbers continue to climb week after week, as Episode 4 hit a new series high of 7.2%. Who knew that table tennis could be so intense, so funny, and so alluring?
EPISODES 3-4. Broadcast on April 23 and 30, 2013.
Let’s start out with the name, which just might be the longest one I’ve come across in recent years in varietyland. The full translation is a mouthful (Our Neighborhood Masters of Variety and Sports), so it’s no wonder that the show goes by the abbreviated version Yechaeneung which is derived from the last three words of the title.
Onto our MC trio, which consists of the aforementioned Kang Ho-dong, his former 1N2D castmate Lee Su-geun, and Max Changmin, with whom he co-hosted the now cancelled Moonlight Prince.
These three have a pretty fun dynamic going on so far, though I’ve noticed rookie MC Changmin tends to fade into the background next to such loud and bold personalities. But with the show barely a month into its run, I’m sure we’ll see him whip out that sharp, witty tongue of his in due time.
As for the show’s premise, our hosts recruit fellow celebrities to take on a different local sports club each week. I like that these sports are the same ones you might enjoy as a pastime and are relatively easy to pick up.
These two episodes are a continuation of the first sport the cast has been tackling for a few weeks now: table tennis. At this point, our celebrity team has just lost their first match, and will face a different neighboring club in an upcoming tournament.
It’s not certain how many weeks the show will dedicate to each sport, but this seems to be the latter half.
We open in our low-budget set (seriously, there’s just a hanging LED screen) where our hosts are joined by two other celebrities who are also skilled table tennis players: comedian Park Sung-ho and actor Jo Dal-hwan (Mandate of Heaven). These guys are our first recruits and also act as semi-coaches for our hosts.
Ho-dong starts off with good news and congratulates Dal-hwan, whose name became the number one item on the search engine this past week. Along with his epic match against the other team’s Ace last week, he also showed off this cool serve trick that still boggles my mind.
I should clarify that everyone on the celebrity team lost EXCEPT for Su-geun, who won against an 82-year-old granny. The guys gave him a pretty hard time about it last week.
But leave it to Su-geun to turn the situation into a variety moment, and he enters the set dressed in a royal purple robe, addressing the others in a sageuk tone.
There’s punishment for those who brought shame upon their team and Ho-dong gets one smart smack on the bum with a paddle. Ow. Then Dal-hwan shows off a little of his beatbox skills to get off the hook… but it sounds like bedroom noises instead. HA.
Today, they’re joined by two more guests: actor Jung Eun-pyo (Gu Am Heo Jun, Incarnation of Money) and girl group Rainbow member Jae-kyung.
Eun-pyo shares about how he initially picked up the sport nine years ago for a film role that fell through. As for Jae-kyung, she’s a newbie but genuinely interested in learning. A quick skills test confirms that Eun-pyo is good, and I mean really good.
In order to build the team’s tenacity, the PDs tells the cast (via LED screen) that they’ll be doing couple situps. Then Eun-pyo says what everyone else is thinking: “If they really wanted us to be tenacious, they should have fed us!”
The task requires each pair to share a snack with each situp, and I kinda love how annoyed Changmin gets each time he’s left to eat practically the whole thing. Our other couples go all in, especially Eun-pyo, who even grabs the back of Ho-dong’s neck at one point.
Afterward, they bow their heads in shame and Eun-pyo cries into the camera: “I came here to play ping-pong and instead, I kissed Ho-dong!” Hahaha.
Their second bit of training is basically a 90 degree sit in mid-air. Eun-pyo is confident in his athleticism and talks a big game, which makes me think that he’ll be the first to go down.
Sure enough, the pain kicks in as soon as the chairs are taken away and less than a minute later, Eun-pyo lets out a final cry and collapses onto the ground. One by one, they all go down until the idols are left to battle it out.
Finally, Jae-kyung saves them both the trouble and sends Changmin down first before she does too.
We regroup to a week before the second match, and our team is introduced to a new personal coach: Hollywood table tennis coach and model Lee Soo-yeon.
Her gentle coaching method and her beauty captures everyone’s attention. Even robotic Changmin has immediately improved and when they ask her to point out his flaws, she’s like, “I’m trying to find one.” Su-geun: “Is that because you find him perfect as a man?”
Soo-yeon does give Changmin some criticism on his swing, and when he asks her to show him firsthand, she gladly agrees. Hey, I don’t blame the girl.
It’s nice to see how much our MCs have improved in just a few short weeks, though Ho-dong complains that he’s the only one who hasn’t improved much. So he asks Soo-yeon who’s the better player between Su-geun and himself.
