Love or money?

This is the question that the ten participants on reality show Love Catcher must ultimately face. While the program has many similarities with other dating shows as the cast members all live together and try to find true love, the Love Catcher series tends to feel more like a psychological mind game than a romance drama. And its fourth installment, Love Catcher in Bali, is no different.

The rules are fairly straightforward. Everyone is given the chance to choose their secret identity at the beginning of the show, deciding whether to be a Love Catcher or a Money Catcher. After getting to know the other participants and hopefully finding a partner by the end of their week-long stay, Love Catchers who match with another Love Catcher succeed at finding love. But, if a Love Catcher pairs with a Money Catcher, they’re left broken-hearted as the Money Catcher walks away with a cash prize of 50 million KRW. And if two Money Catchers are partnered up, they lose both love and money. Unofficially, everyone is also given one chance to change their identity before the final decision as shown in previous seasons.

Though these rules are basically the exact same as previous seasons, it’s still very thrilling to see the intertwined relationships of all the cast members especially when there’s a shadow of doubt in almost every interaction.

This isn’t to say that the production team didn’t add any new segments. In fact, the format for Love Catcher in Bali is notably different from its predecessors with the show taking place on the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia. Considering this is the first time the series has been filmed overseas, it’s easy to imagine this season being the grandest and most lavish. But while the scenery of Bali is utterly breathtaking, the activities that the participants can do feel very restricted and make the first half of the show quite slow-paced.

Note: The following review contains spoilers.

After the cast settle into their lodging, romantically dubbed the ‘Love Mansion,’ the participants are sent on a photoshoot date the next day. At this time, latecomer Kwak Tae-hyeok has yet to make his appearance, so there are only nine contestants present. It’s impossible to form even pairs like this so instead, the cast members do the photoshoot in groups of three. Although there’s plenty of sweet and heart-fluttering moments as they do various couple poses, it’s inevitable that one member of each group would feel a bit left out.

Strangely, even after Tae-hyeok enters the Love Mansion, the participants still get separated in odd-numbered groups on day four for their group activity date. Here, the cast are given two choices: snorkeling or canoeing through a mangrove forest. They’re divided into two groups of five and like the photoshoot date, someone in each group feels excluded as a matter of course. This is especially distressing for Hong Seung-yeon who finds herself with an unrequited crush on Kim-Yoon Soo-ro while the latter has his eyes set on Choi Tae-eun. Unsurprisingly, Soo-ro chooses Tae-eun as his canoeing partner. And after Tae-hyeok picks Lee Yu-jeong, Seung-yeon is left to ride a canoe alone. Perhaps this is the production crew’s plan to stir up drama or less likely, a massive oversight. Either way, it’s disheartening for viewers to see someone be constantly left behind.

On the other side with the snorkeling team, Jo Seong-beom is the one being left alone. His exclusion is a bit more bearable and compelling as he’s part of a love triangle with Hwang Soo-ji and Park Yong-ho which gets most of the screen time for the first few episodes.

Because the production team is having the participants do group activities instead of one-on-one dates as most would expect from a dating show, it’s more difficult for the cast to form romantic connections. And with the time frame being extremely short at only seven to eight days, every moment counts.

The production crew even wastes a day by separating the cast on day three, sending the male contestants to go surfing in the sea and the female contestants to take a healing yoga class. With this setup, the show occasionally feels more like a travel program than a dating one.

Besides the romance between Tae-eun and Soo-ro and the love triangle with Seong-beom, Soo-ji, and Yong-ho, the first half of the show doesn’t offer much else in terms of romantic relationships.

A new segment called ‘Secret Night’ creates some intrigue early on in which hosts (Money Catchers) can invite other participants to partake in a secret conversation without revealing their identity. But, this segment doesn’t appear again until we’re already halfway through the show. As a result, the structure for episodes 1–4 feel really sluggish and disorganized.

It’s not until day five, when we have the first one-on-one dates, that the pace picks up exceptionally. Though not everyone gets their desired partner for their ‘Signal Date,’ it’s interesting to see the chemistry with pairs that haven’t been shown as much such as Yong-ho and Kim Hyo-jin as well as Yu-jeong and Park Jung-hyun.

Several new love triangles begin to take shape, interweaving their relationships into a complicated web. And just when things are starting to become more engaging, it’s already the end of the week. Strapped for time, the contestants must prepare for the finale after only a single one-on-one date.

But even though this predicament is disappointing, the production team lays a lot of groundwork to fill the final episodes with suspense and uncertainty. Once the second Secret Night with Seung-yeon is finished, it’s revealed that the Money Catcher behind it is actually Tae-eun. Up until this point, Tae-eun and Soo-ro seemed like the most stable couple as they openly showed their affection for one another. And though Tae-eun confesses that she wants to change her identity to be a Love Catcher, there’s still a seed of doubt that makes the pair’s outcome difficult to predict.

Another Money Catcher is uncovered as the cast play the ‘Countdown Truth Game’ where they can candidly ask questions to others in a relay format. The last question is already predetermined: “What is your identity?” Unfortunately for Jung-hyun, Tae-hyeok is given the chance to ask the final question and chooses Jung-hyun as he knows about Yu-jeong’s feelings for him. Jung-hyun has no choice but to tell his identity in front of everyone, and this confession helps the finale get under way. Not only are the participants focused on partnering with the person they like, but they must also trust that said person is a sincere Love Catcher or else they’ll end up heartbroken.

‘Final Days,’ another new segment, is when the contestants make their final decision on a partner by giving them a ring. Those who succeed at exchanging rings get the opportunity to go on a special two-day trip as a couple. And cast members who don’t have a partner are meant to officially exit the Love Mansion on the same day.

In many dating programs, the final couples getting together is the most climatic part. With Love Catcher, it’s what comes after confirming the final couples that is the most riveting. Without knowing who’s a Love Catcher and who’s a Money Catcher, the two-day trip is incredibly gripping. While they enjoy their time together, one person from each couple gets the chance to secretly check the identity of their partner. And the next day, they’re allowed to change their identity right before the final reveal. These new elements bring about a complicated mix of emotions for both participants and viewers alike. There’s joy with a great deal of lovey-dovey moments, worry that someone might be a Money Catcher, and shock at the ending with all identities unveiled.

Taking everything into account, despite its shaky start, Love Catcher in Bali is a fun and dramatic watch. The cast members were enjoyable and managed to shine even with the poorly organized schedule. It may not be the most romantic dating reality show, but its psychological game is highly engrossing and will have viewers at the edge of their seats as the finale approaches. Though some new ideas missed the mark here, with further refining and organizing, they could be great additions for the next season that will hopefully be just as or even more thrilling than Love Catcher in Bali.

(YouTube. Images via TVING.)