Editor’s Word: Jeff Yang is a analysis director for the Institute for the Future and the pinnacle of its Digital Intelligence Lab. A frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, he co-hosts the podcast “They Name Us Bruce,” and is co-author of the e book “RISE: A Pop Historical past of Asian America from the Nineties to Now.” The opinions expressed on this commentary are his personal. Learn extra opinion on CNN.


I have to confess: I’m a “Bodily 100” junkie. And I’m hardly alone, on condition that the vastly standard Korean actuality collection quickly grew to become an unlimited Netflix smash shortly after hitting the streaming service.

Jeff Yang

Individuals have in contrast it to prior competitors exhibits out of Asia like “Ninja Warrior” (known as “Sasuke” in its native Japan), and even to blockbuster Korean survival thriller “Squid Recreation.” However whereas “Bodily 100” clearly shares DNA with these predecessors, it’s additionally not like any present we’ve seen earlier than.

The present opened on an eerie gallery, a room stuffed with headless human torsos forged in plaster. Challengers trickled in a single, two and three at a time, commenting on the statues of others, whilst they sought out their very own, as a result of these had been aid maps that had been created off of the contestants’ our bodies.

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The plaster torsos confirmed each muscle, each sinew, each rippling little bit of brawn the contestants had earned via years of coaching, exertion and self-sacrifice – now to be examined in opposition to that of 99 different rivals for the title of the “final physique” and a prize bag of 300 million gained (about $230,000, at current change charges).

As spectacular as these plaster icons had been as theater — shedding contestants had been compelled to smash their very own statues with a hammer on their means off of the present — in addition they showcased what made “Bodily 100” so totally different and groundbreaking. As a result of whereas most of the torsos on show mirrored stereotypical strongman builds – that’s to say, huge, crisply sculpted lots of colliding spheres – there have been others that wouldn’t look misplaced at your native YMCA, and quite a lot of that sat properly past the everyday definition of bodily perfection. Our bodies that had been barrel-thick or spindle-thin; compact or hyper-elongated.

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This growth of the bodily preferrred was psychologically refreshing in a present popping out of Korea, whose appearance-obsessed tradition usually treats these with nonstandard our bodies as outcasts and selection targets for bullying (a phenomenon wrenchingly explored by one other Netflix present, the hit animated collection “Lookism”) — and absolutely resonant for American viewers, in an period the place social media has twisted our perceptions of what even “regular” physique varieties appear to be.

However the gathering of plaster torsos additionally highlighted the present’s most groundbreaking facet: Practically 1 / 4 of the present’s contestants had been feminine. You won’t even have realized it from how “Bodily 100” promoted itself, because the collection actively downplayed any “battle of the sexes” framing in favor of treating all rivals as equals.

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Girls went up in opposition to males with out handicap or particular consideration, even when doing so created the potential for absurd mismatches, on condition that contestants spanned the stature spectrum from petite stuntwoman Kim Da-young, who couldn’t have weighed greater than 100 kilos soaking moist, to large 280-pound automotive dealer-slash-competitive strongman Jo Jin-hyung.

Such gender-divide spanning battles, and others that pitted nimbler, smaller Davids in opposition to hulking Goliaths, ended up being the guts and soul of the present. The producers strategically designed a number of the present’s “quests” to emphasise quickness and stamina, not simply uncooked power, whereas additionally making lots of its greatest challenges team-based, forcing rivals of various physique varieties to cooperate and offering a route for sharp minds to compensate for lack of sheer mass.

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On account of the present’s mixture of impartiality and steadiness, its girls contestants appear to have felt empowered to compete with out worry of condescension. When male blended martial arts fighter Park Hyung-geun picked feminine bodybuilder Kim Chun-ri as his opponent in a full-contact, one-on-one sport of keep-away, and defeated her not by concentrating on the ball however by immobilizing her with brutally environment friendly grappling expertise, the web exploded with rage, calling out Park as “soiled” and “merciless to girls.” However Kim leapt into the fray to defend him, dismissing the suggestion that she or different feminine contestants wanted any type of particular sympathy: “I do know that a number of viewers could have felt discomfort from the mere reality of seeing his knee on my chest, however I didn’t enter this contest as a ‘girl,’ however as a competitor, so I’ve no regrets concerning the loss.”

As if to show out her level, petite Kim Da-young subsequently used velocity and agility to defeat a lot bigger male jiujitsu fighter Chae Wan-ki on the similar sport — deftly demonstrating that girls might, certainly, win out in opposition to male opponents with the correct expertise and mindset.

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This was confirmed out on an excellent bigger scale within the staff occasion by the present’s greatest breakout star, Jang Eun-sil, a championship wrestler on Korea’s nationwide girls’s staff, who led a bunch of cast-off “underdogs” — three of them feminine — to defeat a principally male staff led by her fellow wrestler Nam Kyung-jin.

The occasion required the 2 groups to every construct a wood slat bridge after which fill and carry as many luggage of sand up a flight of stairs and throughout their bridge as they may; Jang’s shrewd division of labor and passionate management helped her staff overcome their burly opponents, who fell prey to slipshod bridge meeting and extreme reliance on muscle.

As rival captain Nam lay crumpled and defeated on the finish of the occasion, he smiled, and later stated to the digicam that he was pleased to have misplaced to his “wrestling sister,” and that he thought she may find yourself successful the competitors. Spoiler: She didn’t. However even her defeat in a subsequent group problem – one which was crushingly weighted in opposition to her – proved to be a symbolic victory, demonstrating to viewers as soon as once more the ability of guts and teamwork to very almost shut an insurmountable hole.

MMA fighter Choo Sung-hoon

And that’s what I finally discovered so potent about “Bodily 100” and its message. If it had been an American present — one thing like The Rock’s “Titan Video games,” for instance — it will seemingly have grow to be a celebration of beefcake, brawn and brute power, with winners searching for domination and losers absorbing humiliation.

But regardless of claiming to be a search to search out the final word bodily specimen, “Bodily 100” was extra of an acknowledgment that no such single preferrred exists; that several types of our bodies excel at several types of achievement, and that each one sorts of builds deserve respect.

Losers cheered on survivors; winners reached their fingers out to assist up the fallen; and the symbolic act of attempting your hardest delivered the one actual victory that issues — victory over worry and self-doubt.

As one other fan-favorite contestant, 47-year-old MMA fighter Choo Sung-hoon, stated after shedding within the semifinal spherical, “I needed to show that individuals of their 40s and 50s world wide, like me, can beat younger individuals in the event that they work arduous. I’m sorry I misplaced. However previous males everywhere in the world! We will nonetheless do it!”

I’m somebody years older than he’s, with a physique nearer to Bodily Zero than Bodily 100 – and that’s the type of message that may get me to go to the gymnasium, to not point out carry me again to Netflix for Season Two.

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