In the United States, we are used to watching reality competition shows where contestants scheme, connive, betray each other, and adopt a by-any-means-necessary approach in order to win. Truly dog-eat-dog. Maybe that’s why it was so refreshing to see the contestants of Physical 100, a nine-episode Korean reality competition show on Netflix. The premise of the show is just like many of its American counterparts. Contestants live together and compete in athletic challenges. The losers are eliminated until the last contestant standing wins a significant cash prize. In Physical 100, there are 100 contestants who compete for a cash prize of ₩300 million (won) or the rough equivalent of $240,000. Not a small amount.
But to my surprise, a cutthroat, win-at-all-costs approach was not superficially noticeable in any of the contestants. After the first episode, I started to get the sense that there was a different value system in place between the contestants. By the third episode, I adopted that system completely and noticed an overall change in the viewing experience. Instead of rooting for individual contestants, I found myself rooting for the best matchups, the truest sense of gameplay, and the most honorable competition. One of my favorite challenges of the show pitted two Korean MMA stars against each other. Shin Dong-guk was a younger fighter who challenged Choo Sung-hoon, an older fighter who is well-revered in the MMA community. (In MMA circles, he is affectionately known as “Sexy-yama.”) Instead of adhering to the rules of the challenge, Shin Dong-guk asked Choo if he would be willing to partake in an MMA match instead. Upon losing, Shin reveled at the opportunity, and if you weren’t paying close attention, it would have looked like he was the winner. Shin walked off the show with his head held high and his heart full of pride. It was uncanny.
I found myself pondering, “Maybe this offers us, as Westernized viewers, a glimpse as to what Jesus meant in his Sermon on the Mount, specifically, the Beatitudes.” When Jesus talks about the identity of the “blessed,” he doesn’t follow it with the “winners.” Instead, it’s the meek, the peacemakers, and the like. It’s almost as if Jesus were challenging their value system, turning it upside down and on its head. For the Western viewer, Physical 100 is refreshing because we see that, for these contestants, virtues such as honor, fair play, and teamwork are more valuable than a pile of cash. In other words, as American-Christian viewers, we get a sense of the Beatitudes in real life. Netflix has yet to confirm Season Two, and rumors are saying that, if approved, it won’t air before 2024, but my hope is that other competition reality shows will take notice of Physical 100 and follow in its footsteps. (Netflix)