Yoo Jae Suk is arguably one of the most popular television personalities in South Korea at present. He was hailed as the “Nation’s MC” because of the wide demographic of his supporters and viewers. He has hosted several variety programs in the course of his two-decade-long career. He is most notable for his work on Infinite Challenge, Happy Together, and Running Man.
He is also considered one of the most beloved television personalities in Korea and is often chosen as a role model by fellow entertainers. From 1991 to 2016, Yoo has garnered a total of 47 awards from various award-giving bodies in and out of his home country.
He is known for his quick witted humor as well as guiding conversations between multiple people during variety shows in a most entertaining manner. He could be compared to Dick Clark or Ryan Seacrest, though most Americans would agree that Yoo Jae Suk plays a much larger role on the country’s stage, and possibly more talented as well. But the comparison still works to give context around who Yoo Jae Suk is and how he relates to the entertainment industry at large in South Korea.
Marriage to Na Kyeung Eun
On July 6, 2008, Yoo married MBC announcer and former Infinite Challenge co-host, Na Kyeung Eun. They welcomed their firstborn son, Yoo Ji Ho, on May 1, 2010.
In an MBN broadcast, producer and Yoo’s friend, Lee Ki Jin, revealed that it was Na Kyeung Eun who first approached Yoo during an Infinite Challenge dinner among cast and crew. She said he was his fan and the staff rooted for the two of them from then on even though Yoo previously said he was interested in dating another announcer. Another friend, announcer Yoon Young Mi, supported the claim and shared that Yoo liked Na’s “nice, innocent, and smart” image. She also talked about rumors that it was Na who asked for Yoo’s number first. The two eventually started dating and officially became a couple in August 2006, before getting married two years later.
In June 2016, Women Sense magazine received criticisms from netizens for publishing a photo of Yoo’s wife and son on their June issue celebrating Children’s Month. The photo showed the 6-year-old boy holding onto his mother’s hand while strolling under the sun.
Yoo has always maintained that he wants to keep his family life private, which is why it came as a surprise to fans when the photo was published. Netizens immediately came to the defense of Yoo and his family, saying that reporters intentionally followed the family while they were out on an outing. Fans then went on to reprimand the reporters for not honoring the MC’s wishes and publicizing what was supposed to be a private affair.
Staff of the magazine, meanwhile, claimed in an article that they only spotted the mother-and-son at the Han River instead of claims by netizens that they tailed the two.
In September 2017, photos of Yoo went viral when he was spotted participating in the fall field day at his son’s elementary school, playing tug-of-war and other sport activities.
Early Years in the Industry
Yoo began his entertainment career as a comedian and debuted on television in 1991 when he appeared on KBS’ Comedian Festival, a televised talent show for college students. In the program, he performed a parody of a very popular commercial during that time. For the next 9 years, however, Yoo only managed to be a relatively unknown comedian in the industry. He had dropped out of college around this time and was only earning little from the few gigs he managed to get.
It was in 2000 when, upon the recommendation of his friend Choi Jin Sil, Yoo was offered to host Live and Enjoy Together on MBC. The show became very popular among viewers and brought fame to Yoo. It was also in this show that Yoo earned one of his many nicknames, “The Grasshopper”, after several episodes aired of him wearing a grasshopper costume.
Other memorable moments in Yoo’s early career included dancing to a cover of New Kids on the Block’s “Step by Step” and a cameo appearance in the movie Tyranno’s Toenail.
After the success of Live and Enjoy Together, Yoo started receiving more offers to host several other variety programs. But what really made him a household name was when he co-hosted The Crash of MCs on KBS with fellow comedians and variety show standouts Kang Ho Dong, Lee Hwi Jae, and Kim Han Seok in 2002.
While The Crash of MCs was still ongoing, Yoo became part of another KBS show, Best Foreign Team, which coincided with the former.
In 2003, he hosted his first SBS show, Truth Game, which ran for 5 years. While hosting Truth Game, Yoo also started on another KBS program, Happy Together, which is still ongoing and just recently celebrated its 500th episode.
Coincidentally, Yoo became part of Happy Together around the same time as SBS’ psychological comedy game show X-Man started, which also starred Yoo as one of the main hosts. X-Man reunited Yoo with his former co-host Kang (Ho Dong) and grew to be one of the most watched shows in Korea until its end in 2007. It was through this show that Yoo earned the nickname as the “Nation’s MC” because of his ever-growing popularity and successive hosting projects.
In 2004, he joined Kim Won Hee in hosting Come to Play on MBC, which Yoo said was one of his favorite shows alongside Happy Together 3.
In 2006, Yoo joined MBC’s Infinite Challenge when showrunners decided they needed a change in the concept. Yoo’s entry as one of the hosts paved the way for the program’s success until it became one of the highest-rated shows in Korea. To this day, Infinite Challenge is still airing on MBC and is currently on its 4th season, with Yoo as the longest-running host of the program.
