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[Revisiting Dramas] Does Second Lead Syndrome prevail in Sungkyunkwan Scandal?

By @lezah

I took this August challenge as a chance to relive my Korean drama “firsts.” After all, there is something magical and untouchable about firsts—no matter how much time has passed, they retain a sentimental spot in my memories. I started off with Hwang Tae-kyung, my first K-drama love, and then I decided to revisit Sungkyunkwan Scandal—where my first ever serious Second Lead Syndrome began, and where I discovered how much I love a good bromance.

I remember watching this when I was 15, a teenager enamored by the romanticism of a sageuk, the idea of a girl studying in a time when only men were allowed to, and the mysterious Red Messenger, whose adorable hiccuping problem stole my heart. When the show was over, I went through a severe stage of withdrawal; I distinctly recall sitting a friend down and rambling to her for hours on end about why exactly Geol-oh should have gotten the girl, until it became clear that she was utterly annoyed. (Said friend did not even watch Korean dramas, and needless to say, was not amused.)

I have to admit that I have never been overly interested in the politics—the so-called best scholars of Joseon throwing hissy fits over one student’s refusal to change rooms to match his political status, nor the odd plot twist of the king asking four students to build a better Joseon. My main purpose in rewatching this drama was to relive how much I enjoyed the relationships in the show. Time may fade the ingenuity of plotlines, but the heart and feelings behind the relationships linger in my memories far longer.

Crossdressing hijinks abound in this show, and it was still hilarious to watch Yoon-hee adapt to living with men in that conservative time period. As unrealistic as it seems, I guess the crossdressing trope is something I’ll never tire of.

I used to think Lee Sun-joon was snobbish, straitlaced, and believed blindly in his own values, and his improvement in later episodes hadn’t been enough to redeem him. Seven years down the road, I wondered whether my dislike had been uncalled for. I am still not attracted to his character, though I’ll grudgingly admit that he was more decent than I’d remembered—his steadfast belief in sticking to his principles might have been idealistic (and almost small-minded in some occasions), but it allowed him to push Yoon-hee to believe in her own capabilities and achieve more than she ever thought she could.

The Yeo-rim-Geol-oh bromance remains as one of the greatest I’ve ever watched. Yeo-rim was an enigma of a character; he never seemed to be on any particular side, and always had this knowing smile that told of how much he actually knew. (Arguably, he was the first to suspect and discover that Yoon-hee was a girl. After all, he’s Gu Yong-ha. *wink*)

His touchy scenes with Geol-oh spoke volumes about their closeness, but one particular scene where he stopped Geol-oh from running into a trap set for the Red Messenger broke my heart. He was always there to cover up for his friend’s deeds without question. In hindsight, Geol-oh didn’t get the girl, but I guess at least he had Yeo-rim, and perhaps a good bromance is all you need.

Geol-oh’s brusque exterior belied his kind nature, and I am a true sucker for such characters. He was the one who’d found out Yoon-hee’s secret first, and took on the role of the silent protector. He was there to take revenge on In-soo for using Yoon-hee as target practice, to tie her shoelaces and wrist guards, to clear her name of accused theft, and later on, to comfort her broken heart even while suffering one of his own after finding out who she really loved.

And just like the first time, Second Lead Syndrome hit hard. Despite Sun-joon’s newfound redemption in my mind, I found myself questioning yet again why exactly Yoon-hee had fallen for him instead of Geol-oh, with his shy smiles and mane of glory.

I also silently cheered for our gang of scholars whenever they triumphed over the student president. I loved how Sun-joon confessed to being the Red Messenger to save Geol-oh, and how our ragtag quartet slowly but grudgingly became friends. They may have come from all different classes with different upbringings, but their friendship transcended their political beliefs and classes, and the way they looked out for each other was priceless.

Ultimately, once he got off his high horse, Sun-joon was actually a great help to his friends, and I won’t discount the fact that he went through great personal growth—trusting and helping the Red Messenger, lying to help Yoon-hee and Geol-oh during their trial, and admitting to Yoon-hee that he liked her. But even after all that, I strangely couldn’t connect with him fully or like him more. I guess it was too little, too late.

Perhaps the beauty of the Second Lead Syndrome is that it gave me someone to root for, knowing that the hope was futile anyway, which was probably how Geol-oh felt in his situation. He may not have gotten the girl, but for me, Geol-oh will always be the main character, complete with the heroic cause, the title of the resident crazy horse, the epic side bromance, and the legendary mane of glory.

Hic!

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Geol-oh forever!! <3

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Ahh but I think this was written by me and not @ummi-dinni (cassie23) ?

