Variety Roulette: Barefoot Friends
EPISODE 1. Broadcast on April 21, 2013.
javabeans: Next on the Variety Roulette wheel is a brand-new show, Barefoot Friends, which heats up the Sunday variety race — KBS has 1N2D as its flagship program for Happy Sunday (and also airs Mamma Mia), MBC’s Sunday Night is doing well with Dad Where Are We Going? (and has that new army show Real Men — way to be subtle with that naming), and SBS’s Good Sunday has Running Man, now with Barefoot Friends.
girlfriday: SBS has the prime MC lineup, with the Kang Ho-dong/Yoo Jae-suk one-two punch, but the first episode of Barefoot Friends didn’t rake in the numbers — it came in at last place with 5.6% ratings — so it definitely has some serious competition.
javabeans: I’m pretty sure we all want it to be good, with this lineup… but better ones have failed. So let’s keep our fingers crossed. On to the show, and we should probably introduce its cast members off the top.
girlfriday: Oh, right. So there’s Kang Ho-dong, who needs no introduction.
javabeans: Let’s do it anyway, since this is Roulette. If you’re new to variety you may not have seen a Kang Ho-dong show yet (though being new to variety may be the only excuse — Kang Ho-dong IS variety), but he’s probably THE variety host in all of Korealand, next to Yoo Jae-suk. He’s been in semi-retirement for the past couple of years, but only recently came back to television with a couple of shows. Moonlight Prince has already been cancelled, but Murupak Dosa (Knee-Drop Guru) is still chugging along, isn’t it?
girlfriday: Yes, and Star King. I checked out his other new show on KBS, Neighborhood Variety Sports, and it’s actually not that bad. It suits him WAY better than Moonlight Prince, and has that low-rent we’re-just-making-this-shit-up-as-we-go feeling. Plus sports has that built-in suspense factor.
javabeans: The cast for this show is, in the grand tradition of variety show casts, pretty eclectic. But while other show mixes have often had me cocking my head in confusion (“Er, them? Together? Huh?”) I think the reaction to this mix was a lot more excited. Or maybe that’s just me.
girlfriday: No, not just you. I think it’ll be a good mix. We have: singer-songwriter Yoon Jong-shin, ballad singer Kim Bum-soo, idols Kim Hyun-joong, UEE, and Eunhyuk, comedian Yoo Se-yoon, and actor Yoon Shi-yoon.
javabeans: Mind you, I have absolutely zero idea of what this show’s concept is and I don’t keep abreast of most variety shows, so my hope here is mostly blind. The show kicks off by dropping four blindfolded members in the middle of a desert — so far so good?
girlfriday: Pretty epic as far as surprise drop-offs go. We open with a preview of the cast in Vietnam, so I guess that’s where we’re going. Is the show always going to be overseas trips? I guess the only thing I know about the concept is “travel” so that’s pretty broad.
javabeans: If they’re going to be given survival missions every week, I really don’t think you need the abroad angle. Plenty of drama just in the game itself, as I’m sensing from our tense opening as our members — half in the desert, the other half at what appears to be a castle up in the mountains — are given a backpack. Inside is a notebook with their mission: To live like a common citizen here in Vietnam for the next 24 hours. Ooh, 24 hours is a long time to cut a show loose and force them to get by on their own. I foresee a lot of pointing and broken English.
girlfriday: I’m already cringing in anticipation of the four English phrases that Ho-dong knows.
javabeans: Is everyone going to literally be barefoot the whole time? There’s a lot of “Barefoot!” this and “Barefoot!” that and shots of bare feet. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets their first tetanus shot.
girlfriday: Ha, yeah they maybe should’ve thought that through. So we backtrack a little (thank goodness) to get our bearings and introduce the members to each other. Everyone gets a computer with pre-recorded greetings from each of the other members, to get a first impression before they meet. That’s kinda fun.
javabeans: Okay, I swear I’m not being mean, but at the home of our first cast member I was squinting for a really long time trying to figure out who it was. It’s Kim Hyun-joong.
