'We Got Divorced' starts with surprisingly strong viewership in TV ratings war
By Park Han-sol
Cable network TV Chosun's new reality show "We Got Divorced" has created a sensation among relationship-obsessed Korean viewers, getting off to a strong start in the TV ratings war since it aired its first episode Nov. 20. It features divorced couples who are reunited for several days to reflect back on their relationship to figure out what went wrong.
The show stars celebrity divorcees ― veteran actors Sunwoo Eun-sook and Lee young-ha as well as YouTubers Choi Beom-kyu, better known by his online alias "Choi Gogi," and Yu Yae-rin, who goes by "Yucatnip."
Its first and second episode scored a nationwide viewership of 9 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively, which are relatively high ratings especially for a cable television program, according to data from Nielsen Korea.
For the first time in 13 years since their divorce, Sunwoo and Lee sat down to look back on their marriage marked by conflicts and misunderstandings as well as their life after the breakup. Sunwoo painfully recalled how she was swept up in a vicious rumor that even led to suicidal thoughts.
"Back then, I couldn't go out into the world, what with the divorce and the rumor. Before the breakup, I felt protected because I was Lee's wife. How could I show that it wasn't true? I desperately wanted to, but the words won't work so I even thought of committing suicide just to get them to believe me."
Meanwhile, Choi and Yu, young divorcees whose five years of marriage full of ups and downs ended just seven months ago, engaged in a more direct conversation, recounting everything from in-law conflicts, parenting issues, depression and their love life to their four-year-old daughter.
The popularity of the reality show comes as a surprise because another show "We Got Married," which follows fictionally married celebrity couples, enjoyed a strong viewership just a decade ago.
Experts said that the rising divorce rates and the ensuing social interest in the situation has apparently played a part in the rare popularity of such a show.
"Divorce is increasingly becoming a part of daily life," cultural commentator Kim Sung-soo told The Korea Times. "It is being considered more and more as another option to end a marriage, which in turn allows this kind of program to be made."
"It is no longer considered a taboo subject that should be avoided at all costs," pop culture expert Kim Hern-sik said. "And a voyeuristic desire also plays a role since there are not that many direct opportunities to hear about divorcees' lives, thoughts and experiences."
|An official poster for the reality show "We Got Divorced" / Courtesy of TV Chosun|
After the show aired, a debate soon ensued online among viewers about its justifiability, with some arguing that it can be a meaningful platform for portraying breakups as they really are.
"When I was watching 'We Got Married' starring virtual couples, the whole thing felt juvenile. But this show is relatable since it focuses on real relationships," one viewer commented online. "It's just like how one can sympathize with the film's narrative more if it is based on a true story."
Others were opposed to the idea of broadcasting such private affairs and emotions.
"How can the show truly capture the inexpressible feelings experienced by the divorced couples? It's just going to end up as a piece of entertainment," one user wrote. Another protested, "I don't understand why they would want to publicize an issue that should be resolved between two parties via private discussions."
According to Statistics Korea, the number of divorces in the country reached 110,800 last year, a two percentage point increase from the year before, while the number of marriages was less than 240,000, a record-low since the agency first began releasing relevant data in 1970.
"In Korea, where one out of three wedded couples break up, the real story of marriage and divorce should be told in the year 2020," TV Chosun states on its promotional webpage.
The program aims to deal with the topic that still arouses curiosity in married and single viewers alike to suggest what possibly lies in the relationship after the divorce, the network claims.
However, both critics were wary of the show's approach to such sensitive subject and urged for a more carefully thought-out and considerate format that can offer practical help to the former couples themselves and the viewers.
"Despite the increase in the number of divorces, no proper and mature social consensus has been formed. Divorcees and single parents are still the victims of prejudice and discrimination," Kim Sung-soo said.
"If the show was really aimed at forming a social agreement, it should have been more honest in its delivery and followed the couples strictly from a neutral observer's perspective. However, as of now, the program intervenes too much and gets in the way with scripted stage directions."
Kim Hern-sik echoed the sentiment: "Divorcees may still have some unresolved issues deep inside, so the program should not remain as a mere form of entertainment but should actually try to help them get to a better life in a constructive way. It should also serve as a chance for the audience to realize how society needs to view such issues."