Up to this point, she’s been so caught up with the cast’s jokes that she mistakenly misinterprets this as a question who she thinks is better… as a man. HA.
She admits that it’s Su-geun, and to rub salt in the wound, she adds that Su-geun is a “smarter” player. Then Su-geun plays off the moment: “You’re right! Ho-dong hyung uses a 2G phone! I have a smartphone!”
As expected, Soo-yeon is impressed by Eun-pyo (who hilariously ties up his hair on top of his head, heh), and tells him that with his skills, he could play at the semi-pro level in the States.
When she beats Dal-hwan, Su-geun goes in for a congratulatory hug and he promptly gets scolded by Sung-ho. We haven’t talked too much about Sung-ho yet, but he’s basically been the shouty coach who’s all, You have to respect the game! But he knows what he’s talking about and is hilarious all the same.
So when a certain type of serve leaves both Dal-hwan and Eun-pyo baffled, Sung-ho aptly explains, “A serve is a scam! It doesn’t matter how much spin you give it, but making sure your opponent doesn’t know that [the ball] has spun once.”
Ha, and I love how they replay the words like it’s an adage one can only find if you travel into the mountains to seek it.
Turns out that all Soo-yeon did was to give the racket a slight spin in an eerily similar position as a classic serve. So Su-geun tries it out and it works. That should come in handy!
We learn a little bit about our competitor: Mokdong Sports Club. This neighborhood is home to the 1973 Women’s Table Tennis World Champions and needless to say, they’re stronger competition than the previous week.
From the little glimpse we see, both young and old are sure to be formidable competitors.
So our cast gets to work to train for the upcoming match as Eun-pyo spends every spare minute from the drama set to the movie set in order to hone his already superb table tennis skills. (Side note: When did he have a third kid?)
I’m both impressed by his dedication and find it thoroughly amusing to watch him practice his swings while wearing his hanbok. Heehee.
Then there’s Changmin who convinced the higher ups at SM to get him a ping-pong table so that he can still play while he’s overseas. At least he puts that table to good use and works up a good sweat.
By the day of the tournament, Jae-kyung has improved so much that I can hardly believe that she only started less than a week ago. Even Ho-dong is impressed and when he asks if Rainbow had other things scheduled in the week, she brightly answers: “Nope!”
So they pit her against Changmin once more and it’s worth noting that Jae-kyung beat him on her very first day. Ha, Jae-kyung basically creams him for the first two points and then Changmin is so caught up in his own thoughts that he walks away from the third serve.
I love that he has this momentary look of confusion on his face and falls to the ground once he registers the situation. Aw, all that practice on the new table for naught.
Our next pre-battle is between the former 1N2D castmates and Ho-dong is still reeling from last week’s loss. So they make a bet where the loser buys drinks for the staff. Su-geun: “But I’m a celebrity!”
It’s hilarious how they both throw the rules of game etiquette and pretend to ignore the other when one of them is speaking. To this childish behavior, Changmin quips, “What the heck am I going to learn from these hyungs.” Hahaha – I knew that sharp tongue was lying in wait!
As for the game, Su-geun misses and is sent off to the nearest convenience store alone. They break for drinks and spend the final hours squeezing in some more practice time.
Coach Soo-yeon gives her team some final words of encouragement while the Mokdong team is told to consider the air resistance caused by the studio’s high ceilings. Damn, that’s hardcore.
Both teams are introduced with much fervor from the audience. Turns out one of the elite four from the 1973 Championships is in attendance too. There be prizes to win for this tournament as well, and the Mokdong Sports Club team leader gulps at the prospect of hoisting Ho-dong into the air should the celebrities win.
The lineups are announced and what do you know – Dal-hwan and his opponent look alike! Our first match is Changmin and he’s up against a super athletic 72-year-old woman. And get this: She’s been playing for 10 YEARS.
Poor Changmin is so nervous that he’s up first that his racket falls out his hand in the practice round. Uh, is he going to be okay?
But it looks like they’re both a bundle of nerves as they give up points for the other team in what looks like small slip-ups. Slowly but surely, each one piles on top of the other and Changmin soon trails by seven points.
In his individual interview, Changmin confesses that he’s never been that nervous before, and is so genuinely surprised at his anxious state that he stumbles over his words. So instead of saying, “This is [the end] for a man like me!” he says, “This is [a boil] for a man like me!”
Unfortunately, Changmin loses the match and the celebrity team huddles up before Eun-pyo’s turn. And Eun-pyo has definitely met his match and his opponent racks up two, then three points.