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yes,, it's not my writing ? mine is not about second lead syndrome

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Are you guys joking or DB made a HUGE mistake???? :D

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i'm not joking it's truly not my writing ??

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I enjoyed reading @lezah GEOL-OH MANSEH ♥

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WHOOPS. That's totally my bad! So sorry for the mixup!! ?

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Exactly what I was gonna comment! ? Geol-oh forever ?

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I will always watching this with my mother and having her tut-tut and say "that girl is falling in love with the wrong boy, there's nothing wrong with that nice Jae Shin boy." I cracked up, but she was right.

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Geol-oh will forever be the epitome of SLS <3

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I actually come to like SJK after this drama. he is hillarious.

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This was the drama that made me fall for Song Joong-ki, then I watched Triple, OB-GYN doctors, Nice Guy, Tree With Deep Roots and all his movies (Heart is 2, Penny Pinchers, Werewolf Boy). These days, my love for him has died down a bit (mainly because I just can't stand watching him in DOTS - I blame KES) but I quite enjoyed his recent performance in The Battleship Island.

Song Joong-ki was very good in SKKS, his acting was always lively and even though he was a relative newbie back then, you could see signs of greatness. As for Yoo Ah-in, well the name speaks for itself, and the Yeo-rim Geol-oh bromance is the sole reason I watched the show. They gave me such joy. It's amazing how far these two have come now, although I'd probably give an edge to Yoo Ah-in at this stage.

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well. . the moment I watched SKKS, my attention goes straight to SJK. I really though he was the male lead back then due to the first 15 min introduction. lol. It sadden me his screen time is so limit compare to YAI dan Yo Chun. He is just soooo handsome with that hanbook. ahhh.

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It always made sense to me that Yoon-hee would fall for Sun-joon rather than Jae-shin. It was Sun-joon who saw her potential, who pushed her to confront her limits and go beyond them, who helped her achieve a sense of empowerment against all odds. He was the one who was upfront with her and constantly challenged her beliefs about the world and herself, and so the bond felt stronger than with Jae-shin. She resented him but grew to appreciate, admire, and respect him. I don't find it puzzling that such feelings would blossom to love.

As much as I love our Geoloh, he fell into the trap many second leads fall into: playing the silent protector. He protected her and defended her, but he would always cover that up with the bluster of an aloof sunbae. He bonded with her, but he couldn't take that next step that would put him on an even playing field with Sun-joon. He couldn't be honest and upfront with her. And that, for me, made all the difference. What good is the sweetness if the girl doesn't know?

To be fair, Yoo Ah-in was (and is) a far more charismatic and skilled actor than Yoo-chun, so there's that.

But for me, Yoon-hee has always been the main hero and heroine of SKKS. It was her achievements and actions that made me feel most proud and inspired. Her standing up to Ha In-soo and leading the students to oppose him and participate in a protest to free Sun-joon was one of the most empowering moments of the series. She proved, to the world and most importantly to herself, that she was capable and strong. And so, whenever I rewatch SKKS, I will always be on Team Yoon-hee.

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Oh, I totally agree with you that Yoon-hee played a huge part in why I loved this show. She was a very strong and capable heroine, and I loved her. But this show is memorable for me mainly because of the Second Lead Syndrome, because I rarely ever have such a syndrome (in fact I don't really recall any other show that I've watched that I had SLS).

I think for me, Yoon-hee knew how sweet Geol-oh was, and she appreciated it too, but there was never really the "push" to fall for him. For Sun-joon, she disliked him at first, then slowly discovered his upstanding character. Plus he was the one to empower her to challenge her own capabilities. So in a sense, from the start, Geol-oh had been relegated to the thoughtful/caring senior, just like Yeo-rim. But who knows, maybe if he'd confessed maybe things could have been different (guess we'll never know!)

The fantastic thing about Second Lead Syndrome in this show was that I knew how sweet Geol-oh was, and that was more than enough for me. This show made me really grow a soft spot for YAI as an actor.

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I'm glad you referred to Yoon-hee as the main hero and heroine. Yoon-hee is probably like within the top 5 of my favorite heroines. I alternate between swooning and cheering every time she delivered a line that showed her intelligence, education, and sense of justice. Park Min Young's delivery of those lines had the perfect pitch and cadence.

I always felt that she and Sun-joon made a better match too. They were both intellectuals and valued how they challenged each other. I can see them growing old together and spending their days happily sparring about something that Mencius said.

That said, Geol-Oh was the more interesting, swoonworthy guy. The SLS syndrome I felt was more like me wanting him for myself rather than for him to end up as Yoon-Hee's romantic partner.

