When we saw the trailer for Netflix’s new reality series “Physical 100,” we couldn’t help but compare it to “Squid Game.” The setting, the number of participants, the obnoxious prize of 300 million won, and the constant voiceover saying that “it’s okay to kill” immediately alerted our minds to the similarity. It turns out that some of the participants felt the same way, as they kept mentioning when they got to Task 0. The first half hour of the first episode, titled “The Pecking Order,” was just the introduction of the participants. Korean reality shows are a genre of their own. They are very careful to be politically correct, yet they manage to say some of the most ‘nails on blackboard’ cringe things.
We are under no illusion that the show isn’t scripted. But when the men introduce themselves, they state their reasons for coming onto the show as an opportunity to prove how good they are, while the first woman to enter the room claims she is there to see which other woman has a prettier body than her. Of course, it is a non-Korean perspective that is looking at the sexism of it. But that hasn’t stopped us from getting hooked. Through this first half hour, we cannot help but think how spending so long on just the introductions, in a reality show from any other demographic, wouldn’t have kept us this interested. Yet, the tongue-in-cheek confidence and the rather politely aggressive way of assessing your competitors had us grinning from ear to ear. One character who really caught our attention is Florian. He is German but “a Korean at heart.” We were convinced of that when we heard his jokes. “We can’t beat him in this life but will try in the next” is such a Korean or East Asian thing to say that we couldn’t help smiling at this man who seemed to have found a home in a different land. More than that, it was the “whoa” that convinced us. It is a distinctly Korean habit; if we are not wrong, something they say when they are in awe of something or are surprised. Florian had his “whoas” down to a pat.
As for the rest of the contestants, each one of them had to stand next to a bust of their torso. As a person not too fond of the gym, looking at people who have spent a lifetime having protein shakes with their meals, identifying their busts before reading the name on it was a bit disorienting. One thing we can say is that the episodes get more and more shirtless as they go. For the first task, the participants had to hang in the air for as long as they could. Once they were all there, it was so “Squid Gamesque” the way the floor opened up to show the pool underneath. The purpose of this game was to gain privileges for the next one. We won’t lie, but our arms started getting tired just looking at them. As the contestants kept giving up and falling into the water, it became evident that it was turning into a battle of wills instead of strength. We must appreciate the woman who came third. She really held out until the end. We had a feeling that her strategy of using the strength of her leg inspired other contestants as well. It would have really been something if she had won. Of the two participants left, Yak Seon and Kyeong Baek, the former was clearly the favorite. The cameras and the participants all seemed to be rooting for him. He was an Olympic gymnast, and his victory seemed inevitable, but lo and behold, it was Kyeong Baek, the UTD officer who simply said that he had been hanging off things during his job, who won this round. It came down to which of the two was more stubborn.
“Physical 100” reality show really knows how to rub one’s loss in their face. The top 50 people are made to stand on a higher platform than the others. The losers are obviously waiting for them and wonder whether they should “woah” when they arrive on the stage. They actually made that sound, and we rolled our eyes so hard it was a workout of its own. The winners were allowed to pick an opponent and arena of their choice for the next task, which was a one-on-one game. We were surprised to catch a glimpse of Cha Hyun Seung. Remember him from “Single’s Inferno” Season 1? He was the guy everyone thought Ji A would choose, but the queen had different thoughts. People obviously recognized him, and as it turns out, they are calling him “Netflix’s son.” Either way, he was clearly not the crowd favourite, though he emerged as the winner of the first round.
“Physical 100” is so mean to its participants in the way the series makes the loser break their own bust while leaving. As for the fights, while the first was aggressive, the second one had us in splits. One of the opponents was the choreographer for the zombie scenes in “The Kingdom” and “Hellbound,” and the way he moved across the arena had everyone cheering for him. Even when he lost, he was clearly the winner. His opponent, Hak Seon, probably sensed that, which pushed both of them into a battle of the somersaults to prove who had greater physical prowess. It would have been so much fun if Young could have been around for the other games as well. As for the next match between Shin Bo Mi Rae and Choi Hyun Mi, we actually felt bad about the result. It was just one of those unexplainable things that defied logic. When Bo Mi Rae said that she could beat Choi Hyun Mi, was it really as “chilling” as one of the other contestants said, or was it cringe-worthy?
We understand that trash-talking your opponents is part of the game, but this one felt very off. Also, why was Hyun Mi so surprised that Bo Mi Rae got to the ball first when she was the one to approach it so slowly? Either way, they were not fighting to win the round but were genuinely fighting against each other. It felt like a personal rivalry, and our hearts hurt for Hyun Mi when she had to break her bust. Another interesting fight was the one between Ha Je Young and In Jeong Yun. We genuinely believed it was over the moment the younger boy fumbled and lost the ball, but there is merit to not giving up and persevering with a calm head, which led him to his victory. Now, as we wait for the next episode to find out who won the next round between Agent H and Seol Ki Kwan, we can’t help but wonder why they made the trailer of this reality show so boring. We were really not expecting to be entertained when we started watching the series, but it has been amazing so far. However, we cannot wait to get to the part where the physical aggression starts seeping into their interactions with each other. It is certainly going to be fun to watch how a sore loser might struggle to be polite. That will make us believe that we have achieved our own sort of victory while gaining enough encouragement to wait for more episodes.
See More: ‘Physical 100’ Episodes 3 And 4: Review – Is It Losing Strength As It Moves Ahead?