Physical: 100, dubbed the real-life Squid Game, ended its electric first season last week. However, its long-anticipated climax has been overshadowed by a number of claims against on-screen contestants including bullying, domestic violence, and intimidation. Here, we break down the controversy behind one of Netflix’s most popular shows of the year…
Physical: 100 is Netflix’s latest reality TV sensation to come out of South Korea. Pitting a hundred of Korea’s greatest physiques against one another in a series of gruelling challenges and using plaster busts of their invariably shredded torsos alongside a $300,000 prize as motivation, the show was met with huge popularity upon release at the beginning of 2023.
Involving mixed-gender challenges that included mud-wrestling and dragging a two-tonne boat uphill, the show’s formatting sparked debate and minor controversy in itself. However, it appears that the scandals surrounding the show are set to live long beyond the duration of the show’s first season.
In the aftermath of Physical: 100’s gripping but also controversial final, a range of allegations have been levelled against three separate contestants out of the one-hundred elite athletes selected for the show.
The most high-profile allegations have been made against Kim Da-young, a professional stuntwoman. On February 14th, an anonymous post claiming that Kim was a former high-school bully was made on the South Korean social media platform Nate Pann.
WATCH one of the challenges, the “Punishment of Atlas“, from Physical: 100 below.
Claiming that Kim’s sudden surge in popularity after the show aired had inspired them to make their victimhood public, the poster claimed that Kim’s bullying had only intensified after the poster had reported it to the school and their parents.
The poster claims that Kim and her crew dragged the alleged victim to a karaoke room before slapping them repeatedly and stealing their phone. The post has since been taken down, but not before it went viral and inspired others to make similar claims.
One person accused Kim of stealing their cash and that – although disciplinary action was taken against Kim and the victim “received an apology” from Kim’s parents – “nothing changed”. Another post by a third alleged victim was potentially the most damning of the three, taking the accusations into new territory, sexual harassment: “I remember everything from being beaten by you, being robbed of money, and even being told to massage your legs.”
Kim was quick to respond and confessed to being a “delinquent” student:
“I admit that I was a delinquent student. Looking back at the past, I hung out with the popular kids and didn’t know that the thoughtless words I said to my juniors would hurt them. Even if it takes time, if the opportunity arises, I want to personally apologise and ask for forgiveness.”Kim Da-young
However, her apology was notably void of any allegations of physical violence, theft, or sexual harassment, arguably the most damning aspects of the alleged abuse. She also threatened legal action against the accusers if their claims continued, before shutting down the comment sections of all her social media accounts.
Hot on the heels of this controversy came another: Seoul’s Gangnam Police Precinct revealed that it was investigating another contestant in light of accusations made by their girlfriend of assault and battery.
Though the police didn’t reveal the identity of the contestant, they did say that the person in question had been a member of a national sports team, which narrows it down to approximately fifteen of the hundred participants including Yun Sung-bin, the legendary national skeleton racer, and fellow winter olympian Kang Han.
The girlfriend reported being assaulted and threatened with a weapon. Though a weapon was found at the scene, along with CCTV footage of the woman fleeing in her pyjamas, no evidence that the weapon was used has emerged as yet.
Finally, allegations of intimidation and emotional manipulation were made by another partner of a contestant, identified only as a former dancer.
Dating back to November 2022, the contestant allegedly committed multiple acts of self-harm when their girlfriend threatened to break up with them, including smashing his head against a desk and repeatedly punching himself in the face. This came alongside longer-standing accusations of blackmail within the relationship.
In light of all this, it might be unsurprising that not only were a number of press conferences that were intended to celebrate the finale cancelled but that the smash-hit show has not yet been confirmed to return for a second season.
Though these allegations are undeniably shocking, it would be a shame for a few bad apples to write off what has proven to be an immaculately formatted show. We suspect that once the dust has settled on this wave of controversies (and Netflix executives get a look at viewing figures in the wake of these unsavoury but undeniably captivating revelations) that the show might just find a way back onto our screens in pretty short order.