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+1000 I loved Geol-oh forever by I understood why Yoonhee chose Sunjoon. They connected in ways more than physical - both erudites who loved being challenged in their intellect day in, day out and only in each other they could find such companionship (at least in this dramaverse)

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Totally agree with you. For me, Geol-oh shines the brightest in the bromance with his best friend Song Joongki. Oops.

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Absolutely.... I watched this because of Yoon Hee. This is my first Kdrama. After finishing 7DQ suddenly I have this strong desire to re-watch SKKS

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Ahh SLS is strong on this one, but Yeo-rim and Geol-oh will always be my favorite thing about this drama!

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Yeorim and Geol-oh forever ❤

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Although my heart broke for Geol-oh, I was secretly happy that it meant that Yeorim got to keep him to himself a little longer. The bromance to defeat all bromances <3

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i remember SJK and YAI got the best couple for this drama. So many fanfic relate to their relationship in youtube i just burst out laughing.

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I absolutely love the fact that they got the award. the fans are so troll hahaha <3

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haha. when I watched their reaction when they picked the award was Gold. kkkk

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They should totally get a spin-off! ♥

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As much as I loved Geol-oh, I never got SLS here because I don't have the patience for second leads who never bothered confessing their feelings or being honest before it's too late. Yoon-hee and Sun-joon also had the better dynamic though I was never really a fan of their romance. It's the opposite for School 2015 where I got a bad case of SLS because Tae-kwang was actually honest (and honestly just better than the other guy lol).

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oh damn! .... i just finished rewatching this after i was suffering from YAI withdrawal post chicago typewriter... and i still cannot understand why geol oh was not the lead... and those hiccups - awwwwww ...

i think they dropped the ball on sun joon .. in a bid to make him super principled and idealisitic, they stripped him of all personality. i would snooze when he came on screen .. so even though he loosened up in the end, i didn't really give a damn about his character development

... or maybe its just that YAI is far far better actor than YC and just inadvertently stole the show ... like the scene where SJ says he is gay to save the others from the scandal, had it been done by a better actor, i would totally root for him bec that was kind of awesome .. but i always remain firmly in Geol-oh's corner :)

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I also watched this when I got obsessed with Yoo Ah In in Chicago Typewriter (Gaah even his name makes me cry.. Seo Hwi-young ?) I got even more smitted with him after SKKS. The hiccups were super adorbs.

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the thing about Yoo Ah-In as an actor is that from this early on he wasn´t just being directed, but from each pose, each glint in his eyes he knew exactly what he was doing. While Song Joong Ki is more of an intuitive actor, who goes with the momentum, YAI is totally is a calculating one who sticks with his detailed masterplan for the character. and yet, those different styles somehow clicked in place and created the most powerful chemistry anyone has yet to top. It is not a second lead syndrom, but second leads syndrom.

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@redfox couldn't say it better! ??

YAI is craft masterplan obsessed if I'm must sayin, he is all abt particulars, details, a peculiar genius.

SJK is not aloof either, an improvisation water god. Goes with jug, stream. He is details too, but with the condition he is situated to. And thats when he adapt his skills into.

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Such an apt description of what really happened in SKKS where both second leads stole the show from right under the main lead's nose. I've watched a lot of projects by these two and from my observation, Yoo Ah-in's acting style can be described as deliberate; every movement, change in intonation are always seem to be perfectly measured and calculated to give the most impact. Whereas Song Joong-ki is more instinctive, spontaneous and go with the flow.

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So well written! So eloquently written! I agree that the plot wasn't the strongest, but the cross-dressing hijinks is always fun. I find that what I enjoy most and find the most satisfaction in the dramas that I choose to watch are character developments and growth, and "Sungkyunkwan Scandal" gave that to me, especially when it came down to the principles our beloved Jose F4 had and held onto individually. The only think that irked me the most, was the ending: The Joseon that they all wanted to change, the Joseon that they wanted to make so that everyone had equal access to education and not just the men---- all went out the window when (*SPOILERS TO THOSE WHO'VE NOT SEEN IT*) Yoon Hee chose to return and teach at Sungkyunkwan, alongside Sun Joon, BUT STILL IN HER MALE DISGUISE!! Like, what?!!?!? I guuuuueeeeessssss it's an improvement in itself that they let Yoon Hee return AND let her teach there, all knowing that she's a girl, but BECAUSE of that, couldn't Yoon Hee just GO AND TEACH AS A GIRL??? Sigh Seven years later, and this fact still irks me...

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because historically that never happened, so that would have been a lie? but it is possible to imagine it happened in disguise.

