When I first noticed the Korean show Physical: 100 on Netflix, I was intrigued. It reminded me of The Shape of an Athlete, Howard Schatz’s amazing photographs of the wide range of athletic body types across diverse Olympic sports, from his book, Athlete.
Not only did it remind me of that, but I am a fan of Korean tv and I am a fan of competition shows (okay, mostly baking and cooking, but back in the early-90s I did name one of my first cats after an American Gladiator named Storm). Since I’d just finished Snack vs Chef and I like having one reality tv competition show on the go to dip in and out of, Physical: 100 seemed worth a try.
Physical: 100 starts with 100 of the fittest athletes in Korea (who are mostly Korean, but there are a few foreigners in the mix), from diverse sports and sectors. From an Olympic gold medalist to an extreme rescue worker, an MMA champion, boxers, body builders, fitness influencers, dancers, cheerleaders and martial artists, men and women, the diversity of strong and fit bodies is most definitely represented.
Watching them all enter the room in episode one and find their “torso” among the room full of plaster cast statues of each of their torsos was way more interesting than it sounds. Each time someone new came in they were all in awe. And though they all turn out to be super competitive, they also have a next level culture of respect that is nicely captured in those opening scenes.
Over the course of nine episodes there will be five challenges, with one person standing by the end. They win 300 million Korean Won (or just over $315,000 Canadian). They start with a pre-challenge to see how long they can hang suspended high in the air from a bar. the winner of that challenge gets a “benefit” (I haven’t seen enough to know what that means).
The hanging challenge was kind of interesting, seeing who could hang on and who dropped and when. But they divided into two groups of 50 and it spanned two episodes. Part of the intrigue is watching the people who are out of the game (because they dropped) react to the people who are still in.
The first actual elimination challenge sees 50/100 go home. It involves one to one combat, where the top 50 from the hanging challenge get to choose their opponent and the “arena” for the game — either an astroturf area with some obstacles and equipment, or a dirt patch with a muddy pool in the middle. The point of the game is simple, after three minutes in the ring, the person holding the ball (a large medicine ball type thing) wins. The loser has to smash their plaster torso and go home.
So it was this first challenge where they lost me, mostly because it’s just not interesting enough of a game for me to want to watch very many iterations of it. And also there just seemed to be more fighting than was necessary (though perhaps I underestimate how hard it would be to hang onto a ball and keep it for three minutes). Even with the added intrigue of who chose whom, interviews with the competitors in each match to hear what was going through their heads, and the other contestants watching and reacting as spectators, I got bored before the end of the second episode. The same game was going to spill over into the third and I just couldn’t.
Probably as an author for a feminist fitness blog I should have more to say of a critical nature than “I got bored.” I assume that the subsequent challenges will challenge them in different ways, where different bodies will face different advantages and disadvantages depending on what the challenge is. I also like that there is gender-diversity and the contestants challenge stereotypes, with some extremely hefty women bodybuilders, some small slight men, and some more androgynous athletes. I can’t say for sure that anyone identifies as non-binary, but many of the contestants defy gender-stereotypes.
I may go back to it at some point, but there is a lot of streaming content available these days. And right now, at the end of a long day the Australian dessert competition, Zumbo’s Just Desserts is winning out over Physical: 100.