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Contestants in Physical 100 pulling a ship and straining Photo: Netflix

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All Physical 100 challenges, definitively ranked

By both game design and sweatiness

From the get-go, Physical 100 has kept its contestants — and its audience — on their toes by switching up its game mechanics in surprising ways. Not only does this make for good TV, but it also makes who can win the honor of “best physique” a bit more complicated than simply who can lift the heaviest object. While artificial physical challenges like the ones on Physical 100 will always prioritize certain skills above others, the Korean competition series has done an impressive job of mixing up exactly what those skills are to a certain degree.

Physical strength has always been a factor on this show, but abilities like grip strength, endurance, and even meticulousness in building a bridge of wooden planks have all been factors in who wins and who loses specific challenges. It’s a good reminder that there are many different kinds of abilities, and the human with the stereotypically “best” body is not necessarily the human who will “survive.”

Now that the first season of Physical 100 has wrapped, we’re taking the time to rank each of the challenges, in a highly scientific process that rates each of the challenges on a scale of 1 to 5 on reality TV game design and how sweaty contestants get during the course of it. (Because sweat never lies.)

14. “The Wings of Icarus” Rope-Climbing Challenge

Four Physical 100 candidates climb up ropes, and sit at different spots on the rope Photo: Netflix

Contestants: 4
Description: Players must scale a rope that keeps moving down to the floor. The player who can keep from touching the floor the longest wins.
Game design: Visually, the mechanics of an ever-falling rope are very cool, but everyone knew mountain rescue climber Kim Min-cheol had this in the bag from the beginning. No other contestant stood a chance, and it was rough to watch the final two women contestants go in a single, lackluster event. 1/5
Sweat scale: Don’t sweat — you have to hold on! 1/5

Total score: 2 out of 10 plaster torsos

13. Five-Way Tug-of-War

Contestants: 5
Description: The final five contestants are locked in a harness and attached to one another by tether. The keys to the locks that can free them from the group are on five different platforms an equal distance away. The players must fight to reach their platform and key, and unlock themselves. The last player to do so will lose.
Game design: What could have been a simple challenge of strength becomes slightly more complex with the task of using a key in a lock under pressure. That being said, for a finale challenge, the tug-of-war was a bit of a dud. Even though Kim Min-cheol almost managed to advance, it was pretty obvious heading in that his lower body weight would put him at a severe disadvantage. Plus, they already did this one on Single’s Inferno. 1.5/5
Sweat scale: Low, compared to what was to come… 1/5

Total score: 2.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

12. “The Tail of Ouroboros” Running Challenge

Contestants: 4
Description: Players must run around a track, staying out of reach of the player behind them. If they are tagged, then they are eliminated. The final contestant left running wins.
Game design: Whether by design or not, this one had me flashing back to traumatic gym class experiences in a way that had me truly feeling for the contestants running around that infernal track. This game had surprising depth in that contestants who prioritized a steady pace over speed ending up doing best. That being said, it was kind of boring to watch, even if they tried to up the angst factor by bringing Cha Hyun-seung’s injured rib into focus. 1.5/5
Sweat scale: Moderate. 2/5

Total score: 3.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

11. “The Fire of Prometheus” Obstacle Course Challenge

Contestants running dramatically in a still from Physical 100. Water is being sprayed down on them Photo: Netflix

Contestants: 4
Description: Players start on their stomach, lying on the ground. Once the whistle sounds, they must scale a wooden structure, run through a veil of water, and dash across a track of sand to grab a torch waiting at the end. Each round, the slowest player will be eliminated until there is only one left.
Game design: I’m surprised there weren’t more obstacle courses in this TV show. They are dynamic, test a variety of skills, and can lead to unexpected results because so many different things can go wrong. This was a good challenge (especially when Miracle basically flipped over the wooden structure), but relatively quick and forgettable in the run of the show. 2/5
Sweat scale: Low. The game goes pretty fast. Plus, they have to run through a shower every round, so it’s hard to tell. 1.5/5

Total score: 3.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

10. Hanging Torso Revival Challenge

A contestant pulling a rope while another stands with his arms folded in a still from Physical 100 Image: Netflix

Contestants: 15
The game: Contestants hold a rope with their torso bust (plus 40% of their body weight) hanging on the other end. Whichever five contestants can keep their bust from hitting the ground can rejoin the challenge.
Game design: Those who were eliminated in the Team Sand Challenge were given a chance to rejoin the game, and everyone loves a come-from-behind victory. This game was particularly gratifying because one of the physically smaller contestants, Shim Euddeum, earned her spot back in the game. Visually, this challenge was pretty fun, elevated by the set’s dramatic red lighting and the fates of the contestants’ beloved torso casts at stake. 2/5
Sweat scale: Low. 1.5/5

