Jang Eun-sil Report – Physical: 100 Episode #7

In which we remember forever…

In between last week’s episodes and this week’s, I found myself engaging with a Facebook group I’d otherwise elected to hide from (long story). Somebody wanted to know if anyone was watching Physical: 100, and apparently, I’ll take any chance to raise my hand and flail about. In that time, I’d also written an article for Collider, and characterized the show in breathless terms: “Whether all the contestants believe it, men and women are equal competitors in these challenges which emphasize a variety of strengths, creating a final, holistic visual metaphor — this time, for egalitarianism.” Wow! Put that on the DVD box: “Egalitarianism” – Collider. Naturally, I then bit my tongue, remembering that Jang Eun-sil was on thin ice, and if she goes down, the rest of the women follow.

On Facebook, this person laid out the ship challenge in such a way that it blew my mind. All along, I’ve been criticizing this show and its producers for a lack of drama and perhaps arbitrary games, but the postulation here was that the boat challenge combines the underdogs’ strengths. That Quest 2.5 wasn’t just kinky fun, it taught the winners how to use their entire body as counterbalance, deemphasizing the arms. Now extend the analogy: leverage the pulleys in a way that the first team didn’t. Maybe there is a narrative after all, and it’s the one being constructed inside the contestants’ minds. As noted last time, “Moving… a 1.5-Ton Ship” is far more about strategy than brute strength. Now it falls to Team Jang Eun-sil and Kim Sang-wook (the leader of his team from “Moving Sand”) to author their victory.

Once again, none of the others predict a good outcome. “It was awesome how they won the second quest,” a guy says, “but the team consisted mostly of women, and even the men were on the smaller side.” True, the biggest guy is Seong Chi-hyun, the injured player now tasked with using his lower body. This talking heads segment exists only to move the goalpost, as if priming the audience for a loss: “I’d have huge respect for them if they can even finish the quest.”

Our underdogs gather in the staging area, and it’s Park Hyung-geun who leads the chant. “Fighting!” I would’ve loved to have seen his redemption arc. I’m sorry, but you can’t have this moment in the same timeline where he knelt on Chun-ri’s chest and Eun-sil observed that his stare was chilling. Did she beat him up off-camera? Did they have a heart-to-heart? I suppose they’re all focused on the same goal. “Don’t be nervous,” Eun-sil says to Sang-wook, who returns a shy smile.

Next, they take the field, and “get their bearings,” as they keep saying. It’s all so much bigger than Eun-sil expected, but she quickly gets to work. “Move the logs with Hak-seon first. Then our three groups will move the oak barrels. I think Chy-hyun should break that chest, since he can’t use one leg.” There’s a lot of gesticulating. “I think Team Leader Jang Eun-sil gave great orders,” one of the guys remembers. “It showed that she was mindful of Chi-hyun.” Indeed, when Eun-sil’s the mayor, one’s handicap is injury, not gender.

Speaking of mindful, when the whistle blows, one of the guys delivers the sledgehammer to Chi-hyun. Unfortunately, he then doesn’t follow Nippert’s method, but frees the barrel with a few swings nonetheless. Shim Eu-ddeum lifts and carries a barrel by herself, boosting her confidence. The team is working efficiently in this first phase, moving to help one another when needed. Strangely, they’re reminding each other to take it slow, despite that Eun-sil thinks – rightly – they need to hurry. A gracious look at the scoreboard indicates they’re 45 seconds behind the second team.

There may be no “Ooh, this barrel is heavier than we thought” exposition, but when they try to push the ship onto the logs, that’s when the trouble starts. They gain not a centimeter, even after swapping positions. A few dozen seconds pass. They begin to wonder: “Is this it? Do we give up?” Then Eun-sil shouts, “Don’t give up!” There you have it. Pushing and pushing and pushing, eventually, they get their sea legs. “Let’s finish this,” they say, “even if it takes us a long time.”

Once more, my heart sinks on Valentine’s Day. I can’t believe they didn’t come up with a better plan. I can’t believe they aren’t lifting the boat! And it just goes on like this until finally, mercifully, they reach the logs and pick up speed. Actually, they make up a lot of time here. Sang-wook is doing great pulling and directing from the front. Eun-sil and the team replace the logs as needed.

And then they hit that dreaded ramp.

A log gets wedged between the front of the ship and a two-by-four. Eun-sil tries to kick out the log, but it won’t move. “That’s when it started to go pear-shaped,” she recalls, with more anger in her eyes than I’ve ever seen.