While hosting the Happy Together, Come to Play, and Infinite Challenge, Yoo also starred on a few relatively short-lived programs on SBS – Let’s Do It, Old TV, and Miracle Contestant, and Family Outing. When he joined the cast of Family Outing in 2008, Yoo immediately became one of the most loved ‘family member’ on the show.
In 2010, SBS got him again, this time to host their newest variety show – Running Man. The original concept of Running Man was for the MCs and guests to complete the episode’s mission in order to win the race. Over the years, the show has transitioned to its current concept of a reality-variety show that’s is more focused on games competed in by the MCs and guests.
After joining Running Man, Yoo continued to be part of several other variety programs such as I am a Man, Same Bed, Different Dreams, and Two Yoo Project Sugar Man on KBS, SBS, and JTBC, respectively.
On Happy Together
KBS’ Happy Together 3 is Yoo’s longest-running variety show. The program went on air in 2001, but it was only in 2003, during the show’s 2nd season (Happy Together Friends) that Yoo became one of the hosts. In his 14 years of hosting the show, Yoo has witnessed the spawning of several segments within the program such as: “Study Quick, If Incorrect, Metal Trays Will Hit,” where guest celebrities compete to win a free dinner with their friends after the show; “Challenge! Memorize Song,” where the MCs and guests have to correctly guess a song in order to escape the sauna; and “Don’t Laugh in the Sauna!” where the hosts try to make the guests laugh in the sauna by chatting with them in a dialect, and those who will laugh will be sprayed with water.
During his stint with Happy Together, Yoo won his first Grand Prize (daesang) for the 2nd season of the program, Happy Together Friends. According to him, the award was memorable not only because it was his first major award, but also because it was from the same broadcasting station where he debuted. Happy Together Friends’ concept was to invite TV personalities and have them try to find five of their school friends among the many false friends sitting behind a desk.
On March 2017, Happy Together chief producing director Park Min Jung expressed in an interview how much she appreciates Yoo’s presence in the program. She said the main MC contributes ideas for the show and never fails to act as a veteran host whenever he has to. The PD also shared that the program’s three-part special live show titled “Friends”, which aired on the same month, was Yoo’s idea. And that she loves working with Yoo because he was always nice to the crew, encouraged and cheered them during filming.
Also in 2017, Happy Together celebrated its 500th episode where the MCs called celebrities and asked them to come to their filming location at the last minute. Yoo friend, and former co-host, Lee Hyori. Unfortunately, the singer-actress wasn’t able to join them because she was at Jeju Island doing yoga.
On Come to Play
MBC’s Come to Play was one of Yoo’s career-defining projects. The talk show started its broadcast on May 2004 with Yoo as one of the original hosts along with Kim (Won Hee), Park Myeong Su, Eun Ji Won, Kim Na Young, Kim Eung Soo, Jay Park, and Kwon Oh Joong.
The program had a successful run of 8 years, gathering awards such as the Baeksang Arts Award for Best TV Entertainment Program and Baeksang Arts Award for Best Female Variety Performer (for Kim Won Hee), among others.
One of Yoo’s most memorable episodes on the show was when the normally private MC, on a July 9, 2010 broadcast of the show, bragged about his then 2-year-old son. Yoo said his son has traits that are very much like him and that the boy also talks a lot like his father.
Another instance was when he cried while watching legendary ‘80s band Deulgukhwa on a September 2012 broadcast. The popular band went on hiatus for 25 years, so it was also some kind of a nostalgic moment for Yoo to watch the group perform one of their songs live after such a long time.
On December 2012, however, the hosts and loyal viewers of the show were surprised by MBC’s sudden announcement that they are cancelling the show without having even decided on a replacement. Cast and production staff filmed an episode on December 5 scheduled for broadcast on December 24, not knowing it will be the show’s final episode.
Although the long-running program has continuously dipped in the ratings (less than 5%) in the last few months prior to cancellation, it still came as a surprise to fans since the cast and crew weren’t given any kind of notice and were not even afforded a goodbye episode.
Veteran actor Kim (Eung Soo) shared in an interview that Yoo, being one of the main hosts, was very sorry towards the production crew and his fellow MCs after finding out they won’t be coming back for another episode of Come to Play.
On Infinite Challenge
Infinite Challenge is another popular variety show from MBC with Yoo at the helm of hosting. The program went on air in 2005 and is presently in its 4th season heading towards its 600th episode. Yoo is the show’s “host-in-chief” and is also one of the original members with Jeong Hyeong Don and Noh Hong Chul.
At first, Infinite Challenge wasn’t a hit among viewers of the Saturday evening timeslot. But after a few changes in the format and production crew, the show started gaining popularity. In 2006, Yoo was joined by Park (Myeong Soo), Jeong Jun Ha, and Haha as mainstays on the show.
With the continued success of Infinite Challenge both in and out of Korea for more than a decade, it has earned recognition as “the nation’s variety show” and “Korea’s real first variety show”. It also became the peg of other “variety and reality programs” that followed in various networks.
The show has been graced by several international celebrities such as Maria Sharapova, Paris Hilton, MC Hammer, Ryan Seacrest, Usain Bolt, Jack Black, and most recently, Stephen Curry.
