I am a glutton for reality physical competition shows. While most of these competitions push contestants to the limit, few manage to push assumptions of the body in general; that’s where South Korea’s Physical 100 comes in. In this Netflix Original competition series, 100 contestants in top physical shape compete to claim the honor of the ultimate physique in this intense survival reality series that pushes its contestants to the absolute limit.
The goal of Physical 100 is to find the strongest body in Korea, and the casting directors have purposefully brought athletes, influencers, performers, and more with bodies across the spectrum. Instead of focusing on bodies that we typically think are “attractive” and strong, the cast of Physical 100 is there because their bodies have excelled in the strength that their specific areas require. Special operations soldiers, National Team gymnasts and wrestlers, bodybuilders, cross-fitters, fitness YouTubers and models, dancers, and pro-athletes, and not one body is exactly like the other.
In many physical-based competitions, it’s easy to fall into strength as seen by typical beauty standards, but here, that’s out the window. Sure there are conventionally attractive folks befitting of Singles Inferno (In fact, an alum of that reality dating show is competing), but by and large Physical 100 takes time to take viewers through the bodies in the challenges and the lengths that these competitors have gone through to craft their muscles and excel in their fields.
In Physical 100 episode one, the competitors walk into a hall filled with plaster busts of their torsos from neck to waist. As they each move to find their busts the camera moves close in on each one showcasing their differences in sizing, muscles, and everything else. With competitors getting packages diving into their professions and strength we get to see why some of them are there to whet your appetite as a viewer until you see them compete. The differences in body types feed directly into the challenges themselves, complicating choices of who you compete against and making sure that competitors are pushed to their limits.
While I’m not going to be like every other American writer and compare this to Suiqd Games (lol) the fact is that the competitors themselves often reference the South Korean death game series in their interviews with the producers. Why? Well, to contextualize the challenges and the pressure they’re being put through. The challenges also don’t favor one strength skill. For example, a climber who has incredible grip strength and lower body weight will excel in hanging for over 15 minutes suspended in the air over water. On the other hand, the weightlifter who is the holder of Korea’s highest benchpress record, who is substantially bigger, may be one of the first in the water.
That said, other challenges allow for essentially one-on-one hand combat in a mud pit that benefits those in the fighting sports like Judo, MMA, boxing, or who were, you know, a trained member of Korea’s special forces. But that same challenge can also take place on an obstacle course of sorts that allows the more agile to use speed and endurance to stay away. The diversity of challenges and body type keeps each one from feeling repetitive and up the stakes, add in the mutual respect each of the competitors has for each other or their drive to defend their reputation and well, it’s a recipe for exciting reality television.
No Gender Barriers
But wait, it gets better; there are also no gender separators in Physical 100. Yup, Physical 100 isn’t trying to find the best male or female body. The series is trying to find the strongest body, period, regardless of gender. To do this, the competitors aren’t split up into gendered categories and are instead allowed to compete directly against each other (yes even in the mud pit), and the results are surprising. I mean, what other show can you watch a woman come out in the top three of a physical test with the strongest men in her country? The removal of the barrier has also already started to reveal assumptions that male contestants have about their female peers and ultimately show how little faith they have in themselves against other men. We’re only six episodes in, so this is bound to push the drama of the series even higher.
So, if you’re looking for a reality series on Netflix that is not focused on finding love, Physical 100 is it. If you’re into watching buff people do buff things, Physical 100 is it. And, of course, if you’re looking for a series that pushes for strength over beauty standards, Physical 100 is it. With two new episodes every Tuesday, this is going to be an exciting month.
Physical 100 Episodes 1 – 6 are streaming now, exclusively on Netflix with new episodes every Tuesday.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.