Just be careful Eun-sil doesn’t separate your head from your body

I mean, she seems to be a pretty laid-back person in general. Even when pinned on the wrestling mat, she tends to just look up with that Seulgi-esque expression.

So her team wades into this new problem the only way they know how: pushing. And man, by this point, they look tired.

Finally, there’s a division of labor, with some pulling on oars, others on ropes, and Eun-sil rounds to the back of the ship to lift slightly and push. She’s joined by Mi-ho, who feels what everyone in the audience is feeling, referring to her team captain as unnie: “Eun-sil stood next to me saying, ‘We need to keep our arms straight. We need to work hard.’ I saw the look on her face and thought, ‘I should push like crazy. I should stay strong.’”

They certainly try, even as this final push grinds down their spirit. “This is a disaster,” Hyung-geun recalls. “We can’t take breaks!” Eun-sil shouts, taking the opposite approach to Sung-hoon. But they’re eventually forced to, though she isn’t ready to give up. “Just ten more pushes!” In the end, they kick the rope into place. The whistle blows. “I think everyone worked very hard,” she says. “Everyone did their part, and they did the best they could.”

Before we learn the results, we have a flashback to the second team’s completion, so to speak, which did acquit with some rhythmic hip-thrusts from Sung-bin. Like Eun-sil’s team, they get it done cursing and screaming.

In the gallery, which is like the hub room of this Zelda dungeon, the remaining thirty gather and the host lays on the suspense. Is anything gained from this bullshit where it’s like, “And the next contestant eliminated from American Idol is…” *music* “…to be revealed after the break”? That’s the vibe here, man. With great consternation, the host finally gives up the goods: the first team to advance is the expected, Team Choo Sung-hoon and Jo Jin-hyeong. Sexyama again raises his fist. Classic. They got it done in 13 minutes and 34 seconds.

“We worked really hard,” Jin-hyeong says to Sung-hoon, who then turns to the team for a speech. Meanwhile, the Front Man is like, “Huh? I didn’t authorize any speeches.” Sung-hoon tells them, “First, I’m grateful that we were on the same team. There’s only one reason we won. We won because our teamwork was great. Let’s have fun competing in the upcoming quests.” Everyone applauds.

Regaining control of the room, the host then reports that the time difference between the last two teams was two minutes and 20 seconds, which ruffles some feathers. Sung-bin’s team thought they had it in the bag. As we recall, they didn’t believe the third team would even finish.

And the team eliminated from Physical: 100 in Quest 3?

Team Jang Eun-sil and Kim Sang-wook.

Eun-sil doesn’t really react, but you can tell she’s holding back tears. Sure, I may be frustrated that there was no game theory, no lessons learned from earlier challenges, but with a difference of two minutes, an injured guy, and a hell of a lot less muscle mass, it really came down to grit and determination. Ironically, they were playing on the meta level, directly challenging all that muscle mass discussion instead of circumventing it with strategy, and they got so close. With the pain of that challenge still reverberating in her body, I’m sure it was absolutely heartbreaking.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been a team leader here,” Sang-wook says, practically poking his nonexistent glasses back onto his humble nose. “I was the team leader of my last team, too, and we lost both times. It weighs on me. Although it was really hard for us, we completed the mission, and I want to thank my teammates for that.” A round of applause, and all eyes are then on Eun-sil, who turns around to face them. “Despite the unfavorable circumstances, not one of us gave up until the end. And I found that moving.”

Of course, I was aware of this outcome before seeing it, having again awakened early and checked Twitter. In addition to the bad news, I also saw an Eun-sil quote floating around: “If there’s another opportunity, let’s write history then.”

Eun-sil is first up to smash her torso, with its nice tummy. “Can you take a photo for me?” she says, rubbings its shoulders. And of course, she makes a goofy face when it explodes:

It’s like Irene yelled at her

It’s Sang-wook who has the more profound words, telling the room, “You have made me feel emotions I can’t feel in everyday life, and I’m grateful for that.” We have a fitting title card interlude, and the rest of the episode is a blur. Something about classical mythology?

Fulfilling the anxiety that’s been building for weeks – toppled and reconstructed again – at around 6:00 a.m. I learned that Eun-sil was eliminated. At the time of this writing, it’s been more than six hours; I’ve had all day to find peace. To be honest, it was worse these past two days, when I was stricken by a crisis of confidence. On a whim, I went back and reviewed Eun-sil’s United World Wrestling record, and in five listed matches, she scored a single win. The corresponding videos on YouTube are painful for me to watch. So much to say, I’ve seen Jang Eun-sil lose before. I’ve seen her lose a lot, if we define such a qualifier as “more than I’d like,” but my reflexive rationalization is, I’ve found, misguided.

