I’ve been getting into sports lately. Not like physically, mind you, but parasocially. Y’know, watching Hajime No Ippo ahead of the anime AF Creed III and seeing what the hubbub is about LeBron James making history while being an “old.” While new Netflix game show Physical: 100 inspires lapsed athletes like myself to pick up recreational activities again, sadly, like most Netflix “reality shows,” its initial greatness is hindered by its controversial participants.
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Physical: 100 is a South Korean game show where, in the same spirit as Squid Game (hopefully minus the backstage shitstorm), 100 athletes from different disciplines compete to win $300 million won (roughly $227,806 USD). These athletes are professional dancers, gymnasts, rugby players, stuntmen, cross fitters, bodybuilders, and more. My favorite obscenely athletic gods among mortals on the show are MMA fighter Choo Sung-hoon, aka Yoshiro Akiyama, a wrestler named Jang Eun-sil, and a car salesman named Jo Jin-hyeong.
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Physical: 100 Makes For Great Television
Similar to Netflix’s Japanese reality TV show, Terrace House, Physical: 100’s participant’s secondary goal in competing in a myriad of athletic challenges is to promote their respective crafts to a larger audience. And what better way to do that than by defeating a group of egoists in the temple of gains through freakish displays of athleticism?
The most enthralling part about watching Physical: 100, aside from how audaciously ripped each contestant is, is how the show’s “quests” (the game show games) routinely pit athletes from different fields against each other. As a viewer, these games create a type of meta similar to a fighting game where athletic backgrounds play a pivotal part in the success of a participant. For example, games of keep away with a medicine ball favor top-heavy athletes, whereas when participants must cling to a metal bar while being suspended over a pool, those with leaner builds have the advantage. The show even displays a Japanese RPG-esque flowchart describing which body type each quest favors.
Greatness marred in controversy
Sadly, Physical: 100, like Terrace House, is steeped in controversy. Back in May 2020, Terrace House’s Japanese broadcast was suspended following the passing of Stardom wrestler and contestant Hana Kimura. Kimura, who joined the show to get viewers interested in women’s wrestling, was the victim of online bullying after she and her Terrace House roommate argued about how he’d ruined her wrestling gear in their washing machine. Since her passing, Japan created a new law making cyberbullying a punishable offense of either a one-year prison sentence or a 300,000 yen (roughly $2,200) fine, according to CNN.
Read More: Fans Remember Hana Kimura As Terrace House Episodes Are Suspended In Japan.
As of today, two Physical: 100 contestants have been accused of physical assault, according to the BBC. While the names of the contestants haven’t been revealed to the public, it’s been revealed that one contestant is under investigation by the Seoul Gangnam Police on charges of assault and battery of his girlfriend as of last Thursday, February 23, according to The Korea Times.
The Korea Times reports that Netflix canceled the show’s upcoming press conference in light of the allegations, and released a statement:
“Netflix and the production team are still grasping the situation after seeing news reports that one of the cast members of ‘Physical 100' is involved in a wrongful incident,” the streaming platform said in a release, Friday. “Before we discuss the global success of the show, among others, with the media through the press conference, we felt it is best for us to look into the details of the incident. So we decided to cancel the event.”
According to the Korea Times report, one other contestants has been accused of bullying, while another was reportedly charged with “making threats to his girlfriend last November.”
Kotaku reached out to Netflix for comment.
While Physical: 100 makes for exciting television harkening back to sportsman-like shows like 1989’s American Gladiator, it, like many other reality TV shows, loses its luster upon closer inspection. And like other series that put its contestants in rather extreme situations, it raises questions about the consequences of the media we consume, the dangerous side effects of increased public scrutiny and targeted harassment, and the ethics of giving screen time to people who have a history of bad behavior.
Update 02/28/2023 9:41 a.m. ET: The story headline has been updated for clarification along with the addition of a Netflix comment.