Eun-pyo teaches us that the different rubber surfaces of the paddle affect the ball’s spin and he’s running into trouble with it. With the help of Coach Soo-yeon, he gets his first point.
Now the tables have turned and he racks up point after point. But now the Mokdong team calls for timeout, which essentially breaks his winning streak. Ah, so this is as much a battle of wits as it is a sports match.
He leads 9:7 and they rally back and forth until Eun-pyo strikes with a speedy return and scores his point. It’s match point and his opponent fails to hit the ball over the net, so Eun-pyo brings in the first win for the celebrity team.
Next up is Ho-dong, who faces an elderly gentlemen of the ripe age of 84. Ho-dong shares about how guilty he feels about battling someone who he could see as his father or grandfather. Let’s see how guilty you feel after you feel the wrath of his 70 years of experience in the court.
Left in awe by his worn racket, they ask him how long he’s used it. He answers: “About three years.” AHAHAHA.
I’ll admit that I know very little when it comes to table tennis, but even I’m impressed at how the elderly man can make the ball spin in the air. The ball’s trajectory throws Ho-dong off of his game and the anxiety builds as the match continues.
The elderly man keeps getting called out by the referee for not throwing the ball high enough in his serve. He shoots lasers at her and uses that bit of anger to increase the gap to 6:4. The penalty weighs on his mind as the score inches upward to 8:8.
Soon it’s match point (in Ho-dong’s favor) and this is his chance to win. He gets the point, which is great, but I’m here thinking that the cast won’t let him live down this victory.
Ha, and then Su-geun gets up and announces to the crowd that he’s the only other person who can understand that feeling of guilt.
The Mokdong Sports Club leader is up next, and he shares about how he took a break from his rising table tennis success to spend more time with his family. Ho-dong jokes that Leader Kwon must have butt heads with his wife.
Leader Kwon rolls with it, saying that one needs that heated conflict and to conquer it. Heh. Then his wife answers that she saw him attempt to throw all of those hard-earned trophies away and persuaded him to rejoin the sport.
So he’s up against the celebrity team’s ace, Jo Dal-hwan, who confides in his personal interview how everything, even how Leader Kwon held his racket, made him nervous. And yet, the ball doesn’t make it over the net and Dal-hwan gains his first point.
From the sidelines, the cast chants his catchphrase: “Chorei ha!” (Dal-hwan previously explained that it translates to: “a difficult ball.”)
This is one intense match as each player goes point for point with a few fakeouts along the way. We momentarily cut away to Dal-hwan, who tells us that there wasn’t a moment where he could get a grasp of his opponent’s weakness. But in the game, we see that he maintains the lead 6:5.
Even Leader Kwon admits in his interview that at the start, he could already tell that the gears were turning in Dal-hwan’s head. Dal-hwan widens that gap to 9:6, and now I have to remind myself to breathe. Who knew that table tennis could be so intense?
It’s match point and Leader Kwon ups his game to close the scoring gap. He drives the racket with each swing and gains point after point. It may just be one single point, but to each of these men, it means a blow to someone’s pride.
Dal-hwan delivers the serve and the ball goes back and forth from the net… and Dal-hwan gets the point, and the win. That’s our Ace!
The celebrity team is both surprised and excited about their lead of 3 sets versus 1 set. Ho-dong is so happy that he gives Eun-pyo a kiss on the cheek (and Eun-pyo does the same, aw). Then Sung-ho undercuts this moment with his nervous jitters: “I really have to go to the bathroom.”
As expected, the Mokdong team turns to their newbie player to secure a win against Jae-kyung. They don’t know how much she’s improved in the past week, but as Jae-kyung tells us: “Their newest player has trained for six weeks. I’ve only done this for six days!”
The Mokdong newbie just so happens to be Changmin’s opponent’s daughter. They go point for point and Jae-kyung excitedly jumps up like she’s won a gold medal at her first point. Su-geun has to remind her that she hasn’t won yet.
Jae-kyung uses her secret weapon serve (the same one that tripped Changmin up), but her opponent sends the ball right back over the net with ease. As each point slips away from her, so does a little bit of her confidence.
Her teammates encourage her when they call for a timeout (“I’ve never seen anyone become this good in six days!” “You’re a ping-pong prodigy!”). Despite her best efforts, she loses the match.
Su-geun is up for the next match and he screams, utterly relieved: “I’m not in the deciding match!” Yes, but you are competing against Korean Steven Seagal. Lucky for Su-geun, his opponent’s weakness is in his serve and Su-geun gains an impressive lead.
