Called “The best Netflix show of the year so far” by Forbes (admittedly in February) and having become the top non-English show on Netflix, Physical 100 has proved to be another Korean hit. The pilot starts with contestants literally sizing each other up, by assembling in a huge circular room with plaster busts that correspond to each person. This is also when the range of athletes hits you, with military soldiers, fitness influencers, Olympic medalists, and more. They really are the cream of the crop when it comes to fitness, and the challenges really prove their ability and mettle. But I think the most interesting part was the fact that it was a mixed-gender competition.
The quests were decently well done, not just highlighting the incredible physical condition of all the contestants, but also helping us get to know some of the personalities on set. They also vary in what they test, with climbing frames, wrestling arenas, and even a beach set featuring a 1.5-tonne ship. And with a round including games called “The Punishment of Atlas” - forcing contestants to hold a 50 kg stone aloft - it really doesn’t hold back in making the athletes sweat.
Physical 100’s whole premise was to find “the most perfect physique, regardless of gender, age, or race”. With a balance of agility, strength, endurance, and speed tests, the unpredictability of the next challenge evened out any advantages a little bit and ensured that it wasn’t immediately an all-male game. There were some biases when it came to strategy - Jang Eun-sil’s team, made up of more women than the others, pulled off a surprise victory against a ‘stronger’ team who chose them hoping for an easy win. Her team, combined with another that had an injured player, ended up losing the next round in a strength competition.
There is also a shocking amount of editing, not exactly in the way this implies. There will be challenges where clips of contestant interviews are put in, and given that those usually revolve around wanting to win, it’s a little bit exhausting to keep hearing. Another type of editing centres around the quests themselves. These cuts actually make the people more impressive, as they’re usually time cuts. Going back to the Atlas challenge - the last two standing actually lasted just over two hours, but was condensed into a few minutes. It’s inspiring how much mental strength they have, and give it their all every time.
Beyond their physical and mental qualities, the athletes have a ton of respect for each other, and it makes the show quite wholesome. In each competition, they root for each other regardless of teams, one example being Ma Sun-ho visibly tiring out during a challenge. The watching contestants start chanting, “two, three!” in a bid to encourage him to keep pushing. When they stop, Ma looks up at the viewing platform and asks “Do that again for me”, and they cheer louder.
I’ll admit that I got attached to different contestants, Jang Eun-sil, cyclist Jung Hae-min, MMA fighter Choo Sung-hoon, etc. And as impressive as those athletes are, I think it’s this human aspect that had me going back to the show. If you want something as exciting as Squid Game but with a little less death, Physical 100 is one to put on your watch list.