Total score: 3.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

9. Square Flip

Two Physical 100 contestants flipping squares in a still from the episode Image: Netflix

Contestants: 4
Description: Two teams of two compete in a five-minute round to see who can flip the most floor squares. One side of the square is black, and one is white. Whichever team has the most squares flipped to their color at the end of the round wins. The two members of the losing team must compete against one another in the same challenge for a three-minute round.
Game design: As with the other challenges in the final round, there isn’t much strategy involved here, which makes it slightly less interesting to watch. The players must have endurance and agility in order to complete this challenge. This game gets extra points for the determination with which Jo Jin-hyeong keeps fighting until the end, even though he is struggling to breathe and knows that he will not win the competition. 2.5/5
Sweat scale: Moderate. 2/5

Total score: 4.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

8. The Keep-away Challenge

Two Physical 100 contestants wrestling in the mud Image: Netflix

Contestants: 100
The game: Contestants face off in one of two arenas. Arena A is an obstacle course where contestants with agility and speed can thrive. Arena B is a wrestling pool where contestants with physical strength and fighting strategy can thrive. Whoever has the ball at the end of the three-minute round wins. If no one has the ball after three minutes, an overtime lasting 60 seconds will be played.
Game design: Like many of the other Physical 100 challenges, this mission shines in its simplicity: Get the ball. Keep the ball. That’s pretty much it. Not very complicated, but maybe that’s what we needed this early in the series, when we were still being introduced to these players. The producers introduced an element of strategy by having two arenas and allowing the top 50 hangers in the pre-challenge a chance to choose their opponent and their arena, but otherwise, there wasn’t really any room to game this game.
The keep-away challenge is visceral in its simplicity, and leads to some of the most iconic images from Physical 100, of bodies wrestling bodies. Because there were 50 matches, producers had the ability to show only the ones that are the most interesting. This led to some iconic moments, including the MMA fight between Choo Sung-hoon and Shin Dong-guk and many, many snippets of the players cheering one another on. 2.5/5
Sweat scale: Moderate, but it was hard to tell with the number of contestants rolling around in the mud. 2.5/5

Total score: 5 out of 10 plaster torsos

7. Triangle Shuttle Run

Contestants: 3
Description: The remaining three contestants must run a short distance to hit a bell and return to their initial spot in the allotted time. The players repeat without additional rest, with the amount of time allotted to complete the task eventualy dropping to only eight seconds. The first player who is unable to complete a sprint in the time allotted will be eliminated.
Game design: This part of the final challenge, designed to bring the contestants down to the final two, was surprisingly riveting. Who knew watching men run between two fixed points again and again could be so engaging? It helps that Park Jin-young’s luger teammate is watching, cheering him on. 2.5/5
Sweat scale: Moderate. 3/5

Total score: 5.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

6. “The Punishment of Atlas” Heavy Lift Challenge

Four contestants stand in front of heavy round boulders covered in rope Image: Netflix

Contestants: 4
Description: Contestants must lift a large rock over their heads and keep it there for as long as possible. Really.
Game design: Lift a heavy rock. Frustratingly simple, and endlessly impressive to watch. I don’t think I would have wanted to sit there for the two hours Jo Jin-hyeong and Kim Sik managed to keep this boulder over their heads, but seeing an edited version of this event sure was riveting — especially because I was rooting for each of these contestants. “The joy of winning was great,” said Jo Jin-hyeong after taking home the victory, “but the joy of having this great match with Sik for two hours was greater.” 3/5
Sweat scale: Moderate. 2.5/5

Total score: 5.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

5. The Hanging Challenge

Physical 100 contestants hanging from a metal grid in a still from the show Image: Netflix

Contestants: 100
The game: Contestants hang from a metal rack above a pool of water. The person who hangs the longest wins.
Game design: Designed as a pre-challenge in order to rank the contestants heading into the first official challenge, Physical 100 was smart to prioritize a game that tested endurance and physical strength in relation to body weight as its first challenge. Many of the contestants who look the most physically intimidating didn’t do well in this challenge, as they have a higher body weight. It was an early signal that this competition series had put some real thought into its game mechanics.
This challenge also gets extra points for hanging the contestants above a pool of water. They could have simply been hovering a few feet above the ground; instead, we get a dramatic fall and splash that also makes the contestants all wet. Mentally, it’s also more of a challenge for the contestants. They will not simply drop to the ground when they can no longer hang on, but fall from a height. There’s even one contestant who mentions they are afraid of heights, which adds an additional mental challenge to the task for them. 4/5
Sweat score: This one loses out on the sweat scale, as contestants actually stay pretty dry in this one… until they fall into the water below. 1.5/5