girlfriday: Dude, no, me too.
javabeans: He looks like Se7en now. If Se7en had a baby with Yonsama.
girlfriday: Well that’s disturbing.
javabeans: I just realized (well, not for the first time, but for now) that UEE is the only girl. Is this going to be really unbalanced or awesome? I guess in cases like her and Song Ji-hyo, it’s a good thing they’re ladies I like. If it was a lady I didn’t, it could get really annoying.
girlfriday: I’ve never thought Running Man was unbalanced.
javabeans: I think it works on Running Man, but I have thought it would be nice to have more ladies. Usually when there’s a cool female guest.
girlfriday: Two would be cool, a la Family Outing.
javabeans: Anyway the guys open up their laptops and are introduced to their fellow castmates. Since this was shot on March 30, I’m totally like, “Why are you acting like this is news! You know this already!” Then again, I’m seeing that our announcement was posted April 3, so… is this real? Or not real?
girlfriday: It’s staged. They didn’t sign on NOT KNOWING who the other members are, right? It’s probably just the first official thing they’re getting once the cast is set.
javabeans: They get to see what a video recorded by the other cast members, so I do think this is their first time maybe addressing each other and talking like this. Like Shi-yoon giving a totally cute intro that shows his glibness and maybe a fast wit. We already know the personalities of the variety vets, but for someone like Shi-yoon or UEE, it’s more of a question mark.
girlfriday: It’s actually pretty funny because they’re not talking TO each other, just reacting on camera to these pre-recorded messages, so they’re a little freer with the commentary.
javabeans: Like the chorus of “Wow, he’s so good looking”s to greet Hyun-joong’s video? Ha. That makes it funnier, that everyone has the exact same first words. Ha, and then Se-yoon literally cuts off Bum-soo mid-intro because “For a singer, he talks too much.”
girlfriday: Then there’s a chorus of: “Pwahaha, THAT HAT!” at Jong-shin. I love the ones where they watch their own just to pat themselves on the back. We watch Ho-dong’s intro, and it’s only then that I realize this is some sort of selection process. He’s asking to be chosen, which nobody else made clear. Are they picking teams this way? Tell us the rules, people!
javabeans: Is it supposed to build suspense? ‘Cause confusion is not the same as suspense. I do laugh at Ho-dong’s reasoning: “If you want lots of airtime, you’ll choose Kang Ho-dong!”
girlfriday: Some things are just true. All the boys go starry-eyed at UEE, which is super cute. And it looks like Eunhyuk and Hyun-joong are dong-gap? That should be fun.
javabeans: Oh, Eunhyuk. You can’t take him totally seriously, which is why he cracks me up, except there’s a teeny bit of taking himself seriously in there, and… that cracks me up more? He says he’s really popular — so much so that he’s worried that going abroad will paralyze filming, essentially. Jong-shin points at his screen: “So if we can film, it’s your responsibility!”
girlfriday: The PDs tell everyone they have 30 minutes to choose two members via email, and everyone starts busily typing away… save for Ho-dong, who naturally stares at his computer like it’s an alien spacecraft.
javabeans: I like Shi-yoon’s sell: “I will do everything you tell me to without question.” Hyun-joong’s got his email going to UEE, and the rest we don’t get to see. Ho-dong, meanwhile, starts typing with two fingers, squinting to find the letters he wants. HA. And then he’s so pressed for time he just sends, and instead of writing “let’s mix our strengths” he misspells it to say “let’s rot them.” LOL.
girlfriday: Five days later, we open at the airport. Kim Hyun-joong is the first to arrive… and I wonder how it feels to STILL be intro’d to “Almost Paradise.” Will that song just follow him around the rest of his life?
javabeans: Just until he does a better drama? But it does feel outdated now.
girlfriday: The PDs hand him a title card and a travel book, and it’s only now that he learns the name of their show. How crazy.
javabeans: Ho-dong comes running up to join him, gets his book, and then… awkward silence.