In wrestling matches, sometimes it’s a blowout, where her opponent scores ten points within the allotted minutes. According to the UWW rules, this might translate to five instances of technical scoring – say the opponent was able to reverse or throw her in just such a way. So I think, “Well, it’s almost arbitrary, isn’t it? Maybe they got lucky!” Of course not. This is what Eun-sil is trying to do to them. It’s what she trains for, and it makes me dizzy how hard she trains. The truth is, she’s encountered better wrestlers, but whatever losses she’s incurred over the years haven’t shaken her love for the sport, or for competition generally. At this moment, how could I presume to be more upset than she is? That’s the life she’s chosen, and she lives it well – winning and losing with dignity.

Of course, the fact remains that her fate in Physical: 100 was also increasingly tied to a majority of the remaining women, who are subsequently gone. In the beginning, I’d misidentified the stress of watching a show like this as the inevitable emotional investment. Yeah, but in this case, there were also enormous stakes, as now some small slice of the Collider readership knows. However, it was a different part of Eun-sil’s farewell speech that struck me: “We didn’t get to write history like we talked about today, but I saw the possibility.”

This is translated, so who knows what she’s actually saying, but taken at face value, it’s a beautiful statement. “I saw the possibility.” I like to think that we all did. There was no embarrassment here. Every female contestant turned in an impressive performance, and Jang Eun-sil will be an icon. I mean, her Instagram numbers don’t lie, as I’ve been watching them tick up at a meteoric rate! (Covering this show has also been a boon to my own traffic, only tapering off last week):

I’m not sure this means anybody’s reading these things, but it was kind of fun to see big numbers.

In the end (my end, anyway), Physical: 100 turns out to be a perfect metaphor, or more precisely, an illustration, of how each one of us exists along not a spectrum but a kind of hierarchy – and that hierarchy only matters in very special circumstances. Given the right athletic challenge, a gallery room appears in each of our minds, but our position in that hierarchy isn’t what’s set in stone. Let’s say it’s you and your friend John. You can do more pull-ups, and he can run a faster mile. And what if either of you were charged with leading a team? I tell you, I became positively existential, turning these thoughts over in the wee morning hours: What is winning? What is losing? And of course, What is strength?

It was the stress of finally having this conversation, which I haven’t truthfully been burdened with in almost a decade. It may come up a lot, haunting the comments section of any video about a man and woman in fisticuffs, or every other video about a woman doing something even remotely physical, but I’ve felt no urgency to dust off my thesis. I get it: men are extremely insecure, and so often trapped by their own mind games. All it takes is seeing one example of a man outperforming a woman, and they’re convinced all over again of the conclusion a patriarchal society naturally conditions them to make. So I find that this show, and Jang Eun-sil’s contribution to it, stands as a satisfying riposte. It may have induced in me “emotions I can’t feel in everyday life,” but no matter how stressful, I’m surprised by how fun it was.

You can guarantee Donovan and I will recap episodes #8 and #9 in a podcast, “Physical: 100 – Final Report,” by which time I’ll be fully recovered, most likely.

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

Well. I’m sure the words will come, but maybe those words already exist. I don’t know; I don’t speak Korean. To play out our Team Leader Jang Eun-sil (just couldn’t resist)…


8 thoughts on “Jang Eun-sil Report – Physical: 100 Episode #7

  1. Thank you so much for your Jang Eun Sil commentary over the past few weeks. As you know there’s not much English content around so it’s amazing that you also provided such insightful and quality words about Eun Sil and the show. I went into the show not thinking I’d have any particular attachment to anybody but damn, Jang Eun Sil just won me over completely with her quiet charisma. I’ll be following her career with much interest from now on.

    Like you, I couldn’t believe the absolutely inspiring words that came out of her closing speech – ‘We didn’t get to write history like we talked about today, but I saw the possibility’ WOW that floored me. Poetic and pertinent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading! It’s been quite a journey. And quiet charisma is really it — she doesn’t speak often, but when she does, you listen. To that, how I wish I knew Korean so I could offer closed captioning for her YouTube videos. But what I have seen, regardless of the language barrier, has been a lot of fun to watch


  2. The “What is strength?” question really haunts me as well in this series. Any task that involves moving a fixed-weight thing (including the sand in Quest 2) is like saying: “Here, biggest person: have the prize.” That’s not strength, it’s just mass. Indeed, there is variance of strength within people of the same size, and when testing the strength of people of the same size, fixed weights are fine. But when testing the strength of people who are not the same size, it’s absurdly bad. OTOH, as much as I loved Da Young being the obvious MVP across all the groups for Quest 2, neither is one’s ability to secure Velcro on the bottom of planks.