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But this drama was never a drama really based on anything historically accurate, anyways.... If they are going to thrown in a cross-dressing trope and use it as the pushing force of a sageuk and have the underlying theme/reason/motivation to the actions of our characters, I just hoped that it had been pushed further and that the changed Joseon that they were hoping for and working towards, ACTUALLY had a change

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Thanks for the spoiler alert, I appreciated it. I stopped watching soon after Yoon Hee and Sun Joon confirmed their feelings and she knew that he knew she was a girl, if I recall clearly. One of the first times I quit a kdrama and had clocked many many years of watching by then. Only now I realized that I was fueled with enough SLS and bromance that I didn't need to see it (or read recaps) to its conclusion.

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They need to remain somewhat historically accurate. It would have been illegal for a woman to be a teacher there, so of course
she had to dress like a male professor. It's obvious, however, that everyone knew she was female.

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When I watched this, I had no idea who the male lead was supposed to be since it's my first Kdrama featuring YAI, SJK, and PYC. As the series progressed, I honestly thought it was YAI because I liked his character the most. Imagine my surprise when I read the recaps here in Dramabeans and had to re-read everything just to make sure that PYC and PMY are the OTP.

Looking back, I never regretted rooting for YAI, especially to see how he has grown as an actor today. Hopefully he and PMY can star in a drama again and be the ultimate OTP :)

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I was thinking almost the same thing PMY and YAI please!!!

My nicknames for Park Min Young and Yoo Ah In are the same: 'Hit Maker'.

My nickname for Song Joong Ki is 'Cupid', because he is the only person I can think of who is spot on with a cute but devilish sense of humor! Coincidentally the American show 'Cupid' I have always wanted to see be remade as a kdrama featuring SJK!!!

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My Oh my so looking forward to a YAI and PMY drama. I hope it happens soon.

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SKKS was the milestone of the jalgeum quartet to be hallyu star ?
Park Yoochun, Yoo ah in, song jongki , and Park min young

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One of my all time favorite kdrama. Joseon F4 ftw!

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The drama where Song Joong Ki and Yoo Ah In won Best Couple Award lol

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"Does Second Lead Syndrome prevail in Sungkyunkwan Scandal?"

The answer is yes, always yes.

And my YAI love is even stronger now after a splendid heart-tugging, ovary-melting turn as a broody 1930s revolutionary.

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I also couldn't warm up to Sun-Joon, as much as I tried. But the bromance between Geol-Oh and Yeo-Rim, that is just ❤️ They deserve their Best Couple Award ? ?

A very well-written piece, lezah! Enjoyed reading your article!

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I watched this drama pretty early on in my drama watching days (I could never remember the name so I called it Badonkadonk Scandal) and loved it. Like the writer I loved the bromance between all the characters. I also like that there was a well done gay character. Something that is sadly rare and lacking in kdramas. This was also my first experience with all the actors and I remember immediately falling for Song Joong-Ki's beauty and looking him up online to see who he was. This was going to be a drama I re-watched for this challenge and even though I wont write about it I still think this is a drama that will stand the test of time for me.

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omg, I just laughed so hard at Badonkadonk Scandal! ?
I call it SungCluckWan because that's just as close as I got to being accurate. There's never been a show that I more needed an acronym for and just call it SSK.

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SKK, I can't even get the acronym right ??‍♀️

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I still love fusion sageuks! (That's the term for it in Korea). You know this would never have happened in a historical basis but still love it anyway.

Geol-oh's character was where I first noticed Yoo Ah In as an actor and have been a fan ever since. Ever since the 2002 World Cup (Yoo Sang Chul http://www.mc-plus.net/news/photo/201510/1639_6032_198.jpg), I've been a sucker for dudes with that mane of glory and YAI did not disappoint. Sigh... I may need to go watch this again simply for YAI!

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The first time I watched it, I fell completely in love with Yong Ha. It was only the second time I watched it that I was charmed by Geol Ho. I was literally not comprehending how I didn't notice his charms the first time around. o.O

The thing I love the most about SKKS is that it's not a bromance like you see elsewhere, it's explicitly stated in the text that Yong Ha is in love with Geol Ho. Let me tell you it's really rare you see that in a Korean drama!

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This was one of my first dramas too! Yes to everything you said!

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My love for Geol-oh trancends time... and reason.
He is the main character in this drama...
Shame he didn't get the girl --- but he still got ME <3

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Watching this series made fall HARD for SJK & YAI. Each one is magnetic, and to have both in a bromance? In ultra-colorful historical clothes (well, SJK anyway)? I never stood a chance of rooting for the OTP.