girlfriday: Hahahaha. It’s SO awkward, I kinda love it.
javabeans: Ho-dong asks, “Do you know what kind of program this is that we’re doing?” You get the sense he’s asking ’cause he’d like to know the answer. Hyun-joong: “…not really.”
girlfriday: At least we’re not the only ones confused.
javabeans: One by one they’re joined by the others, and hilariously they’ve all packed for some kind of “roughing it” trip, but since nobody knows where or what or how, they’ve all had to come up with their own idea. Ho-dong jokes that Hyun-joong looks like he’s about to climb the Himalayas, but that’s nothing to the collective group guffaw when Bum-soo arrives looking like he’s packed for safari. But like safari, the City Slickers edition.
girlfriday: He’s a walking joke; it’s hilarious. So once everyone has gathered, the PD says that they exchanged emails, and it turned out to be a sort of popularity vote. Suddenly Jong-shin pipes up: “Wait, we received…? emails…?” Lol.
javabeans: Aw, they confirm that someone got no mail, and that it was Jong-shin. He tries to spin it: “I think everyone feels nervous around me.” The most popular, on the other hand, got four emails. That has to be UEE, right?
girlfriday: I would’ve thought Ho-dong, just for the air-time thing, but it turns out it’s Hyun-joong.
javabeans: Jong-shin asks (accusingly?) why Ho-dong sent Hyun-joong an email, and Ho-dong tries to be all, Well, I already know you… Eunhyuk: “Ho-dong hyung likes good-looking people… He likes to ride their popularity.”
girlfriday: Heh. There’s a tie for second place, with three votes each. It’s Shi-yoon and Ho-dong, who celebrate in relief.
javabeans: Eunhyuk got 1 email and everyone points out how he bragged about being so popular. Ha. I love how Ho-dong compliments (?) Hyun-joong by saying, “Ah, you can make normal comments too,” and right after that Hyun-joong totally confuses them all with his oddball answers.
girlfriday: Jong-shin: “Can we get a translator in here?”
javabeans: Eunhyuk steps up to translate what he meant to say, and it actually makes much more sense now. The PDs then split them into two teams, which turns out to be the most and least popular members. There’s a tie in the middle, and a not-so-subtle tie to claim UEE instead of Bum-soo.
girlfriday: Wait, but then they let last-place Jong-shin pick his team, so I have no idea what the popularity vote was for.
javabeans: A way to spend the last 15 minutes? He picks Shi-yoon first, and everyone jokes that Shi-yoon couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to act like he was happy to be picked. Eunhyuk gets chosen next wearing the same face and Shi-yoon joke-commiserates, “It’s hard to act smiley, isn’t it?” Se-yoon is last to join them, and now I’m thinking Jong-shin just made the other team super-strong. HA.
girlfriday: They gather in the center for a cheer, and Ho-dong instructs Hyun-joong to say something, but the order gets so long and complicated that Eunhyuk finally yells: “Then just do it yourself!” Hahaha.
javabeans: Then it’s off to Vietnam, where they land amid screaming crowds, and one team (Ho-dong, Hyun-joong, UEE, Bum-soo) leaves by bus to Mũi Né, while the other team (Jong-shin, Shi-yoon, Se-yoon, Eunhyuk) takes the flight to Huế.
girlfriday: Ho-dong’s team stops to pick up sandwiches in the street, and already his mix of Korean and English is cracking me up.
javabeans: And the two Vietnamese words he picked up from his travel guide. I love how he bites in and is all, “This is like a meal!” He’s so like my dad. If there’s no rice in it, it’s not really dinner.
girlfriday: I know, like why is it news that a sandwich is a meal? Ha. Meanwhile, the other team reaches their basecamp, and while the younger boys unpack, Jong-shin heads out to buy snacks. Lol, he doesn’t even TRY using anything other than Korean. He’s just talking at people like they’re supposed to understand him.
javabeans: Is it Eunhyuk’s birthday? Jong-shin comes in singing Happy Birthday, offering up a steamed bun with an incense stick stuck through the middle.
