'Physical: 100' Is The Most Wholesome Reality Show I've Ever Seen
Plus: Revisiting the Battleship Pretension movie podcast.
Watching Physical: 100 was an extraordinary experience.
Physical: 100 (streaming on Netflix) is a South Korean reality show that bills itself as trying to find the most perfect human physique. To accomplish this, they invited 100 of the most athletic people in South Korea to compete in a series of punishing physical challenges. The diversity of body types is pretty impressive. They have boxers and skiers and weight lifters and snowboarders and special forces snipers and mountain climbers and crossfitters — you name it, and there’s probably someone here represented from that field (and at the top of that field).
The Squid Game comparisons are a bit hard to shake, even though Squid Game is fictional. Both shows are South Korean. Both feature a mysterious, faceless voice laying out the ground rules and ordering contestants around. Both shows feature a big prize pot for the victor (in Squid Game the victor received around $38 million, whereas here it’s closer to $240K). And both forced contestants to participate in a series of gimmicky, seemingly dangerous, and visually interesting games, slowly whittling down their number until only a single person is left. Fortunately, nobody died during the making of Physical: 100 as far as we know.
To watch Physical: 100 is to feel out of shape across a variety of dimensions. Every single human on the show is so physically imposing and the feats that they accomplish are so mind-blowing that it made me question whether or not to revamp my own workout regimen. You are watching some of the strongest and most athletic people on the planet accomplish tasks that would be unimaginable to most of us and that in and of itself is breathtaking.
While the show is not without its issues (specifically in how it has the potential to perpetuate sexism and/or an unhealthy view of one’s body), what sticks out to me about the show is how overwhelmingly wholesome its tone is. There is a mutual respect that every contestant has for each other that’s pretty much impossible to find on any American reality TV show. The United States is a highly individualistic country and our reality shows reflect that. Everyone is out for themselves and no one is here to make friends.
In Physical: 100, everyone feels like they are genuinely rooting for each other. They shout encouragement at each other from the sidelines and whenever someone loses they’re always physically embraced by the others before being sent off. Occasionally, contestants do need to betray each other in some ways, but they always seem immensely anguished by it. Each contestant professes to feel fortunate at having competed at all, to have been surrounded by all this talent. That gratitude rubs off on the viewer, who feels fortunate to have been a witness to this gathering.
From a production standpoint, Physical: 100 is impressive. The games are creative overall and have solid thematic tie-ins with the premise of the show. Sure there are some exceptions and a handful of games really feel like they didn’t live up to what the initial conception might’ve been (the late-stage obstacle course comes to mind). But so much here just works and in particular, I loved how the final episode’s games were designed and implemented.
That said, the show’s pacing and editing need a lot of work. Pacing-wise, they made the nearly catastrophic decision to put one of the most boring and drawn-out games first. In Quest 1 (the first elimination game that everyone participated in), contestants wrestled each other 1:1 for control of a ball. With 50 pairings, there was no way to depict all the contests and the Quest itself wasn’t that interesting to begin with so the early episodes really taxed my patience. That said, the games improve as the show goes on and by the time the final episodes rolled around, I was on the edge of my seat.
The editing of the show is also going to be a barrier to some. The show does this irritating trick where they replay some critical moments over and over again, with the same sound and everything but just from a different camera angle. Maybe doing this once per episode would be a fun flourish but the show does this so often that it became almost unbearable by the end.
I’ll conclude by saying some vague words about the ending of the show: I thought the final episode of Physical: 100 was incredible. I was shocked by how things wrapped up and the last moments will stay with me for a really long time. I got so invested in the fates of so many of these contestants in a way I never could’ve anticipated. And I wish I could say more but I don’t want to spoil the surprises.
Physical: 100 is currently streaming on Netflix. If you’ve already watched it, let me know what you think of it in the comments!
Revisiting the Battleship Pretension Podcast
In my early years of podcasting, I spent a lot of time listening to other people’s shows to understand what else was out there in the market. One of the first film podcasts I ever listened to was called Battleship Pretension (BP for short). I don’t even remember how I found the show (maybe it was also on the iTunes podcast charts? Or maybe someone tweeted about it to me), but I was instantly impressed.
Hosted by Tyler Smith and David Bax, the Battleship Pretension podcast features smart commentary about film and filmmakers. But it’s probably easiest to talk about how the podcast is different from other film podcasts. For one, they’re not structured around recent releases. Instead, each episode has a theme (e.g. “Movies About Obsession,” “The Ethics of Depicting Real People”). I also think they opt for a more deliberate pacing and style in their dialogue, which I find admirable in a world that often pushes people in the other direction. They’re both erudite and thoughtful fellows and I while it’s not part of my regular rotation, I do dip back into their podcast from time to time just to hear what they’re talking about. I should note that me and the BP guys have guested on each other’s shows and are friendly towards each other, but I don’t think we’d consider each other close collaborators or anything like that.
All that said, I was stunned when I learned this past summer that Tyler had come down with a mysterious illness that was eventually revealed to be West Nile Virus (you can read the details at Tyler’s GoFundMe). The whole thing sounded like a massive ordeal for Tyler’s family and my heart went out to them for needing to deal with such a sudden and life-altering diagnosis.
I was equally stunned when Tyler returned to the podcast a couple weeks ago to run down some movies he’d been watching recently on an episode of the BP Movie Journal. This was a powerful episode because I believe it was Tyler’s first time back since his diagnosis and he took some time to reflect on the things he had learned in the preceding months. What I appreciated most about the episode was how even though Tyler is in the middle of a lengthy and challenging physical recovery, you can still sense the old podcast dynamic and relationship between the co-hosts. There is still a sense of collegiality, fun, and cantankerousness-towards-bullshit that the past few months of difficulties have been unable to erase. My heart was warmed that this massive ordeal had not put a stop to their podcasting enterprise, which has now been running for over 15 years.
In a world where podcasts get cancelled left and right with alarming frequency, hearing these two guys bantering again reminded me how delicate this all is and how lucky any of us are to have any kind of lasting partnerships. I’m wishing Tyler the best and you can check out his GoFundMe here.
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I was looking for the right word to label this show and you nailed it with “wholesome.” It was refreshing to watch a competitive reality show where the participants were very respectful of each other and understood the Herculean efforts some of these competitions took in order to survive and much less dominate. I had a particular fondness for the famous MMA fighter (I’m blanking at the name and also realize there were several MMA fighters) and the reverence bestowed upon him by all the others.
Given that it appears to be a popular and successful show due to its continuous standing on Netflix’s top ten, a second season would seem to be a no-brainer. I’d welcome that. What I’m also sensing is that an Americanized version wouldn’t be too far behind as well. Other than for comparison’s sake, I’m not sure what I’d think of that.
I totally agree with what you wrote about Physical 100! I loved the support everyone (or nearly everyone) showed for each other. More than once, someone would say something like, "Let's have fun, don't get hurt." It was just so refreshing to see.
I also agree the wrasslin'was repetitive and bit boring (a few good matches) and the sound editing was quite annoying.
I would like to see another season and/or an American remake, but with the latter definitely bringing the camaraderie.