When I watched Physical 100 a few months ago, my first thought was “Why would someone go on and create another Squid Game?”
Well, till someone went ahead and created the reality TV version of Squid Game.
For people who might have forgotten, Physical 100 showcased a diverse array of contestants from various athletic backgrounds, all vying for the title of possessing the "most perfect physique”. While one would wait for tempers to flare and fireworks between participants as with any reality show, the contestants in Physical 100 seemed to showcase a friendly competitive spirit, sometimes even competing with each other for the heck of it - irrespective of whether it would get them to the next round.
The viewers and contestants slowly realized that success in this game relied not just on physical prowess but also on mental fortitude, contestants had to dig deep and push themselves (and their bodies) to advance to the next round. Unexpected winners in each of the rounds of Physical 100 challenged conventional perceptions and disrupted our stereotypical notions of strength. It got us thinking about what lies beyond, and what the participants were digging into when they were showcasing very inspiring feats of perseverance through the game. The show prompted one to think about the unseen psychological factors like mental toughness, grit, and resilience that contribute to these victories, raising the question: What drives success beyond sheer physical strength?
And then we have Squid Game.
While 'Squid Game: The Challenge’ operates in a different territory than Physical 100, it presents a fascinating dynamic. Individuals from diverse backgrounds and life paths engage in childhood games, masking intricate strategies during each little challenge. Placed in a communal dormitory reminiscent of the original show, they forge connections, forming alliances that significantly impact the game's outcome.
The game is unpredictable and you don't know who is going to be at an advantage - either to put you at a disadvantage or worse, even eliminate you - so you want to be off the radar as a competitor but also in the good books with whoever has an advantage. Sounds very confusing, doesn’t it?
Some contestants saw it best to form alliances hingeing on whether you appeared to have the physical and intellectual capital for the next round, sometimes commonness and camaraderie. Contestants maintain a delicate balance between visibility and connection against standing out from the crowd.
The risks are palpable: appearing advantaged poses elimination threats, while the lack of support leads to game disadvantages. Trust and reciprocal trustworthiness become paramount. Yet, paradoxically, the game demands ruthlessness. Supporting someone today might mean you are up against them tomorrow, the scene is set to stretch your moral and ethical boundaries.
In an atmosphere like Squid Games, solely because of the stress of this mental manipulation, the natural tendency for participants would be to band together for comfort and reprieve, and at the same time, remember that they might have to eliminate these very same people who have brought them comfort.
It got me wondering, what does this do to individuals? How does it feel to genuinely care for someone while playing against them? Or to extinguish another's aspiration for personal gain? What does it take to stay whole in a game that seems hellbent on breaking you down?
‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ stirs up a lot of internal chaos for its participants. However, it is heartening to see that in an atmosphere of cutthroat competition, contestants also recognize what the games take from them and reclaim their agency, by making decisions and taking initiatives - i.e. following the “I want to control my fate” route of life.
While Physical 100 and Squid Games are vastly different from each other, one of the things they have in common is that both shows demand a lot of grit and resilience. Physical 100 demands that the participants dig deep and perform feats of mind over matter. Squid Game demands tolerance for high stress, perceptiveness, and a sense of self to preserve your integrity while you are being stretched.
For us as the audience, it holds up a mirror to who we are and what we are capable of. What would we do under similar circumstances? How would we process our decision to eliminate fellow participants? What parts of us would we meet? How many untapped strengths do we have? How much of untapped resilience lies within us?