girlfriday: Aw, that’s cute. Sad, but in a really funny way.
javabeans: It’s cute how prepared Shi-yoon is (Se-yoon asks, “Is that a MacGuyver knife?”) Dude, he opened up those bowls of cup ramyun so he could stack them together. I’m so using that tip.
girlfriday: He really is like a boy scout. Ho-dong’s team goes over the Vietnamese phrases they have to learn for homework, and Bum-soo guesses that Shi-yoon’s up right now memorizing it all. Cut to: Shi-yoon sitting up in bed, studying while the hyungs sleep.
javabeans: They’re woken up in the early morning by the staff, after about two hours of sleep. Everyone looks like death. Okay, everyone except UEE, who somehow looks commercial-ready.
girlfriday: Life is unfair that way.
javabeans: They’re loaded back onto the bus without being told anything, and then they’re given the blindfolds.
girlfriday: Little piggy ones, of course. Hyung-joong: “You tell us to sleep, to get up, to sleep again…” They all grumble but comply.
javabeans: Hyun-joong quips that the phrases they were made to learn yesterday (“This is expensive, this is cheap, give me a discount”) were for selling them off. Heh. They leave the bus holding hands and guided up a sandy hill. It’s funny how they react like they’re scaling Everest while we can see how dinky the slopes actually are.
girlfriday: They freak out at the first drop downhill, crying that the PDs gave them no warning. I bet it does feel more dangerous with the sinking sensation and the not knowing where you’re going, but it’s pretty funny from our vantage point.
javabeans: They’re allowed to take off their blindfolds and find themselves in the middle of this expanse of sand at sunrise. The members do one reaction take where they’re acting like something out of a thriller movie, only it’s really dinky and hilarious from our perspective since we can see the staff circling them and falling over.
girlfriday: The zoom out to the staff running around them is cracking me up.
javabeans: Plus you see pockets of other people out on their own outings, which makes it much less Desert Survival and more like Nice Day Outdoors For a Picnic. They are given the backpacks that we saw in the intro, and the instructions to live like a Mui Ne native for 24 hours. They have to earn their own money, cook their own food, and find their own beds tonight.
girlfriday: Wow, that’s pretty hardcore.
javabeans: Okay, is THAT the concept of this show? Because I’ve been trying to figure it out the whole time. I’m entertained but also totally in the dark as to the point of it all.
girlfriday: The thing is, I’m not sure THEY know what the concept of their own show is. But I think we’re getting there, with the job and finding your own bed for the night. I think?
javabeans: Or as an immersion trip for various locales, whether it’s by job or by learning local customs and not getting to do anything on the tourist map. Which you could do in Korea too, though it’s less difficult on the language front. But I can’t imagine a show flying out eight people to international cities every other week.
girlfriday: Yeah that’s the question. The second Shi-yoon or UEE gets a drama, what then? After sitting for a while in the deserty area, Ho-dong leads his team in a chant. I know they say “Barefoot Friends!” but all I hear is “1 Night 2 Days!”
javabeans: Exact same intonation, yeah. He should work it out, ha, especially since I feel like this show is what you get on those 1N2D episodes where you drop the boys off and make them figure out everything on their own. Over in Hue with the other team, the boys are woken up in much the same manner, although it’s light out so they’ve gotten a few more hours of sleep.
girlfriday: I love how dumbfounded Shi-yoon is. “So this is what it’s like… It’s really like this? This is what it’s like?” Welcome to variety.
javabeans: They are also blindfolded (chicken masks here) as they’re driven to their destination, feeling like they’re being dragged off (to be sold, a common theme). They’re guided up a long staircase to the imperial tomb (of Khai Dinh) we saw in the intro.
girlfriday: These boys get their backpacks too, with the same mission. They sit in stunned silence, and Jong-shin sighs, “So this is the kind of program this is?”
javabeans: Eunhyuk: “Is this even possible?” The PD ignores his question. This team is literally slack-jawed in disbelief.