    And so I have been consistently disappointed in the “quest” designs for this series. You’d think with all the prior history of strength competitions on TV that reasonable cross-weight-class tasks would have been available and used on this show to a greater extent. Quest 2.5, Quest 4’s Icarus and Ouroboros tasks were fine, but that’s it.

    In any case, I’m glad I randomly checked in with your blog for the first time in years, and got to read your coverage. I’ve dipped in here occasionally since your Bagels After Midnight days. Our interests have only aligned occasionally since CXG – I became a mega-fan of Terrace House thereafter, and that’s led to my enjoyment of Japanese dramas. And, as an InSomnia, I am not generally allowed to talk with ReVeluvs and Pink Pandas (j/k – SuA did a regular stint on Wendy’s radio show, and the rest of Dreamcatcher seems to enjoy Red Velvet and, like everyone else, they’ve covered Monster. They haven’t had much interaction with Apink to date.)

    I’d love to see your write-up of Episodes 8 and 9, but I understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was actually going through old comments to get rid of the auto-generated ones for “pingbacks,” when I’m trying to link to different articles within articles, and I saw your username, so I was glad to see this comment. Unfortunately, CXG was pretty outside my wheelhouse in terms of genre, though not subject matter, where as you’ve seen, this site tends to be a far cry.

      I took a peek at Terrace House in my various writings about Physical: 100, because I remembered the discourse around it being that it was so different from American reality shows, and saw that apparently that discourse shifted with some controversy?

      Haha I have yet to parse out the politics of K-pop fandom. I’m not sure it’s even legal to be both a Reveluv and Pink Panda at once. Reveluv and SONE, sure — I know that much


      1. Terrace House ended much in the worst way possible for a franchise: one of the members of the house, a pro wrestler named Hana Kimura committed suicide while the show was still being produced but had gone into hiatus with everyone moving back to their own places during lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic (which was only going to last a few weeks, remember). The show had been at the height of its popularity and along with that came a huge amount of social media engagement, and so when an episode was released right before the first lockdown where she had a fight with a house mate where she angrily grabbed the hat of one of the other housemates and threw it, she received a huge amount of hate comments including daily comments from the hoi polloi that she should kill herself.

        The show had always presented itself pretty much as a pure documentary, saying at the beginning of every episode that there was “no script at all”, and so when it was revealed that production had told her that she could slap the guy if she wanted to, the illusion was completely destroyed for most people. In reality, of course, production had been providing direction and action suggestions from day one five years before (like all reality TV), and the housemates were free to ignore such suggestions.

        The reasons why Hana killed herself are much more complicated than “the show made her look bad”. In fact, I’ve watched the series a couple of times since her death, and she actually comes off as pretty sweet, if a bit naive as a whole.

        I do think the series is worth watching even in light of what happened, and have blogged my own retrospective about the show here: http://mertseger.blogspot.com/2022/10/ten-years.html .


      2. I can see being disappointed by the exposure of its “reality” nature, especially if that’s what made it special. Honestly, if Eun-sil and the underdogs won the ship challenge, a part of me would be wondering how much of Physical: 100 is orchestrated, big-picture.

        And call me naive, but I am -somewhat- surprised that such a high-profile suicide is still possible. Maybe not “surprise,” but more… despairing? Inasmuch as I can just sitting here at the computer, but after Korea’s 2019, those safety protocols need to be in place, whether filters for cyber bullying or mental health resources provided by the production staff. It’s terrible.

        I’m gonna link this blog to the first Physical: 100 recap, because it’s exactly what I was looking for and couldn’t find


  3. I know what you mean about Korea. There was a while there where I was maintaining a mental kpop suicide watch-clock. Fortunately, it’s now been a while. I wonder if the agencies in general are doing a better job of keeping the hate from the eyes of the idols, and doing better training of the idols in handling the hate.

    Do give TH a try for a couple of episodes if you’re bored sometime. I’ve been running a watch-group stream on Saturdays, and we are just now completing a third loop through the whole thing (the dad of one of the housemates joined us a couple of times for his son’s run on the show). I’d invite you to join us, but I suspect there will be no fourth loop though the group might go on to other things. Instead, here’s the link to the unlicensed streaming site that has the subbed episodes for the first series (there is no purely legal way to watch the first series right now): https://dramanice.ac/terrace-house-boys-x-girls-next-door/watch-terrace-house-boys-x-girls-next-door-episode-1-online .


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