Forget games, competitions, and prizes. Healing shows are the new in-thing and the cast of New Journey to the West have hopped on this bandwagon with Spring Camp, a spin-off of New Journey to the West sans the crazy games, missions, and concepts.
The goal is simple: to relax and enjoy camping. But here’s the catch. Na Young-seok PD (Na PD) devises the idea of “Single camping”, where the six (later, seven) members are divided into two teams each trip, with each camping at a different location. A chosen captain from the respective team will be responsible for planning the trip, from buying the camping equipment to the food. Thankfully, this rule does not hinder the show much other than in the first episode, where captains Mino and Eun Ji-won struggled to buy the appropriate equipment. Each week consists of two episodes, 30 minutes each, one for each team. Watching the teams back to back reveals the members’ drastically different camping styles and personalities. For one, in its first instalment, the younger members, led by Mino, extravagantly overpacked while the older members, led by Ji-won, packed adequately.
While chaos and mishaps evoke slight frustration for the cast, it draws laughter from the viewers. Having worked together for years, chemistry is never a problem. Even Ahn Jae-hyun, who was away for two years, blends in smoothly right after. With the absence of nonsensical games, the cast remains mostly composed. Yet, they still stay true to their familiar characters portrayed on New Journey to the West — Kang Ho-dong, the foodie, Lee Su-geun, the joy of the party, Eun Ji-won, the childish Eun choding (Kid Eun), Kyuhyun, the non-confrontational yet emotional ballader, Ahn Jae-hyun, the “new crazy”, P.O., the one who cooks, and Mino, the fashionable one. With each member having a unique relationship with one another, it never fails to turn humorous and sometimes, even touching.
The cast worked so well together that they did not need Na PD’s games to evoke laughter. Instead, the show focuses on passing comments, like when Su-geun casually mentioned marriage before retracting his words upon realising that it was a sensitive topic for Ji-won and Jae-hyun.
Brotherhood takes centre stage in Spring Camp as viewers are treated to the cast’s bond with one another that is not often spotlighted on New Journey to the West. One being Kyuhyun and Ji-won’s friendship, otherwise ironically known as “Choeunsai” (good relationship). Avid New Journey to the West viewers may recall that Kyuhyun and Eun Ji-won had a long yet uselessly intense debate in the show’s last season. Here, Spring Camp especially spotlights their polar opposite characters when they were put together. With their differences and constant bickering, Choeunsai’s inability to work harmoniously shines when they fail to cook spicy braised chicken, much to the amusement of others.
Similarly with Ho-dong (the oldest member) and Mino and P.O. (the youngest members), where he failed to understand the minds of the youngsters. While the latter two were initially unable to keep up with Ho-dong’s shocking eating habits, they eventually bonded over food and alcohol.
Of course, it is not camping without food. Food plays a big part in Spring Camp. Unlike their other spin-offs like Kang’s Kitchen, the cast does not have much to do other than enjoy themselves. And for Ho-dong the foodie, this means eating non-stop. He unsurprisingly ate for hours and even confessed multiple times that he is not yet full. In which thereafter, he nonchalantly declared that he had eaten 16 meals in just under a few hours.
Cooking while camping is no easy feat. While some whip up quick meals, P.O. took the time to barbecue a whole slab of pork upon Mino’s request, flipping it every ten minutes for five hours. When food is involved, the simple camping staple, ramen, cannot be forgotten. It is eaten every episode and often paired with barbecued meat. With the slow-motion shots and zoom-ins on the food, the only downside is feeling hungry from watching them eat with gusto every episode.
One of the show’s highlights concerns Jae-hyun’s unexpected appearance. His appearance was a surprise to the cast, as the staff and Jae-hyun himself kept their lips sealed till he made his appearance. While fans and the members await his return, their warm welcome immediately melted the hearts of the viewers. On top of that, they made sure he was comfortable enough due to his long hiatus, with Su-geun repeatedly assuring him that he should “do whatever that makes [him] happy”. And what is camping without the heart-to-heart talk? As the night deepens and with alcohol at hand, the younger members gather around Jae-hyun and pour their hearts out. More than anyone, the members truly missed having him around.
With the “new crazy” back in town, the peak of Spring Camp is definitely his poor participation in the no-English footvolley game. While the other members struggle with refraining from using common English words like “Okay”, “My ball” and “Out”, Jae-hyun, on the other hand, struggles with using his body. He brings the most laughter with his unintentional antics, tripping over his long limbs and most times, tripping over nothing. Like on New Journey to the West, his awkwardness unexpectedly makes him shine. Even Mino confesses that he is wary of his possible lack of screen time due to how Jae-hyun commands everyone’s attention with his clumsiness.
With nothing to do other than cooking, the pace is rather consistent. In fact, the merit of Na PD is that he lets the cast take the reins. They want to cook? Sure. Ho-dong wants to eat for hours? Of course. Mino wants to turn in early? Go ahead. Ho-dong wants something sweet? The staff will look for something to satisfy his cravings. The members want to play footvolley? No problem, the staff will provide the ball and even offer the winning team a prize.
While Spring Camp lacks Na PD’s usual intense and nonsensical games, the cast still manages to unexpectedly bring out their funny antics. Coupled with Na PD’s signature editing style, Spring Camp is familiar yet different. And if anything, the show emphasises the importance of cast chemistry where they can turn otherwise mundane tasks into something exciting.