Jang Eun-sil Report – Physical: 100 Episode #4

I’d made a call too early that 2022 was gonna be one of the best years for movies, and that didn’t pan out exactly. So, is 2023 gonna be the year for television?? Already in January alone, I’ve cried at The Last of Us episode three, and I must say that this fourth episode of Physical: 100 had me extremely tense. It was almost unbearable. Funnily enough, you combine those two things and produce one Squid Game, but Squid Game did not have Jang Eun-sil, who finds herself in the spotlight once again.

We pick up on our cliffhanger, with the exciting and improvisational match between Dong-guk and Sung-hoon. I did not watch these episodes back to back, which may have impacted some of the drama, but in this case, that’s a good thing. Again, it seems that every contestant joined Physical: 100 for a different reason, or they may have discovered that reason once inside the mysterious superstructure (which we’ll see more of in this episode). Dong-guk really wants to challenge his senior in a fight, and the game’s objective becomes almost secondary – until Sung-hoon leaps onto the ball with seconds to go.

We fast-forward through the last of the matches, including yet another failed attempt by a slender guy against a big, “slow” one. Turtle! We’re then treated to the Squid Game imagery of a board of faces, with fifty suddenly X’d out. The other fifty walk into a new and awesome room. “We’re in heaven!” one of them shouts. It’s like an upscale, abstract restaurant, but instead of the Survivor wine and steak awaiting them, it’s protein supplements. I’d laugh, but everyone’s really excited about it. Packaged chicken breast, eggs, nuts. “For us gym rats,” Miracle says, “it’s, like, the best restaurant ever.”

And what fit-person restaurant would be complete without a gym? It’s taken to like kids jumping on the hotel bed. These athletes get to show off for one another, as well as socialize a bit before what they all know is coming. Indeed, right on cue, the host’s disembodied voice thunders through the room, summoning the winning fifty to the “gallery.” I guess we’re calling it that, rather than “torso room.”

The gallery has been rearranged, with torso busts in a big circle. Jang Eun-sil has also rearranged her hair, which is the first time in all my wide-eyed fandom that I’ve seen her wear it down. The host declares that the next match is a team match, which the heavyweight wrestler Nam Kyung-jin describes as “less nerve-racking” than individual competition. One of the contestants who doesn’t agree begins calling out for Miracle.

Ten teams of five, with the losing teams eliminated. By the end of the third quest, the roster will be cut down to twenty-five. The strategizing begins. Contestants who have formed bonds are suddenly worried about abandonment, though when they punch in on the woman with that exact worry, I can’t say I recognize her, or have fully witnessed the relationship she created.

How it works is that everyone is handed a score card, and they vote for three people they’d like to team up with. The top ten will be the leaders, starting with Yun Sung-bin, the skeleton racer. I was sure it would be Choo Sung-hoon, given his recent performance, but he’s chosen fourth, after Kyung-jin and a new guy, Kwak Myung-sik. Not “new,” but he needs to be introduced with a video package: Korean CrossFit champion, 2020. I guess they didn’t show all one hundred in that first episode, they just might as well have.

Next, Tarzan, Kim Sang-wook, Ma Sun-ho, Jo Jin-hyeong, and Jang Seong-min. Not a woman among them. Who’s gonna be tenth? (As if I didn’t already know). Everyone mutters their guesses, but nobody guesses right – it’s Jang Eun-sil! And when her name is called, she gets this look on her face like Seulgi when she drops something.

“Why me?” she says, walking over to the raised platform. “No, why me?” But, as one of the guys observes, “She might be stronger than most men.” Jang explains in the interview segment that she truly didn’t expect this. “I thought all ten would be men. But we didn’t know what the game would be, so all I could think of was that I’d do my best.” Well, this is why she’s in that promotional art. Now the teams will be decided, and this is where the trouble really begins for Eun-sil. (I suppose I should have always been referring to her as Eun-sil, but especially now, with another team leader being a Jang).

No score card this time. Contestants simply walk over to the team leader they want, which creates an honest and unmistakable visual, with most of the crowd weighted toward the top five. Only one contestant chose Eun-sil: Seo Ha-yan, a CrossFitter. The host explains that team leaders with more than five prospective team members will have to make cuts, so Eun-sil will actually be saddled with stragglers. The pre-quest winner is cut from the first team, but finds his home soon enough. Important here is balance, yet another lesson we learn from Squid Game, when Gi-hun also took on rejects like the old man and a bunch of girls. Just lean back, everybody.

The nine team leaders are choosing women, however. Sung-hoon goes with Shin Bo-mi-rae (I’m not sure how that’s rendered in English), for her “speed over strength.” Interestingly, that MMA dickhead from the last episode keeps getting cut. I don’t think anybody wants a wild card in their group, because truly, there’s no benefit to it. Mm-hmm. He ends up on Eun-sil’s team.

With ten teams made up, everyone looks over at Eun-sil’s team and knows they’re the weakest. As she reiterates, “We don’t know what the game is yet, so if we don’t give up until the end, I think we have a shot.” This will be a test of her leadership, something she probably has little experience with as a wrestler. But she’s going in with a couple of advantages: she didn’t have to cut anyone, and underestimation is an X factor. The episode is called “The Underdogs,” after all. “I know I was your last choice,” she tells her newly formed team, “but I’ll carry you this round.” Hearing this, the whole room cheers and applauds.

