Sunday, 28 June 2015

Genius: top 10 moments from series 1-3

Korean It's-better-than-the-apprentice Reality elimination show The Genius has announced an all-old cast for season 4, including the top 3 from each of the first three seasons. To be honest, the casting is a hugely interesting decision and one I might try to critique, but there seems little point as it's fairly likely that makers TVN were constrained by availability rather than making choices, to such an extent that I'm rather impressed they managed to get all 6 season finalists even.

Instead, then, we'll celebrate with a trip down memory lane: my top 10 moments from The Genius' history to date. 

Spoiler alert! This list contains spoilers for all 3 existing series of The Genius. If you haven't tried an episode yet then I suggest you read this description of the show. If you are midway through the archive, I suggest you stop reading. If you want to watch episodes, you should check the activity of this twitter user.

#10 Series 2 Episode 1 opening sequence.

It's become traditional in this format for the series to open with contestants shown reading a letter: their 'invitation' to the tournament. (It's one of the ways The Genius pays tribute to its inspiration: The Liar Game). All series have done a nice job of opening with this but in series 2's first episode, the letter sequence was preceded with a much better sequence showing the bandage man (don't ask) 'selecting' the contestants. This sequence was simply a series of archive clips set to music with occasional captions, but is still a masterclass in the way TG uses music to create a sense of cinematic awesomeness. Western shows could take note.

Impressiveness: 7/10
Unpredictability: 1/10
Impact: 9/10
He's not kidding.

#9 Eunji destroys Poong in Indian Poker

In the build up, and even when she questions the rules in the first round, Park Eunji seems like she is badly suited to the Indian Poker Deathmatch. Fans of Kim Poong (this author included) were breathing a sigh of relief as it looked likely he would take a casual victory. But this wasn't to be. Exactly how genuine Eunji's confusion was is never really resolved, but this author does think it unlikely she would enter a Poker game not clear on what it meant to fold. Regardless, it gives her the edge when she goes all-in on Poong, and then starts talking about her apathy toward remaining in the tournament. In one of the most quietly decisive moments of TG history, Poong calls her enormous bet, and well... cue Moby.

Impressiveness: 7/10
Unpredictability: 10/10
Impact: 5/10

A decent haul.

#8 Juneseok dodges the bullet.
Oh Juneseok. Eliminated in the very first episode, and for reasons that largely didn't involve him, Juneseok would just be a notable but faceless name in the annuls of Genius history, if it weren't for the fact that he created the biggest twist a guest player has ever managed, when he took part in the Layoff game (another nod to Liar Game, perhaps?) in series 2 episode 9. Juneseok's skill in this moment is remarkable. The Guest Players form an alliance with fellow old player Sangmin, with the aim of destroying the new players and maxxing out their money. Junseok realises that he will have to be the Guest team's sacrifice, before they do, and defects. Although there is no other real fallout: Sangmin is already too far ahead to be in danger, this does cause one of the most elegant plans seen in TG to fail.

(Sidenote: we should also celebrate Jungmoon for her pointless-but-very-impressive achivement of convincing EVERYONE she was a high-ranked player, just to mess with them. Well done Jungmoon.)
(Sidenote 2: Jungmoon and Junesoek both return for series 4.)

Impressiveness: 9/10
Unpredictability: 7/10
Impact: 1/10

Sangmin discovers he's been wrong-footed. Sangmin is not pleased.

#7 Emotional Eliminations

I'm going to combine two similar moments into one here.
First, Jinho's exit in series 2. (I'm not going to spoil the episode number just in case.) The music choice here is excellent, and that combined with the emotional speech he gives thanking the show and his fans, and the genuine emotion of seeing such a major player fall, leads to a very well-crafted sad episode ending.

Second, Jongbeom (another of this author's favourites. Perhaps it's something about cartoonists?) is eliminated by Hyunmin in S3E7. Everything about this episode is emotionally charged: from the tense-to-the-point-of-unpleasant atmosphere when Dongmin goes Kamikaze in the main match, to the impressive failure of the black mission, to the two friends facing off in the draining Deathmatch. In addition to this, it's clear Hyunmin is unhappy about the way he and Dongmin have played and the fact that this lead to him having to eliminate his friend Jongbeom to survive. Everything boils over in the final minutes and we see some impressive sincerity from Hyunmin, and senerity from Jongbeom.

(Also mentionworthy: The usually Steely Sujin who chokes up mid-sentence when saying farewell to Hweejong in S3E4.)

Impressiveness: 2/10
Unpredictability: 4/10
Impact: 10/10

He's not very photogenic.

#6 Jinho sees infinite chips.

It's well-known that in TG, the simple games will have hacks. (See #2, below.) What was impressive in S2E5, though, is that an already entirely complicated game had a hack, and further, buried in a massive junkyard of conditional rules and obscure possibilities, Jinho fishes this one out. The plan, which is better explained by the Koreans than myself, involves combining 3 players' abilities to get an endless loop of +1s and hence an infinite score. Unfortunately, and mainly due to poor people skills from the team's self-appointed boss Yoonsun, the plain fails. But still.

(Yoonsun returns for series 4. This author does not rate Yoonsun's chances highly, and wishes we could have seen more, and better, former female players invited.)

Impressiveness: 9/10
Unpredictability: 8/10
Impact: 2/10

This diagram was actually preceded by a much more informative diagram.

