These past few weeks for Produce X 101 can only be described as an emotional rollercoaster. Last week, viewers witnessed the season’s first elimination round, right after seeing the boys shine (or flop) in the iconic cover performance battles the week before. It’s been a wild two weeks and the road ahead only gets bumpier, so let’s dive right in. 

Episode 4 showcased a continuation of the groups competing in the “group X battle”, as well as the final scores. Team “No More Dream” (original by BTS) received the most on-site votes, with member Kim Hyunbin (Source Music Entertainment) earning the most individual votes. The group’s prize was the opportunity to perform the cover on this week’s M!Countdown

The initial curve ball of having the trainees split into two teams to perform their selected group’s debut versus another more popular song seemed to favor the trendier songs. However, five of the round’s winning teams were for debut songs with only three being for the more recent hits. This came as a shock, as many speculated the live-voting audience would favor the newer songs, but high-ranking trainees and stellar performances turned the tide in the opposite direction. 

For Team “Trespass” (Monsta X) this certainly was the case. During their practice sessions, the team struggled with many aspects of the performance, particularly Lee Eugene (independent trainee) and Wei Ziyue (Hongyi Entertainment). Dance trainer Choi Young-joon even remarked that they were the worst team so far during their first evaluation. However, through team leader Lee Gyuhyung’s (WM Entertainment) guidance and the help of Mnet’s editing, the group was able to perform a decent recreation of the single, leading them to win over Team “Dramarama”

Team “Trespass” stands out as an example of how powerful a trainee’s popularity can be in propelling their group to success. Despite not being center or having a big role in the performance, Wei Ziyue ranked first in his group with 218 votes, greatly surpassing the amount of votes the rest of his team secured. While a distant second at 111 votes, Lee Eugene also exceeded expectations significantly. 

The success of these two trainees is reminiscent of Kwon Hyunbin from Season 2 and the controversy that arose over his high ranking in Team “Sorry Sorry” (Super Junior). He similarly struggled during practices, with team leader Kim Jonghyun (NU’EST’s JR) investing a lot of time into his success. In the end, he ranked first in his group largely due to a favorable edit from earlier episodes and his position as a model under YGKPlus. To see Mnet fall into this pattern once again is a disheartening reminder that, no matter how hard we see these trainees struggle behind the scenes, Mnet plays a singular role in how they’re portrayed. While any successful survival show thrives on drama and editing, there’s a thin line between capturing what happened and creating a narrative where there clearly isn’t one. 

This difference is showcased best with Team “Girls Girls Girls” (Got7) and Team “Energetic” (Wanna One). In “Energetic” Anzardi Timothee (ESteem Entertainment) was portrayed as lazy and uncooperative during training, but he later revealed to the team that he was coming to practice directly after his grandmother’s funeral. By casting the trainee in such a negative light without any initial context, it possibly influenced his subsequent elimination in episode 5. The “Girls Girls Girls” team expressed frustration towards Kim Hyeongmin (Kiwi Media Group) for not wanting to perform the song. He was later shown to be in brighter spirits during practice, but the frank reason for his earlier behavior definitely didn’t do him any favors. He was also eliminated after coming in at #90. 

Debatable team victories and failures aside, there were a few performances that stood out from the pack. After being given a second chance to perform after microphone issues, Team “Lullaby”’s stage featured fun adlibs (“It’s Baekjin time!” is an instant classic) and exciting choreography that made the song their own. Team “Clap” (Seventeen) and “Dramarama” also delivered intensely charismatic performances that felt natural and had a highly professional quality. 

After these stages left fans on a high note, episode 5 brought everyone back to the crushing reality of survival shows: the first elimination round. With only trainees ranked 1–60 continuing to the next round, this episode said goodbye to over one-third of this season’s hopefuls.

The emotional rank announcements were interspersed, as always, with Produce 101’s trademark segments — the wake-up call, the confession room turned ghost room, the arm wrestling competition, and a few other light-hearted moments to break up the onslaught of tears. While these shorts did their job at providing a bit of comic relief or insight into what the trainees were thinking, it was ultimately boring to see Mnet continue remaking tired tropes. The editing style of the confession/ghost room has followed the same formula season after season, making it repetitive and tiresome. While some might consider the reuse of segments nostalgic at this point, it would be refreshing in future seasons to see another side of the trainees before their goodbyes. 

Beyond the tired segments, it appears that this season’s featured X class, which provided specialized training to less experienced trainees to level out the competition, had the desired effect. As of episode 5, three of the top 10 trainees were initially ranked X, one of whom only leveled up to F after re-evaluation. As the initial goal of X class was to help the trainees be on par with their peers, it appears the plan was effective. A majority of X trainees ranked up to F class and, according to an analysis by a Reddit user, 63.63% of F class trainees made it through elimination. This class was second only to A class’ success rate, which speaks to the success of the program. 

The unveiling of the first conclusive ranking has already painted a picture in many fan’s minds of who might make the final group. However, judging from the many last-minute change-ups in past seasons, it’s still too soon to be certain. It’s impossible to forget season 2 hopefuls JR and Kim Samuel, two trainees who had ranked consistently in the top 20 and top 11 all season before getting cut in the final episode. Despite their name recognition as previously-debuted idols, it still wasn’t enough to propel them to the final group, and that trajectory could spell trouble for this season as well.

Myteen’s Song Yuvin (The Music Works) and Up10tion’s Kim Wooseok (TOP Media) were highlighted in episode one as noteworthy idols, and are both currently ranked in the top 10. Only time will tell if they’ll be a repeat of history, or if they’ll survive to the end. While the trainees this season have successfully leaped over their first major hurdle, the boys still have a long path to debut ahead of them. 

(Sources: YouTube. Reddit, Produce X 101 Official Page. Images via Mnet.)