The Brutal Truth about KPOP Survival Shows

Elly Zulaikha
October 9, 2020
3 minutes

You may have an idea of how reality/survival shows work. It’s not a new concept, but since it’s becoming a trend in South Korea, we thought we’d cover some brief aspects of K-POP survival shows in this article and why it is full of drama!

How it works

Image via koreaboo

Many hopeful candidates will go through a series of auditions to become a KPOP idol. Once candidates pass the auditions, they will be promoted/revealed to the public audience and the rigorous training begins. Just like its namesake, a survival show is nothing without the drama! Trainees face pressure from not only working with teams, but also improving their performance skills that will determine their fate in every preliminary round.

Sounds intense? Don’t forget, most of these aspiring trainees are still young and are usually subjected to harsh criticisms with voting systems, judges, and the public eye. Definitely not for the faint of hearts!

Image via Soompi

At the same time, survival shows may debut selected trainees in a temporary or permanent group. For instance, both Wanna One and I.O.I. debuted temporarily for a year or two after competing through famous survival shows like Produce 101 and Produce X 101. However, most trainees eventually debut in other groups, signed by different entertainment companies. 

Image via soompi

The dark side

Image via koreaboo

Becoming an idol is not always glitz and glam, as KPOP idols have to sacrifice a lot and work hard to become successful. Not to mention, the competitive nature of the KPOP industry makes it harder for many trainees to break through the market. 

In an oversaturated market of KPOP groups, survival shows benefit from this in terms of viewership, as long as Koreans tune in to watch these shows. 

Famous survival shows in the past

1. Produce 101

Image via blogonehallyu

Created by CJ E&M, Produce 101 started by gathering 101 competitors and gave them missions to accomplish until its last 11 members. Since its inception in 2016, the franchise grew in popularity in other countries like China and Japan. But the downfall of this show happened in 2019, when the voting system turned out to be rigged by its producer, Ahn Joon-young. 

Notable KPOP idols: Chung-ha, Jeon Soyeon (G-IDLE) and Somi.


Image via koreaboo

This 2015 reality girl group survival was created by JYP Entertainment and Mnet, where 16 trainees pit against one another to debut in the now famous and Nation’s Pride girl group, TWICE. 

3. WIN: Who is Next

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Dubbed as one of the cruelest KPOP survival shows, two teams of male trainees train with each other and compete together to become the WINNER and ultimately debut under YG Entertainment. For unlucky trainees, they never get the chance to debut with YG. 

4. The Unit 

Image via Soompi

KBS’ made a slight twist with their version of survival shows, where “failed idols” who never debuted or didn’t become successful were given a second chance. Spread out between 126 participants, they compete under two separate “units”, one unit for boys and one unit for girls. 


Image via allkpop

MIXNINE is another YG Entertainment’s survival program that aired on JTBC. Similar to the Mix & Match concept, the competition showed a team of nine boys and a team of nine girls scouted from over 70 companies, competing against each other to become the winning team and debut as idols. 

Other shows worth mentioning:


Road to Kingdom


Stray Kids

Show Me the Money 

Unpretty Rapstar

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