Active in Variety Shows and Reality Shows
KBS2’s Happy Together Season 2 marked Lee Soo-geun’s first appearance in a variety show. He started appearing as a regular cast member in episode 54 that aired on May 11th, 2006. Other cast members were Yoo jae-suk, Lee Hyori, and Eugene. His appearances lasted 50 episodes and his last episode was aired on April 26th, 2007
Lee Soo-geun gained more popularity after appearing in hit variety show 1 Night 2 Days (henceforth 1N2D). The concept of 1N2D is fun traveling with friends and visiting less known travel destinations throughout Korea. He joined the show in the premiere episode that was aired on August 5th, 2007. He left the show at the end of Season 2 in November 2013, having participated for more than six years.
Regular members of the first season were Kang Ho-dong, Lee Soo-geun, Kim Jong-min, Eun Ji-won, Noh Hong-chul, and Ji Sang ryul . In 1N2D, Lee Soo Geun was famous as the hardest working member. He was responsible as the regular member’s main driver because he has a driving instructor license. He was famous among the members for his athleticism and funny jokes.
The year of 2017 was his best year. He participated in around 16 variety shows, making him one of the busiest TV hosts at the time. Among those variety shows, only 4 programs were continued and extended.
Although he has appeared in many variety shows and is known for his funny comments, he has some apparent weaknesses as well. When he would participate as the main host, his variety show would fail badly within several months. As the main host, he usually got paired with a junior host, for example, Jun Hyun-mu or a new face that has less experience. The new host would not be able to follow up on his jokes or joke hints or wouldn’t be able to give him any material for him to make a joke. The production staff had to cast him as a supporting host for the main host. Just like he supports Kang Ho-dong as the main host of jTBC’s Knowing Bros. It is one of the reasons for the success of tvN’s New Journey to the West, KBS2’s 1N2D, and tvN’s Kang’s Kitchen.
When his popularity increased in 2005, Lee Soo-geun and his manager were accused of a sexual assault. He and his manager met a girl in an adult game room. They went out drinking beer at a nearby restaurant. They went to the girl’s house and had another round of drinks. The girl accused both men of sexual assault while they were sleeping in her house. From investigation and trial, it was revealed that both men had slept with the girl and the manager was found guilty of a sexual assault.
In December 2010, keen viewers spotted a glimpse of Lee Soo-geun smoking while shooting 2 Days 1 Night. In a previous episode, another member, MC Mong, was also seen smoking during filming. Viewers criticized the production staff from broadcasting scenes of the members smoking on air. Since the program was aired nationwide and was watched by kids, the viewers asked the producer to pay closer attention during editing. Not so long after, representatives of the 2 Days 1 Night apologized to the viewers for showing the scene.
In early 2013, senior comedian Kim Young-man was arrested for illegal gambling. His arrest led to an investigation involving several other Korean celebrities, Lee Soo-geun was one of them. From the investigation, it was revealed that Lee Soo-geun bet around 370 million KRW on illegal sports gambling. He placed a bet on the result of a football match between top league teams in the United Kingdom through an internet website and cell phone message. He was gambling from February 2008 to April 2011.
Other celebrities involved in the scandal were H.O.T member Tony Ahn, TV personality Tak jae-hoon, MC Boom, Sinhwa’s member Andy, comedian Yang Sae-hyung
During the final trial in early December 2013, Lee Soo-geun, Tak Jae-hoon, and Tony Ahn admitted the charges and cooperated during the trial. Lee Soo-geun showed up in public trial and begged for mercy. The prosecution attorney demanded eight months prison sentence for Lee Soo-geun and two years of probation, 10 months prison sentence for Tony Ahn, and six months prison sentence for Tak Jae-hoon.
On December 27th, 2013, chief judge of Seoul Central District Court sentenced Lee Soo-geun to six months of prison, while Tak Jae-hoon and Tony Ahn were suspended for one year.
Boom, Andy, and Yang Sae-hyun were charged with a fine of three to five million won because they gambled a smaller amount of money.
Due to the scandal, Lee Soo-geun and other celebrities were banned from appearing on KBS and MBC.
More problems kept mounting up for Lee Soo-geun. On April 3rd, 2014, a car product manufacturer sued him for as much as $1.8 million USD after his gambling scandal surfaced to the public. The company stated that Lee Soo-geun, the commercial ambassador of their product, damaged their brand image by participating in illegal gambling.
Due to his damaged public image, the company couldn’t use the advertisement that he appeared in. The sum included payment already delivered to him, a fee for producing the ads and additional fees to produce the new advertisement. Lee Soo-geun’s company, SM C&C stated that their legal team managed. On January 28th, 2015, the court ordered him to compensate around $0.6 million USD to the company.
After the trial, Lee Soo-geun decided to go on a long hiatus to reflect on his wrongdoing.
Recently, in November 2019, a Congressman of the Democratic Party of Korea sent a revised bill in motion. According to the revised bill, Broadcasters are prohibited from casting celebrities with criminal records. If the bill is passed, Lee Soo-geun and other celebrities will be prohibited from appearing in any broadcast.
Returning As An Entertainer
During his long hiatus and self-reflection, Lee Soo-geun worked as a waiter in his brother’s restaurant. A reporter interviewed him after finishing his work. He said that he was still reflecting on his mistakes and was spending time with family.
Lee Soo-geun and other celebrities involved in illegal gambling went through a similar route before appearing in major TV stations. Commonly, the celebrity started appearing in internet channels, moving to cable TV and finally returning to a major terrestrial TV station.
In January 2015, Lee Soo-geun joined a personal channel aired on an internet channel, Afreeca TV. The channel was owned by a professional Starcraft player, Han Min-gwan. Lee Soo-geun contacted him and told him that he likes to play Starcraft and he is a fan of Han Min-gwan. Han Min-gwan invited him to team up against another team and broadcast the event through his Starcraft channel. It was the first public appearance of Lee Soo-geun after his gambling scandal.
Lee Soo-geun was invited to host a Buddhist event in Busan on January 25th, 2015. Through Buddhist online media, he said that he plans to make a comeback in March 2015.
After self-reflecting for one and a half years, Lee Soo-geun appeared on paid cable TV, tvN’s SNL Korea, a Korean version of the popular comedy show Saturday Night Live. At the time, his best friend, comedian Kim Byoung-man featured on the show. It seemed that he used his close friendship with Kim Byoung-man to ease his appearance on the TV station. His surprise appearance was broadcast on May 16th, 2015. tvN’s SNL Korea is a preferred route for troublemaker celebrities to ease their appearance on television.
On June 1st, 2015, he finally made a full comeback by hosting KBSN Sports’s Jukbang Legend, a billiard game variety show. He and other cast members: professional billiard athlete Cha Yu-ram, baseball announcer Jong In-young, traveled around Korea and challenged normal people to play billiard games. If the challengers won the game, they would receive 10 million KRW. Lee Soo-geun himself is famous for his billiard skills and his skills’ level is similar to that of professional players.
Three of the most popular terrestrial TV stations: KBS, MBC, and SBS, removed Lee Soo-geun’s ban from their programs in 2016. It appeared that variety show programs lacked talented MCs and they desperately reused problematic but talented celebrities to support their programs.