But with his family in the stands, Steven Seagal quickly makes up for lost ground and it’s match point. Then he wins it with his trademark backhand serve.
But his habit of lowering the ball below the table is penalized (the ball must be visible during the entire serve) and the score is tied once more. Then Su-geun pulls ahead and wins the match. And with four sets, the celebrity team is victorious.
Now it’s time to fulfill the celebrity team’s wish, and Ho-dong tells us in voiceover that he’s never been hoisted in the air before. Aww.
A week later, our cast gathers together again for the opening, this time with SHINee’s Minho, who participated in the first two episodes. This B-side of the reel is where the real variety moments are at, as Ho-dong awkwardly practices flailing his arms like an angry bird.
No worries though,’cause in the actual opening, Sung-ho takes over that Angry Bird for the both of them. That is, until Ho-dong tries it out anyway. HA.
Su-geun mentions that as the only person who’s won both matches, he’s been cursed at for both wins. Like how he snubbed Sung-ho of an opportunity to play the previous week. “When will I be applauded for my victory?”
Ho-dong admits that he honestly thought it would have taken the celebrity team nearly two years before their wish came true. Then Su-geun asks what they would have gained if they forfeited the match. Answer: “Ratings.”
It’s not long before the former 1N2D mates bicker like old times as Su-geun asserts that they wouldn’t have run into this issue if Ho-dong didn’t beat the 86-year-old man in the match.
Ho-dong bites out: “He was 84!” Su-geun:”Then was the lady I won against a young girl? She was 82!”
The cast jokes about whether or not to create a loveline for Jae-kyung. What’s hilarious is that her eyes light up. “This show can do that?!”
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, she feels that Rainbow hasn’t been that great of a success because 1) They’ve been relatively scandal-free and 2) The members get along with each other. Heh, I’ll admit that it is quite the rare occurrence.
So she jumps on the opportunity to be paired up with Dal-hwan. Did I just hear “Every Tuesday?” Should we be expecting a Tuesday Couple to emerge sometime soon?
Dal-hwan adorably gets all flustered and the others tell him to buck up. They redirect the conversation by asking the marrieds in a round if their wives were their first loves. They immediately answer yes, and then Su-geun does one better: “I married the first woman I ever saw!”
So Ho-dong makes the potential pairing turn around and gives this elaborate introduction, instructing them to turn to face each other if they’re interested in the match. It cracks me up that their fictional baby could be named “Jo Ping-pong.”
They do face each other (Dal-hwan does a cute happy dance) and Jae-kyung says she looks forward to “win-win.” In other words, win in love and war.
Dal-hwan literally scratches his head (a nervous habit, it seems like) when it’s revealed that he’s also an acting coach. So they set up a scenario where the two would act like lovers who must break up over his love of table tennis.
It’s absurdly dramatic but hilarious all the same as Dal-hwan holds back tears while he reflects on why they can’t be together. Then I love how the others can barely watch the scene and Changmin is in stitches, rolling on the ground.
Jae-kyung yells at Dal-hwan about how there’s no financial security in ping-pong – what if they have kids? “Do we raise them with ball money?!”
Dal-hwan doesn’t break character as he dramatically says that they should break up then. And then Jae-kyung delivers this line: “To be honest, you met all the women in your life through table tennis.” Hahaha – that makes him some kind of ping-pong playa.
The others try to signal to the pair to end the scene with an embrace. So Jae-kyung does that classic dramatic exit and Dal-hwan tries to grab her to stop her… and she slips through his fingers. Whoops.
Su-geun points out that the slow walk-away only happens in dramas, as the woman would bolt out of there in a jiffy in real life.
The cast sits in the sunshine and Ho-dong scolds Dal-hwan for not being chivalrous towards his new variety girlfriend. Then he uses that moment to teach the others about how they have to be aware of everything around them. And then Su-geun asks if that’s why he’s avoiding his wife.
Ho-dong insists that everything is fine and that they’re even trying for their second child. The baby conversation flies over Changmin’s head, so they redirect the topic to tips on love. Sung-ho: “They should make adult cable channels available for free!”
It’s Wednesday and Ho-dong asks Sung-ho when he’s leaving to film for Gag Concert. Then Sung-ho pulls out his handy finger sundial and proclaims: “It’s between 11PM and 1AM now, so I should leave at around 2AM!”
The cast makes some final remarks before they wrap up the episode. Dare I say you may never see those same nostalgic sports the same way again.
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