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I remember being more invested in the friendship of Geol Oh and Yeo Rim, haha! Needless to say, I fell in love with Yoo Ah In and Song Joong Ki in their respective roles (this was my first time watching both of them).

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S a m e. I never could rlly connect with Sung-Joon (and still don't really see how Yoon-Hee could've fallen for him), and Geol-Oh both gave me probably my worst case of SLS ever, and really stuck with me as the most memorable (and probably important??) character in the drama. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I used to adore gender benders, and I considered S. Scandal one of the better ones. Weirdly enough, I hated when the girl revealed her identity and everything shifted to romance. To me, such moments spelled the end of rare friendships between equals and the adventures they shared. It was a tomboy's dream to pal around with the guys and fight with them. The heroines in such shows tended to be so much better than the typical K-drama ditzes with Cinderella fantasies. Sure, the sexually confused suitors were entertaining, but I loved the goofy friendships even more.

In that respect, Yeorim and Geol Oh were the best part of S. Scandal. I did like that the heroine was clever and competent, but even she seemed a bit boring by comparison. I think part of me wanted her to be some sort of wise-cracking force to be reckoned with instead of a somewhat girly girl with noble views. How great would it have been if she had shared the sidekicks' personality traits? I liked that the sidekicks appreciated her heroism and I loved Geol Oh's apparent feelings, but I never entertained the possibility that the noble heroine would end up with anyone other than the noble hero. I was okay with that formula because it made sense. In a more melodramatic show, Geol Oh and Yeorim would have been the lovable sidekicks who died for the slightly less lovable, less flawed main characters.

Perhaps we are destined to love second leads and sidekicks because they exist to be outshone by characters with more screen time. They are the drama underdogs, and there is something endearing about being the expendable characters in someone else's fantasy. Can't we all relate to that in some way? Plus, their fleeting moments on screen always leave us wanting more.

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Geol-oh along with Chilbong and Sammaekjong (before he became an ass) will always be the source of strong SLS. I am still salty AF.

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i love Geol ro and fell in love with Yoo Ah In after this drama but I didn't suffer second lead syndrome
altho i felt for Geol ro I knew the leads were somehow meant to be together dang haha
But Geol ro really shone so bright in this drama
so Yoo Ah in for the win!!

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Chill guys, he has his own story on the second book. He got a fourteen(not sure but she's really young)-year-old bride and their interaction is quite cute ㅋㅋ Still, I really rooted for Geol-oh and Yoonhee but yeah Geol-oh and Yeorim would suffice hahaha

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Moon Jae Shin aka Guroh aka Crazy Horse is one sexy beast! I watched the fanvideos of GulRim Couple too back in the days :D

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Okay, so I know this was written and posted quite a while back and I knowww its terrible that I've JUST finished Sungkyunkwan Scandal for my first time ever (I have one more episode to go), and I have nowhere else to ramble about this show and and and since you, lezah, brought up Geol oh, I just have to give my two-cents *catchesbreath*.

So OMG I KNOW the second lead syndrome hit me so hard here! The only other times I've had it this hard time were in Boys Over Flowers and Master's Sun, and even they were nowhere near as for Sungkyunkwan. But here's the thing with me, I never get angry when the second guy doesnt get the girl. Why you ask? Well if the main girl gets her main guy, and poor beautiful second lead gets no one, well then I guess I'm free to love them all the more and have em be mine. Yea crazy I know ?. In this case, I personally believed Lee Sun-joon was a better match for her anyway since I actually found Sun-joon's stick-in-the-mud idealism and extremely awkward, shy, and lonely personality endearing (I have a thing for awkward, shy guys), especially since I could already see the trajectory his character arc would take and personally felt very satisfied with it.

However Geol-oh. Oh my. I won't lie, I'm actually happy he's alone because he's mine. Yep, thats kakakash logic. It will take me a while to get over Geol-oh. I don't know man, was it the 5 am stache, the hooded bad assery and angst, the protective oppa-role he took for the latter half of the show? Or maybe it was Yoo Ah-in? It was my first drama of Yoo Ah-in, so I was blown away by his (and everyone else's performance; honestly, I believe everyone performed so frkn well...now I'm just going off in tangents). But yess. Second lead syndrome hit me. Hard. And I don't wanna get back up.

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WOW, I totally agree with you.
Geol-oh all the way.
It was torture to watch this drama the first time, because I NEVER experienced a Second Lead Syndrome so hard do handle. I wrote fanfics, for god's sake!
I'm still for a main character like him, in any kind.

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Can anybody please suggest a website that hosts this show for download(with english sub)? I am also looking for Tamra The island.

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