In the first half-hour of Physical: 100, two contestants will tell you they feel like they’re in the real-life Squid Game.
The Korean reality competition series is so keen to evoke Squid Game – but without technically doing so because there is actually a Squid Game reality series in production – that there’s no mistaking how it’s setting itself up.
Maybe it thought it would be an easy way in for international audiences who may be less familiar with the 100 contestants they’ve assembled.
Physical: 100 is not Squid Game and it doesn’t need to be. This is a far more earnest show and it has none of Squid Game’s commentary on crippling debt, late stage capitalism or the dehumanisation of wealth inequality. Or the murders.
Physical: 100 is very much its own thing, a heightened competition series that’s a cross between Ninja Warrior and a Tough Mudder event. But, mercifully, without the annoying crowds cheering them on or an aggressively smug host.
It’s also wall-to-wall teeming with sculpted, glistening bodies, each contestant more ripped than the last.
Almost every person on the show has a slavish, cultish devotion to the human body – or, specifically, the muscled human body. There are admiring looks cast all over the place as they fanboy over another’s posterior deltoids.
It’s a strange world to dive into, one where everyone loses their minds over a wall of multi-coloured protein powder containers. Their reverence for each other’s physicality is purely clinical or functional.
No one is thirsting – at least not among the contestants. The viewers at home, well, it’s hard to imagine it would’ve clocked up 95.4 million hours in the three weeks since its release if the contestants weren’t extremely attractive.
It doesn’t have to be all shallow drooling, right? There is something to be said for this overt display of scorching Asian men when Western cultural representation have desexualised them for so long, often presenting them not as romantic potential but as weedy functionaries such as accountants or doctors.
Here is an entire cohort of Asian men (and women) who could break you with their finger – and look exceptionally hot while doing it. Their cheekbones are as chiselled as their abs.
The contestants are drawn from professional athletes (gymnasts, wrestlers, taekwondo champions, Olympic gold medallists), influencers with millions of followers, MMA fighters (including Choo Sung-hoo), special forces reservists and even dancers.
The show itself follows a familiar path. There are a raft of challenges designed to eliminate the losers and whoever is left standing wins 300 million won (roughly $338,000).
Some challenges are solo while others are team based. Some are about endurance and outlasting everyone else while others are head-to-head. And some involving mud wrestling.
The design of the challenges are no more or less impressive than similar shows within the genre and the editing is far too repetitive. Physical: 100 will often slice together three angles of the same moment in sequence – someone probably thought this would be more suspenseful but it actually just grates instead.
The episodes could be shorter and better paced – there are a lot of duplications – but there is a lulling effect. Each inoffensive episode rolls easily into the next because they all end with a cliffhanger (Who was eliminated?! I must know!) and before you know it, you’ve spent four hours bingeing it.
But once you get off the hamster wheel – preferably mid-episode – will you want to go back?
Physical: 100 is streaming now on Netflix
Story Credit: news.com.au