‘Physical: 100’ Season 2 Episodes 1-4 Recap & Review: What’s So Underground About It?

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“I’m sure nobody’s died from running,” says one of the contestants at the end of episode 1 of season 2 of one of Korea’s top-viewed reality shows, Physical: 100. (Scratches head and wonders what I’ve been signed up for.) As someone who had never heard of Physical: 100 until a day ago, when I was told I’d have to watch the highly anticipated second season of the Korean reality show, I’m left wondering what exactly got viewers so obsessed with 100 ripped people trying to sweat it out in a survival game of kill or be killed. No, don’t get me wrong, it does seem to be quite an arduous reality show, but why does it have you in a chokehold like the MMA moves some of these participants are using? I suppose I have the answer after watching four episodes, but I will not be a part of this madness. I’d much rather watch these physical beasts face off in stand-up comedy or improv sessions than see them kill themselves for the sake of ego and, of course, a ton of money. See, Physical: 100 is a show that brings 100 people from different walks of life together, all of whom have an ardent love for their physicality and strive to be the fittest in a world filled with the fit. My first question is, why is it called Physical: 100, when in about one episode, 50 people are eliminated from the show? I was expecting a battle between 100 people from start to finish. But alas, it simply starts with a 100, then quickly slashes it down to a number where you can slowly start recognizing people. 

Physical: 100 season 2 brings together 100 people who aren’t simply strong in appearance but also feel it in every cell of their body. These are not only athletes, models, or professional bodybuilders; they’re also CEOs, ballet dancers (yeah), actors, and more who will fight till the death to win the title of best physique. I can’t believe I spent one hour watching 100 people run on treadmills, but here I am. Season 2 begins with 100 white and pristine-looking ceramic torsos of the many participants coming to compete this time around. I suppose the dark tone of the show, reminiscent of Korea’s very own “Squid Game,” adds to the adrenaline-pumping excitement of watching people (mostly men) sweat and pull at each other until they’re left bleeding and bruised. As the participants walk in and see each other’s torsos, they dramatically exclaim how excited and afraid they are to be a part of what seems like the most important show ever. The rules are simple: you win, you go up, you lose, you get eliminated, and you destroy your torso (ah, the pain). Can you imagine my plight when I found out that the treadmill round was simply a warmup?! 

Of course, you can imagine these humans are beautiful, glistening every time they’re tasked with getting into the field. As they remove their uniformed jerseys, you see bricks and stone-like muscles that are absolutely indestructible. Now that there are so many participants, it’s really hard to keep track of who’s who. However, there are definitely some standouts, like a swimmer and a weightlifter (both female) who is 150cm high, or national athletes that everyone is a fan of. As an outsider, I found it especially hard to keep up, and I added to that my lack of interest in the show to begin with. Still, I will not lie; some of these competitions had me squealing in my seat as well. After the warmup, the top 50 participants get to choose who they’re competing with in a one-on-one challenge. The first of many. There are 3 arenas for round 1, one’s got water, one looks like an MMA ring, and one’s for the people who can run around and use their agility. In this round, you slowly start to figure out who is playing and who you want to side with, but don’t do it just yet because it’s like they’re going to be gone in about half an hour, smashing through their own torsos, you know, the sculpted ones. 

The most shocking of the lot is when a woman MMA fighter named Yu-Ri chooses a man, an FBI diplomat (I know!), to compete against and then proceeds to win. I suppose it’s the celebrity of it all that makes it so entertaining. There’s a lot of drama; people are confident, arrogant, and love to put on a performance. To be fair, for the most part, a lot of these contestants are performers, so that’s what they’re here for. Isn’t that how you win the $300 million prize? There’s a clear hierarchy on the show. Everyone knows that there are some people who should not be messed with, and then there are some who are the underdogs. After a certain point, it gets tiresome to watch people fight each other and get tired, too. I think another interesting match was between who I would now like to call “weightlifting fairy Dam-Bi” (I’m also nicknaming her Bambi, thank you) and another woman who almost appeared to be as tiny as her. Three rounds of tedious work until she successfully defeats her opponent and smugly smiles to the whole crowd that’s reeling with excitement at their determination. 

Finally, round 1 eliminates 50 participants, leaving 50 of the most physically fit in the underground arena. I suppose it’s the vibe of the whole thing that’s meant to be all underground-y. Anyway, now participants are divided into 10 teams, all led by the 10 favorites as voted by the contestants, to battle it out in a maze. The participants are meant to pick up sacks weighing between 5 and 20 kg and dump them into a weighing scale the size of a human cage. Oh, did I mention that there’s a participant called Thanos? So, like him, with his massive shoulders and brute strength, nine other men are picked as the leaders for the maze game, “Lost.” I’m not going to lie; I couldn’t care less who actually wins this round because, again, whoever I choose to support might end up leaving in about 10 minutes. 

To me, as a non-consumer of reality TV, especially the physical kind, this was not entertaining at all. I mean, for the first 5 minutes, it’s all exciting, but then as more teams come on, it simply gets boring to watch them try and strategize the same way and do the same thing until 5 teams are left standing. Though we have to wait another week to see who these five teams are, I suppose for outsiders, this show is meant to remind the viewer that Korea isn’t simply a country of beauty, glamor, and plastic surgery. As the Hallyu wave has taken over the world, it’s always been about K-pop and K-dramas, but slowly, it seeps into other things, from the high-achieving movies, which are completely different from their TV show counterparts, to the cuisine, which somehow continues to grow worldwide by the day, and then to reality TV. Yes, there are some sports that Korea has achieved in, but as a country, it’s not really seen as an athletic one, so this show comes across almost like a promotional piece. Look, we’ve got it all, and we’re not backing down. We’re also much more competitive than you think, so don’t try to mess with us. 

I suppose after 4 episodes of Physical: 100 season 2, I’m left wondering why I put myself through that. I’m sorry; it doesn’t matter how hot you think they are; I’m just incapable of appreciating something like this, but maybe it’ll change as I get to know the participants a bit more. I suppose if there were more women, I’d be more interested immediately. Also, despite having watched them run on treadmills for an hour straight, as a homebody, I still did not get the motivation to get out of bed and bulk up, something I was honestly hoping for, but alas, such a shame. So, like one of the participants said when they watched one of the arena games, “I can smell the blood,” and yet I wish I didn’t have to. Catch new episodes of Physical: 100 season 2 on Netflix weekly. 


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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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