Total score: 5.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

4. Infinite Rope Pull

Contestants: 2
Description: The final two contestants pull a heavy rope from its epic coil. (Don’t worry: The rope is not actually infinite, though it might have felt it.)
Game design: I felt obliged to put this contest relatively high in the ranking because the stakes — ultimate victory — were high. But the contestants are so physically decimated at this point in the final challenge that it is tough to watch. They both struggle a lot, which does give weight to the winner’s eventual victory, but the best moment comes when some of the eliminated players watching from a soundstage next door cheer “Hwaiting!” as loudly as possible. Jung Hae-min and Woo Jin-yong hear it, and find the strength to keep going. 3/5
Sweat scale: High. The fact that these contestants had to complete this after the four previous final challenges, including the grueling triangle shuttle runs, is important sweat-scale context. 4/5

Total score: 7 out of 10 plaster torsos

3. Team Sand Challenge

A contestant with long hair on Physical 100 puts sand in a bag Image: Netflix

Contestants: 50
The game: Teams of five work together to move bags of sand from one side of a soundstage to the other. To do so, they must complete a bridge of wooden planks. The team that pours the most sand into their tube in 12 minutes wins. The other team will be eliminated.
Game design: The first team challenge, the sand challenge really allowed us to see the capacity for teamwork among the players — and it was so sweet. Because the sand challenge involved building, balance, strength, endurance, and communication, it tested much more diverse skills compared to many of the individual challenges. In my mind, this is when Physical 100 really clicked as a series, and viewers started picking their true favorites.
In this game, we also got the underdog story that was Team Jang Eun-sil. As the only woman among the five voted-in team leaders, Jang Eun-sil’s team was considered the weakest of the 10 teams. When they beat Team Nam Kyung-jin, they proved that they were competitors who should be taken seriously. 4.5/5
Sweat scale: Bright lights and big bags of sand led to so much sweat. And, sadly, unlike in other challenges, there wasn’t even time for the contestants to artfully remove their shirts. 4.5/5

Total score: 9 out of 10 plaster torsos

2. “The Punishment of Sisyphus” Rock-Rolling Challenge

Contestants on Physical 100 rolling round rocks up the hill Image: Netflix

Contestants: 4
Description: Players have 30 seconds to push a 220-pound boulder up an inclined track and roll it back down the other side. The contestants will repeat the task until only one player is left able to complete it in the time allotted.
Game design: This game was brutal, and took out not one but two fan favorites: Yun “Iron Man” Sung-bin and Choo “Sexyama” Sung-hoon. Like other competitions in the mythology-themed Delegate Challenge, “The Punishment of Sisyphus” benefitted from having the other players watching and cheering the athletes on from the sidelines. 5/5
Sweat scale: Pretty damn sweaty. 4.5/5

Total score: 9.5 out of 10 plaster torsos

1. Team Boat Challenge

Contestants pulling a boat in a still from Physical 100 Image: Netflix

Contestants: 30
The game: Oof. In this physically devastating challenge that represents Physical 100 at its best, teams of 10 were responsible for loading a half-ton of oak barrels onto a 1.5-ton boat. Then, the team had to work together to move the 4,000-pound vessel across a beach of sand using heavy logs. At the other end of the set was a wooden ramp, which the team then had to pull the boat up onto using a rope and pulley. Once the looped rope attached to the bow of the ship can be pulled over the iron stake at the top of the ramp, the game is over. Whichever team takes the longest will be eliminated.
Game design: This challenge just seems so, so hard, something that the teams all commented on in their talking-head interviews. (One contestant called it harder than competing in the Olympics.) While it can be difficult for us common viewers to understand the degree of difficulty of the on-screen challenges, knowing that the boat loaded up with barrels weighs 4,000 pounds, and that these teams are able to move it together, is humbling. Kudos to the producers for working out a challenge that would push competitors to their limits, but that every team was able to complete — even the losing team, which included one injured member and some of the comparatively smaller challengers.
Physical 100 didn’t get any better than this, as the Boat Challenge included so many complex dynamics, especially teamwork. Note: The Boat Challenge gets many extra points for the part where Yun Sung-bin tries to move the boat by looping a rope around his waist and thrusting forward. That doesn’t happen in any other challenge. 5/5
Sweat scale: The sweatiest. Shirts were removed before, during, and after. Bodies glistened in the production lights. Da-young’s crown of braids barely survived. 5/5

Total score: 10 out of 10 plaster torsos