For Yoo, Infinite Challenge is the best and his favorite program. One of the reasons why is because met his wife, Na Kyeung Eun, when they co-hosted the 2nd season of the show. Aside from this, he became even more popular as a variety show host due to the program’s immensely high ratings.
In a one-on-one talk with co-host Jeong (Hyeong Don) for their “Pause” special in October 2012, Yoo expressed his love for the show by saying that the fate of Infinite Challenge defines his life on television and as a variety show host.
At present, Yoo has won a total of 6 daesang awards for Infinite Challenge (2006-2007, 2009-2010, 2014, and 2016).
On Running Man
Yoo’s stint on Running Man began on July 2010 which saw him reuniting with co-hosts Haha (Infinite Challenge) and Kim Jong Kook (Family Outing). They were joined by other original cast members Ji Seok Jin, actress Song Ji Hyo, Lee Kwang Soo, Kang Gary of Leessang, and actor Song Joong Ki.
Like many of Yoo’s programs, Running Man had low ratings at first, but eventually grew to be the widely popular urban variety program that it is today.
Over the years, Yoo’s career on the show has given birth to several recurring characters, which he effectively portrays in various episodes. The characters Yoo has represented on the program are: Yoo-mes Bond, Yoo-ruce Willis, Yoo-hyuk and Dog-nosed Yoo-hyuk, Cicadanem, Ddakji King, Yoda, Grasshopper King, Janny, Ladle, Love Expert, and Kwang Soo’s Love Coach. These characters serve as proof of the MC’s versatility on television.
Yoo is known for having great escaping abilities and quick thinking during their missions. Aside from this, he also has close relationships with many of the celebrities who have graced the show.
During the first few episodes of Running Man, he was pegged as one of the weaker players because of his lack of athleticism. But overtime, he has developed his skills, not to mention his stamina, and is now identified as one of the strongest players during missions. He is also considered as one of the two main powers in missions along with Kim (Jong Kook).
Running Man Relationships and Alliances
He has developed “relationships” and alliances among cast members which came about various situations in their missions.
YJS and Kim (Jong Kook) – Eternal Rivals and Running Man’s Two Pillars of Power
The two of them have been known as rivals since the first episode of the show and are always seen arguing with each other, although Kim (Jong Kook) usually wins in their battles.
YJS and Song (Ji Hyo) – Candy Alliance and Yoo-Mong
The pairing was formed when Ji Hyo gave him a candy in order to form an alliance, but the actress ended up betraying Yoo by eventually ripping off his name tag.
YJS and Lee (Kwang Soo) – Yoo-Lee, Yoo-Lee, I miss you!, Dumb and Dumber
Yoo-Lee is a combination of the two’s surnames, while the I miss you version was a result of them often saying they miss After School’s UEE (whose name sounds like Yoo-Lee). Their tandem has a trademark sign which is the Yoo-Lee cross.
YJS, Lee (Kwang Soo), and Ji (Seok Jin) – Jail Regulars Trio, Lee-Yoo-Ji Brothers, The Unlucky Trio, and The Unlucky Brothers
The team was formed because in the earlier episodes of Running Man, they were the first ones to get eliminated. The Lee-Yoo-Ji team was formed, however, because Ji (Seok Jin) appeared to have been getting jealous of Lee (Kwang Soo)’s closeness to Yoo and wanted to include himself in the group.
YJS and Ji (Seok Jin) – Suk Brothers, Two Suks, Yoo-Ji
These two formed the Suk Brothers and Two Suks alliance because they both have the syllable in their names, while Yoo-Ji is taken from both of their first names.
YJS and Haha – Ha-Suk
More than an alliance, Ha-Suk is actually referred to as a “loveline” on the show. It was formed when Song (Ji Hyo) announced that she was dating her agency’s (C-JeS Entertainmaent) CEO, and Ji (Seok Jin) commented that they need a loveline in the program. Haha then responded that he was preparing for one and Yoo said he has been thinking about Haha that he couldn’t sleep properly.
YJS, Ji (Seok Jin), Lee (Kwang Soo), Jeon So Min, Yang Se Chan – Unlucky Ones, The Ugly Tribe, Unlucky Avengers
Originally part of the Unlucky Trio, Yoo, Lee (Kwang Soo) and Ji (Seok Jin) are now joined by newcomer Yang (Se Chan) in the group Unlucky Ones. They are also sometimes referred to as The Ugly Tribe. In an episode when Jeon (So Min) was made to participate in a mission with the four, they formed the group the Unlucky Avengers.
YJS, Haha, Ji (Seok Jin), Lee (Kwang Soo), Jeon (So Min), Yang (Se Chan) – Moths
The Moths group was formed when the members were given a task to choose an exit in order to win a certain amount of money to be used for their mission. Yang (Se Chan) correctly predicted that Yoo, Lee (Kwang Soo), and Jeon (So Min) will choose exit eight which has the highest amount. He said that it’s because the three are “moths drawn to flames”.
Yoo’s official color in Running Man is green, in reference to his Grasshopper character which was revived from his earlier shows.