girlfriday: So it turns out that the mission isn’t totally unguided, because Ho-dong’s team gets taken to what will be their room for the night, IF they can earn enough money.
javabeans: Is there a translator on staff? I’m wondering who they’re all looking at. Also, that totally defeats the purpose of this task. Though I suppose they’ve got enough uphill battles to fight today. If they get the room, they’ll all be sharing the floor, which costs a quarter of their total wage goal.
girlfriday: The staff has already prepped their job for the day too, which seems like it’s cheating.
javabeans: Totally making your premise moot!
girlfriday: Right? The hard part is FINDING a place to sleep and a job to do, not the doing of it!
javabeans: I know! Because you can DO a job anywhere. You could do it in Seoul. It’s only worth the trip if you make ’em get it on their own. I was actually impressed with the show for being ambitious, but this is like guided work-study.
girlfriday: They’re told that they have to catch crabs, and then sell them in the marketplace.
javabeans: This seems simple. Not necessarily easy in that they’ll still have to work, but not at all complicated to execute the plan. And to get a bit meta, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble drumming up interest and customers when you’re surrounded by a camera crew, which (1) makes you instantly interesting, and (2) legitimizes you as Not A Random Crazy.
girlfriday: Yeah it’s really the last one that you want to avoid.
javabeans: They walk through the village cheerily greeting the villagers on their way to the shore, where they suit up and collect gear. I dunno, now it’s starting to feel like Rich Folks Play Poor For A Day, which I don’t love.
girlfriday: I hope that’s not where this is going.
javabeans: Maybe it won’t be that bad. But I feel like you either do the earnest route or you do the kitschy game route, and they’re trying both and it feels weird.
girlfriday: Jong-shin’s team feels more earnest right now, but I think it’s because they’re scared shitless. They get shown their house and Eunhyuk stammers at the PDs: “Y-you found work for us to do, right?” They finally breathe at the realization that they don’t have to FIND jobs for a day.
javabeans: Ah, that’s what I like about Eunhyuk — it’s that he’s all overstuffed ego and then crumbles at first opportunity. I was trying to figure it out before. As soon as they’re briefed, though, I think the mission loses its interest. The show has even lined up transport for them — guided motorcycle rides. You’re not even going to make them find their own way?
girlfriday: Yeah so far there hasn’t been a single thing to do on your own on this so-called Do It Yourself Mission.
javabeans: They arrive in the city at the palace, and are told their job: pedi-cab drivers for a day. This could be interesting if they aren’t given translators. But at this point I expect full producer intervention. The boys are given the tour of their palace route first, then choose one-syllable nicknames for themselves (to better befriend strangers and thus paying customers). Ha, some names are better than others. Shi-yoon picks Tak (for Baker King Kim Tak-gu), Eunhyuk is Hyuk, and then Jong-shin picks Ssin… while Se-yoon gets tagged as Sse.
girlfriday: Se-yoon circles around for a while and sighs that it’s hard to get customers, only to turn around and watch as Shi-yoon instantly befriends a couple of tourists and gets them to take a ride. Ha.
javabeans: Shi-yoon IS Enrique. I’m not surprised. Se-yoon is trying too hard and it sounds aggressive, but Shi-yoon’s all smiles and “Hi, Friend!”
girlfriday: Seriously. He’s all talkative and chats up strangers with no problem. Also, I’m confused — is he older than Eunhyuk?
javabeans: I think there are a bunch of 1986-ers here, Shi-yoon, Eunhyuk and Hyun-joong. So they’re buddies.
girlfriday: Oh. I dunno why, but Yoon Shi-yoon just seemed younger, so I was taken aback when he called out, “Eunhyuk-ah!”
javabeans: Eunhyuk totally owes him for that ride, since they each take one-half of an Australian couple and give them side-by-side rides. The guy tries to make conversation with Shi-yoon, who understands almost nothing, which is both really cute and secondhand-embarrassing. “How long have you been in Vietnam? Are you famous?” Shi-yoon: “My name is TAK!”