#5 Dongmin's incredible bluff

On one hand the greatest, on another hand the most terrible moment in series 3 came in the 10th deathmatch, when Dongmin gets himself out of a guaranteed-lose situation, just by confusing his opponent into making a terrible move. Yeonjoo deserved to win, and if she had kept a cool head, then certainly could have. Some viewers might genuinely struggle to believe that this was not a producer meddle (although this author doubts it), without question it changed the course of the show, and arguably it lacked a sense of justice. However, it deserves recognition as an excellently presented piece of television, from the fake 'sad music' when it looks hopeless for Jang, to the 'flickbook' flashback sequences during the key moment.

Impressiveness: 7/10
Unpredictability: 9/10
Impact: 8/10 - (penalised 2 for sense of injustice).

On the left, you see a man fully aware that he's in massive trouble.

#4 The longest game

Another 10th episode deathmatch, this time from series 1. Certainly, it was no surprise that when two of series 1's biggest characters faced-off, it would be an incredible game. The showmakers were gifted here, the presence of guests allowed them to bring out tactical yut (one of the best deathmatchs in this authour's opinion), and an epic battle ensued, which twisted backwards and forwards and lasted nearly 2 hours. It's cut into an impressively-long 20 minute sequence in the broadcast, which makes great use of music and the fluctuation of the game to create a genuine impression of this as a great, final, struggle between two giants.

Impressiveness: 8/10
Unpredictability: 1/10
Impact: 9/10

The moment it finally ended.

#3 Dohee double cross turns into double-double cross turns into triple-double cross.

It sounds like something from a cartoon, but in S2E6, TG managed its first ever genuine triple cross. What's brilliant about this is that every twist brings about a new, distinct, emotion in reaction. To appreciate it fully you need the context of the episode: an entire hour during which instead of actually playing the round's game, everyone has been negotiating over whether the dominant Sangmin-led team can engineer a foe-v-foe deathmatch, to such an extent that I recommend S2E6 as a taster episode if you are new to The Genius (although you will spoil the preceding episodes).

Dohee has agreed to betray his weak team in exchange for the token of life, which will allow him to dodge the deathmatch he is headed for. Then, and all set against a music bed iconically recognisable from BBC's Sherlock, Dohee fakes the betrayal, before revealing that he is actually betraying Sangmin. Dismay from Sangmin's team. Then, Dohee reveals the token of life to his team. Surprise and bemusement from them. cue Moby. The situation is compounded: Dohee will use the token of life to attack further, setting two of Sangmin's team against each other. One of them is upset by the prospect, the other is impressed by Dohee's inventiveness. Then, it is revealed that Dohee doesn't actually have the token of life. Cue explosion from everyone.

"You did it first, you bastard!" Sangmin can be heard shouting over the verbal fracas.

"A match beyond your imagination" -- delivered as advertised.

Impressiveness: 8/10
Unpredictability: 10/10
Impact: 9/10

#2 Open, Pass.

Part of the reason Eunji's impressive win over Poong was eclipsed in S1E7, was that the episode's Mainmatch had already given out the best moments in the first series of The Genius. The skill of the game designer, to hide such a large hack so well in the rules of open, pass (in a way that the series 2 imitator with the dice didn't manage to replicate) should be hugely admired. Jinho's perception and creativity in finding the hack are hugely impressive: one suspects he used a bit of metagaming to convince himself there was a twist to be found before going looking for it - or perhaps he just noticed the subtlety to the shuffle initially - either way it was a realisation which cemented his position as a fan-favourite.

The presentation of the reveal, including as always the music, was excellent, and compounded by the way the episode built a narrative to support it: the players' tactical discussions getting more and more nuanced, before finally being blown out of the water by Jinho's hack.
Impressiveness: 10/10
Unpredictability: 10/10
Impact: 9/10

It's all about the hexagons.

#1 "Five people went in there, and I know four of them"

Three key elements come together at once in S3E2's Citizens v Criminals Resistance reskin for this perfect example of The Genius at its best:

1. The Criminal team (in particular Kang) make a terrible mistake. The moment they all identify, they reveal their leader, and will instantly lose the game.
2. Oh Hynmin plays a perfect game as the Citizen leader, managing to play just enough of a quiet-but-not-too-quiet game to totally fool all of the other players.
3. Oh Hynmin sees the way to convert his likely victory to a certain victory and in a moment of perfect drama, reveals himself and seizes it.

The tripwire of the criminal leader revealing themselves and instantly being vulnerable was a cleverly hidden twist that was deliberately and cleverly built into the game, although it is not unreasonable to have expected a decent player to see it in advance. Hynmin's skill in maintaining such a good profile should not be understated, he subtly pushes the game to the citizen's advantage, whist simultaniously accosiating closely with some of his enemies in order to hold their trust. Indeed, that might have been glossed over due to the speed of the reveal here, but is carefully emphasised in a good montage just afterwards. Finally, Hynmin's initiative to quickly turn the scene around and change course in the brief moment he has alone with his team is simply phenomenal. This author wondered whether such a tactic might be deployed carefully if the citizen leader was sufficiently clever, but to push it through almost instantaneously was amazing play. 

Impressiveness: 10/10
Unpredictability: 9/10
Impact: 10/10

A very excited citizen.

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