Putting on team colors, they’re informed that the team match-ups will be decided before the game is announced. Not good. And once more, the match-ups are based on voting: the team leader who had the most votes gets to pick their opponent. This is when a democratic process breaks down, like a South Korean jab at American politics post-Citizens United. It’s a popularity contest where candidates can purchase popularity. But like with the first social commentary room, with half of the players elevated, I’m wondering about the purpose. Not only did that pre-quest advantage matter little in the first quest, but players ended up undermining the elevation by picking from the top fifty anyway.

Yun Sung-bin does not pick Eun-sil, which surprises the guy he does pick. But then it’s Nam Kyung-jin’s turn, and he breaks our poor girl’s heart – looking guilty as he does. “Sorry, Eun-sil.” As she recalls, “It was like a kick in the guts.” Of course, she had to be chosen eventually, but this is a betrayal, as he’d said that wrestlers should advance together. We remember they were chatting in the gallery, and how much she supports her fellow men and women of the mat. And to be honest, she looks sad in the interview segment, the kind of sad indicating “I lost the game.” From Kyung-jin’s perspective, he had to defer to his teammates, who smelled blood in the water. He didn’t want to pick Eun-sil, but it was the best play strategically.

Quest two begins, and it’s Kyung-jin versus Eun-sil (rather than the first two teams selected). They line up in a staging hallway and it isn’t lost on Eun-sil’s team that their opponents are confident. They talk about what they’re gonna do with the prize money, as if they’ve won already. This especially bothers that MMA guy, Park Hyung-geun. “They chose our team and said they were sorry,” Eun-sil recounts, “but they don’t have to feel sorry. We’ll show them how strong we are.” She gives Kyung-jin a fist bump and the doors open.

The two teams enter the arena, and it appears to be an obstacle course. Ramp, wooden planks, rope. But this turns out to be far more Survivor than Ninja Warrior. “Moving Sand,” is the title, whose announcement garners comically quizzical looks, despite turning out to be quite literal.

The host says that this quest requires a balance of physical strength and also, you know, balance, and a screen flashes a pentagram of fitness: endurance, strength, balance, willpower, quickness. He continues:

“Both teams must cross the bridges and fill the tube with sand. Contestants must only travel via the bridges and cannot pass sandbags to each other on the bridge. The time limit is 12 minutes. The team to gather more sand in the given time wins.”

Certainly, nobody can take from Eun-sil that she’s an incredible athlete and individual contestant on Physical: 100. But this is gonna test how she performs as a leader, and how she applies more than her well-honed skills. She’ll have to know her areas of strength as well as weakness. Both teams strategize, with Kyung-jin delegating tasks to positive reception and Eun-sil detailing the procedure: “We need one or two people to bag the sand down there, and two to move the sandbags. Then we’ll switch.” This instills one of her teammates with confidence heading into the whistle.

With fifteen minutes to go in the episode, that’s plenty of time to fit a twelve minute event, wouldn’t you say? Right from the start, Eun-sil’s team begins to pull ahead, laying down bridge planks faster than Beard Guy. Hyung-geun leaps across with two boards not yet in place, and Eun-sil’s team has sand in their tube first. The other team is getting nervous, but there’s still plenty of time to go.

With both bridges built, it was time for me to reflect on how strange it is to not have an on-screen host. No Jeff Probst or, my preference, Phil Keoghan, giving color commentary to stir the pot. It falls on the contestants to provide exposition, about how the bridge is rickety or the sand is heavy. Eun-sil has taken up the job of filling bags with sand, but only because she’s afraid of crossing. Meanwhile, Kyung-jin is able to carry more than his fair share – as is Ha-yan, carrying the heaviest bags of her team. But everyone’s getting tired. “I started running out of breath,” Kyung-jin recalled.

An alarm blares, and the ropes come down, destabilizing the bridge. “This is fun!” Kyung-jin shouts, regaining himself. One minute to go. Hyung-geun falters on the bridge and sits, then struggles to pull his bag back up while a queue forms behind him. He gets there. Eun-sil makes the final run with seconds left, and it’s game over. Kyung-jin turns to Eun-sil and says, “Well done.”

Eun-sil’s team holds hands in anticipation of the announcement, but before it’s made, the leaders are directed to stand in the middle of their respective bridges. The loser’s bridge will break. After an American Idol-level of manufactured suspense, they cut to credits with four minutes left in the episode. (And I don’t know what that four minutes is because they wanted to autoplay a trailer for The Walking Dead).

However manufactured, that suspense generated in me enough of a physical response that it does become “one of 2023’s most compelling TV episodes.” And how infinitely frustrated I am. Now I have to spend an entire week ruminating on the possibility that Jang Eun-sil not only loses, but is humiliated before her untimely exit. If you see me zone out at any point in the next few days, it’s only because I’m poring over mental evidence. On the one hand, that promotional art might be something we haven’t seen from Eun-sil:

That looks like a true tug-o-war situation. She never made a face like that while vertical during the wrestling match. On the other hand, one of the things that these cliffhangers do is discontinuity, and specifically, they defuse tension. The cold opens don’t carry the weight of the previous episode’s climax. Is the show gonna be interested in the emotions it stirred up here? It would be unthinkable, after all that! Right? Well, a week is long, long time, and I’ll be feeling every second.

For more coverage…
Physical: 100 Episode #1
Physical: 100 Episode #2
Physical: 100 Episode #3
Physical: 100 Episode #4
Physical: 100 Episode #5
Physical: 100 Episode #6
Physical: 100 Episode #7
Physical: 100 – Final Report


2 thoughts on “Jang Eun-sil Report – Physical: 100 Episode #4

  1. The woman who said “You’re not gonna abandon me right?” was the wife of the married couple, introduced from the beginning. She’s not been as consistently highlighted as her husband, who is HUGE, but they’ve stayed in the game this far it seems.


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