The eighth season of Mnet’s Show Me The Money ended last Friday, crowning a winner after whittling down over 16,000 applicants over the course of ten episodes. While last year’s Show Me The Money 777 refreshed the aging format with new gimmicks and a more wholesome tone, this year’s season has felt lacklustre from beginning to end.

Genuinely impressive talents have been few and far between, and the show’s editing and format felt rushed and lazy. Overall, SMTM8 has seemed somewhat hollow and shallow compared to past seasons; it lacks the heart-warming brotherhood of SMTM777, the legendary judges of SMTM6, the international crossover of SMTM5 and the dramatic reality TV moments of SMTM4.

Still, it’s had its fair share of great performances, contributed mostly by the show’s most elite contestants, Young B, EK, Punchnello and Seo Dong-hyun a.k.a. Big Naughty. The former three are veterans of the SMTM game, having all appeared at least once before, while the latter is undoubtedly the best diamond-in-the-rough discovery of this season. Every year has brought at least one new unknown talent to the light, and Big Naughty’s genuinely refreshing style has been a real highlight of this year’s competition.

We won’t spoil the ending, but in case you don’t have time to catch up on the whole season, here’s a list of highlights from episodes 5 to 10 that are worth watching:

1. 40 Crew – “Fill It Up” ft. Yumdda & pH-1

As part of the crew battle in episode 5, each producing team performed a new original song. While 40 Crew (consisting of Boycold, Swings, Mad Clown and Kid Milli) were on a losing streak and would continue to be throughout the show, on this one they managed to win against BGM-v (BewhY, Verbal Jint, Giriboy and Millic). Their song “Fill It Up”, produced by Boycold featuring Yumdda and pH-1, would prove to be a chart hit (and perhaps the best song to come out of this season), while BGM-v’s “Too Loud” unfortunately lacked the earworm quality needed to charm audiences.

2. Diss Battle

Now a long-time tradition of the show, this round gives each rapper a chance to have a no-holds-barred diss battle with someone from the opposing team, leading to some fiery face-offs and consistently good TV. This year didn’t match up to previous years, but it was still entertaining to see Punchnello and Jjangyou roast Yunhway for her pitiful second-round performance as she impressively holds her own against the two men, while Young B and YunB’s “battle of the B’s” was probably the most intense match of the night.

3. Big Naughty

Dark horse Big Naughty climbed his way up the ranks of the competition with ease, his cheeky schoolboy attitude and easy-listening rap charming audiences at home. His signature husky voice and melodic singing kept his style distinctive throughout the show, and he made it to the top four despite being a complete unknown. His song “Problem”, featuring Coogie, is a chart-friendly track combining cute pop with hip-hop, but for those doubting his ability to rap, his verse on the SMTM teenage cypher “Sick” may convince you otherwise.

4. EK

One of the favourites to win alongside Young B and Punchnello, EK was unfortunately eliminated in the semi-final after an unlucky opponent matchup. His song “Diablo” featuring Justhis recreated the dark, sinister atmosphere established with last year’s “GOD GOD GOD”, with EK claiming to be the “rap devil” as he bathes in red light. It didn’t feel quite as polished as the latter, though, and the style overlapped a little with SMTM777 winner Nafla’s “Bite”. EK’s rap was also somewhat outshined by Justhis’ unusual tone and flow. Still, it was an impressive stage which proved why he was a favourite to win, and it was a shame he couldn’t make top four.

5. Young B

As a previous SMTM participant and winner of High School Rapper, Young B cruised through the first half of the competition, and his experience and confidence meant that he never made any mistakes on stage. Even with his prowess, the 20-year-old still managed to level up through the course of the show, delivering a great and unusually melodic verse on his collaboration song with YunB, “Truman Show”. Meanwhile, more hip-hop-oriented fans might prefer his semi-final performance for “Sold Out”, where he professes that the last of his innocence is now “sold out”.

6. Punchnello

Yet another strong player, Punchnello had a rockier ride in the show, making critical stage mistakes that nearly cost him his place in the final. He made it, however, and with the support of uber-talented producer BewhY delivered a stomping rap-rock performance for the semi-final with his song “Magma”. Featuring Season 6 winner Hangzoo, it was one of the most energetic performances of the night, and that energy convinced audiences to vote him into the final.

7. Ahn Byung-woong x Chillin’ Homie x The Quiett – “Let It Burn”

Another dark horse and high-schooler, Ahn Byung-woong came up out of nowhere with his distinctive high tone and mature boom-bap flow, but unfortunately, he was eliminated before the live stages. Mnet clearly recognised his popularity with the audience, however, and decided to bring him back as well as Chillin’ Homie, who was eliminated in the diss battle, for a special stage in the live final with long-time judge, The Quiett. As contestants with real potential, it was good to see them back on the stage, and it was indeed one of the more enjoyable performances of the night.

While this season has been one of the weakest so far, it has had its highlights, thanks mostly to a handful of talented contestants. On the surface, it seemed like it was following the same format as usual, but an excess of complicated rules made the elimination process confusing. To make things worse, the speed with which they raced through less significant rounds–in which as few as one contestant might be eliminated– killed any tension or suspense. With the success of the seventh season, it seems they underestimated how boring an eighth season might be and took fewer risks this time around. As complaints that this has been the worst season yet flood in, it might be time for Show Me The Money to take a well-deserved break.

(YouTube [1]. Images via Mnet.)