girlfriday: But he has no shame, which totally works for him. It gets better as they go along, and Shi-yoon uses “Gangnam Style” to make friends. He asks how old the guy is and gasps that he’s the hyung (seriously, you look like a baby) but it turns out they were born in the same year and he beams, “We’re friends!”
javabeans: Shi-yoon’s really good at this. He’s obviously tired and this is hard but he does a good job being friendly and upbeat and at least knows enough English to make really basic conversation. Jong-shin, on the other hand…
girlfriday: Is he gonna starve today?
javabeans: I feel like they’re going to use Tak’s earnings to buy one sandwich that they will all share.
girlfriday: Eunhyuk gets lost, or maybe just scared that he’s lost, and has a mini-breakdown. But he manages to joke, “We lost your boyfriend…”
javabeans: I’m pretty sure this is where it helps having a camera crew around to assure the customer that you’re not a scary freak out to take them someplace strange. Also good that she doesn’t understand him worrying, “I have no idea where we are…” Se-young continues to have no luck and at one point crouches by his pedi-cab instructor, who gives him a pat in consolation.
girlfriday: Shi-yoon finally manages to finish his one loop, and then asks for his first cab fare… only to have the guy realize that his girlfriend has all the money. Ha. So they have to stand there awkwardly, until Eunhyuk hopefully maybe finds his way to them. Great, now they ALL might starve.
javabeans: Phew, it takes a while (about 20 minutes) but finally the couple gets reunited. But then Eunhyuk feels so bad that he tells the girl that her ride is free and now Tak has to collect.
girlfriday: What? Don’t do that! You people might have to share one sandwich for dinner!
javabeans: Plus the guy jokes, “I’m free too?” At least Tak frames it as both getting half off. They thank the couple and he kisses his money in so much excitement you’d think he never saw money before.
girlfriday: But then… Shi-yoon looks down at his money, and his face freezes. Oh noes… it’s one zero short, so a tenth of what they were supposed to get! This is going very badly.
javabeans: He chases them down, and at least everyone takes it well because nobody’s familiar with this money. They exchange the bills and then it’s back to hugs.
girlfriday: I do get the sense that Eunhyuk might starve without Shi-yoon.
javabeans: The other two join them empty-handed, which means this team has earned 100,000 dong — their daily goal is 250,000. But the pedi-cab owners get a cut, leaving them with 60,000. Today’s going to be a long day. Then they get hungry and Jong-shin votes that they spend the whole thing on food. You know in 1N2D when they have their dirt-poor Seven Brothers parody where each member is a particular brother archetype and the youngest (Joo-won) is always “the hope of our family”? That’s totally Shi-yoon in this scenario.
girlfriday: Totally. What would they have done without him? They spend all his money on lunch (two dishes to share) and then they’re back to zero again, just like that. Well, I guess in exchange for the PDs finding them jobs, they have to work really really hard to earn every penny.
javabeans: We’ll have to see what happens next week to find out the rest of the story, though I’m pretty sure we get our happy ending. Just a hunch. Overall I’d say Barefoot Friends has got potential in that there’s a lot of action and enough personalities to keep things hopping. Plus I really do like most of the participants. But I’ll add that there’s nothing really great about the premise itself — inasmuch as we even know what that is — so it’s not a show that would work with just anyone.
girlfriday: Yeah the concept is still nebulous and I can take it or leave it, but the cast is a good mix. Turns out Yoon Shi-yoon was the unexpected winner, especially for his first variety outing.
javabeans: I loved him already, but it was even better to see him just playing himself. I think Eunhyuk could also be a lot of fun to watch, and hey, 86-er friend Hyun-joong is bound to have his own niche saying hilariously random things that make little sense. I don’t think this is a show I’m going to watch every week, but I’ll keep checking it out from time to time.
girlfriday: I hope there are future episodes/trips where all eight members get to be together, because the splitting up was my first big disappointment with the pilot, but there’s definitely potential here.
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