SINGAPORE – South Korean extreme survival show Physical: 100 crowned CrossFit athlete Woo Jin-yong its ultimate winner during its finale on Tuesday.
The former snowboarder beat 99 other contestants after a series of diabolic and brutal challenges over the course of nine episodes.
The Netflix series, with its stunning display of toned bodies, Squid Game-like contests and K-drama levels of suspense, was also a winner in terms of ratings.
It entered the streamer’s Top 10 non-English TV charts for the week of Jan 30 to Feb 5, and topped the charts in 62 countries, including Singapore.
Viewers were hooked by the display of strength and agility – participants included former Olympians, athletes and bodybuilders at the top of their game, elite special forces personnel and fitness influencers – and the high stakes of a 300 million won (S$309,000) cash prize.
There was also human drama, with underdogs competing against macho swaggering favourites, and literal blood, sweat and tears as numerous participants were reportedly injured during filming.
Gender biases were also challenged as men and women competed on a level playing field.
The nail-biting finale saw dark horse Woo beat out four others – Olympic cyclist Jung Hae-min, Olympic luger Park Jin-yong, strongman Jo Jin-hyeong and mountain rescuer Kim Min-cheol – in four gruelling games.
Woo, in his late 30s, used to be a physical education teacher before becoming a snowboarder and coach for the national team. Now a CrossFit athlete, he proved that he had strength, agility, stamina and, most crucially, tenacity to be the last man standing.
While Woo may have emerged as the fittest of them all and received bragging rights of having the ideal human physique, here are others who have won the hearts of viewers for their display of sportsmanship, sheer athleticism and true grit.
1. The Strongest Man: Jo Jin-hyeong
Car dealer Jo is also known as South Korea’s strongest man, having won the 2019 reality contest show Strongman. His bulky physique was so feared that the other contestants tried to avoid going head to head with him in the Punishment of Atlas challenge, in which they had to carry a 50kg boulder on their shoulders for as long as possible. He did it for two hours.
He met his downfall in one of the final games which tested speed and agility, where he had to flip tiles of squares against Woo Jin-yong.
Despite his tough guy appearance, Jo, 42, seems to be a softie at heart and reportedly gave his winnings of 50 million won in Strongman to another contestant who had taken part to pay for his mother’s medical expenses. Jo’s adorable toddler son also frequently appears on his Instagram feed, with the two of them striking cute poses.
2. The Mountain Climber: Kim Min-cheol
Unlike many of the other contestants, the mountain rescuer’s muscles were honed not for show, but for saving lives. The winner of the first challenge – for hanging from scaffolding over a pool of water for more than 18 minutes – remained undefeated throughout the competition before reaching the final five.
The unassuming 30something, who is also a national team ice climber, aced the Wings of Icarus challenge. While others struggled with continuously climbing a rope, it appeared almost effortless to Kim. Devastatingly, he was narrowly defeated in a five-way tug-of-war which was a test of strength, not skill.
3. The K-pop Dancer: Cha Hyun-seung
Single’s Inferno fans may recall Cha, 31, and his washboard abs appearing in the first season of the South Korean reality dating show in 2021. He quickly became a hot favourite among the female contestants.
Despite injuring his ribs early on in a bruising wrestling match in Physical: 100, the dancer, model and YouTuber managed to get through several rounds of challenges, making it to the top 20.
In his final Tail of Ouroboros challenge, which involved four competitors running in a loop to tag the one in front, it was obvious that every step he took was agonising. Though he valiantly soldiered on, the pain was too much to bear and he was eliminated.
4. The MMA Silver Fox: Choo Sung-hoon
This Japanese-Korean mixed martial arts exponent, also known as Yoshihiro Akiyama, has a very apt nickname – Sexyama. Beyond his dashing good looks, MMA-honed body and fearsome fighting reputation, Choo quickly impressed viewers and other participants with his gentlemanly manner, quiet determination and commanding leadership.
Never mind that he was one of the oldest among the 100, the 47-year-old put his experience to good use in a team quest, which involved hauling a 1.5-tonne ship up a ramp. As the elder statesman bowed out as one of the top 20 in the game Punishment of Sisyphus, in which he had to push a 100kg boulder up and down a ramp, he said he had taken part to represent middle-aged men to prove that they could best younger competitors.
5. The Underdog Wrestler: Jang Eun-sil
As the only female leader in a team challenge, national wrestler Jang, 32, was deemed an underdog and failed to attract the strongest players to join her.
However, she and her group of rejects proved their mettle by defeating a much tougher team in a challenge which involved hauling hefty bags of sand across a rickety bridge, earning the respect of fellow contestants and viewers. They made it to fight another day in the challenge involving hauling a huge ship, but ultimately lost by mere minutes. Showing a rare grace under fire, the gold medallist proved time and again that women are not the weaker sex.
6. The Iron Man: Yun Sung-bin
Olympic skeleton racing gold medallist Yun, nicknamed Iron Man, was regarded by his peers as having the best physique and was seen as the one to beat. The 28-year-old is also called Skeleton Emperor or simply Monster, no doubt for his magnificent muscles.
His gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics made him the first South Korean and non-European or North American athlete to win in the sport. His popularity surged after the victory and he even appeared on an episode of popular K-variety show Running Man (2010 to present).
His boyish good looks combined with awe-inspiring physical feats on Physical: 100 won him many new fans, even if he shockingly failed to make it to the final five after collapsing with a curse during the Punishment of Sisyphus.
7. The Fitness YouTuber: Shim Eu-ddeum
If this were a contest of pure willpower, this petite bodybuilder-turned-fitness YouTuber would beat all the beefier contestants hands down. And there was a singular moment that proved the 32-year-old’s steely determination. Despite being eliminated after a team challenge, she managed to claw her way back as one of five survivors in a bonus round, which saw contestants holding up 40 per cent of their body weight by a rope. Her laser focus and stance were so unwavering, it seemed like she could have held on forever.
She was knocked out of the competition in the end by the team challenge of hauling the massive ship.