Physical 100: modern-day survival of the fittest

Lewis Badun/THE CONCORDIAN @toadmule

A show not only committed to finding the perfect physique, but also dedicated to breaking stereotypes

Netflix has released a show to encourage the millions of people who put exercising at the top of their New Year’s resolution list — and they did not disappoint.

Physical 100, a South Korean reality survival show, is gaining a lot of attention for its fierce competition and stunning visuals from start to finish. The show was released on Jan. 24, 2023. It comes at a particularly good time with the start of the new year.

The show has been compared to the blockbuster series Squid Game because of the competition-elimination format along with the big prize money.

Thankfully, nobody dies.

In Squid Game, 456 players in deep financial trouble risk their lives to compete in a sequence of children’s games to win 45.6 billion South Korean won.

The ultimate champion of Physical 100 won 300 million South Korean won (about $310,000 CAD). 300 million is not 45.6 billion won, but you get the idea.

One hundred predominantly Asian male and female athletes with well-developed physical attributes ranging from Korean national team members and bodybuilders, to YouTubers and actors, among others, compete in a series of grueling challenges to test their quickness, balance, willpower, strength, and endurance.

The show’s premise is to find the ideal human physique based on many tests of performance.

At the end of each quests, eliminated contestants have to smash their own headless human plaster torsos with a sledgehammer, which definitely leaves a bad taste in their mouths due to the competitive nature of the participants on the show.

Despite it being a South Korean show, it rose to fame internationally and even peaked at number one globally.

Contestants not only show off their physiques, but also break stereotypes about Asian people being weak and lacking athleticism.

Christina Chin, an associate professor of sociology at California State University, said that historically, Western perceptions of strength are often imagined on white and Black bodies.

The predominantly Asian cast is breaking that dynamic. Viewers are forced to focus on their skills, not race. In addition, body diversity on the show challenges Western audiences’ views on strength and physical fitness by making them think outside of Western body standards, such as having broad shoulders, big biceps, triceps, thighs, washboard abs, etc.

As the series progresses, particular builds are better suited for different quests. Some have a lanky and lean physique, while others have defined muscles from head to toe. And then there are some contestants who don’t seem to be physically fit at all who ended up doing well in the competition!  

The show subtly sends a message that no body type is universally superior to the other, while consistently preaching that mental toughness goes a long way compared to physical capabilities.

While the show displays a competitive atmosphere from start to finish, it does not stop the contestants from constantly showing respect and sportsmanship to one another.

I understand the idea that trash-talking and trying to intimidate your opponents is a normal occurrence in order to play “mind games.” 

This is often seen in other shows, but Physical 100 is different: winners help the losers up, and losers cheer on survivors until a champion is eventually crowned.

My favourite contestant was Kim Min-cheol, a member of a mountain rescue team and Korea’s national ice climbing team. He was one of the few contestants with natural muscles gained purely from his everyday occupation, which made him admirable and easy to root for.

The moral of the story is you don’t need to look like The Rock to achieve the perfect physique. Everybody has their own idea of what the perfect physique looks like. Bigger doesn’t mean stronger, slimmer doesn’t mean quicker and toned doesn’t necessarily mean you have the most endurance.

Netflix has not announced a second season, but the narrator alluding that their “search for the perfect physique will continue” leaves fans expecting more.

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