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Contestants run on unpowered treadmills in “Physical: 100 Season 2 — Underground.”/ Courtesy of Netflix

By KTimes

The second season of Netflix’s “Physical: 100,” a survival program that begins with a grueling unpowered treadmill challenge, showcases the raw physical strength and endurance of its contestants. Unlike motorized treadmills, these require constant running, pushing participants to their limits and highlighting the pure physicality and resilience of the human body.

This tribute to real, not AI-generated, physiques has drawn attention, emphasizing the unmatched, survival-optimized robustness of the human form.

The show’s success reflects the younger audience’s enthusiasm for the concept of a “body built for survival,” intertwining with the existential fears of being replaceable by machines or other people. The release of the second season sparked a flurry of social media activity, with users sharing images of the contestants’ sculpted physiques, emphasizing their authenticity.

As a reaction to the AI era, the show’s new season has ranked third in Netflix’s series category across both English and non-English speaking territories from March 21 to 25.

Mixed Martial Arts Fighter Shim Yu-Ri, Left, Shakes Hands With Her Male Opponent In The Ring During Season 2 Of 'Physical: 100.' / Courtesy Of Netflix

Mixed martial arts fighter Shim Yu-ri, left, shakes hands with her male opponent in the ring during season 2 of “Physical: 100.” / Courtesy of Netflix

The show is celebrated for its contestants who transcend physical limits and break stereotypes, including female mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Shim Yu-ri, who became a sensation after challenging and defeating a male opponent who appeared to outweigh her by 20 kg. “I wanted to fight and win against someone strong,” she said.

The contestants’ determination, widely shared on social media, highlighted the backlash against AI’s reductive predictions of youth potential and capabilities based on big data.

Professor Yoon Kim Ji-young of Changwon National University’s Philosophy Department analyzed the popularity of the “Physical: 100” series as a reflection of the desire to prove the future’s possibilities. “While expectations for a smart society, where AI optimizes decisions and judgments in place of humans, grow by learning from past and present data, there’s an aspect of human life where the future cannot be predicted solely based on these elements,” she said.

The allure of content countering the “AI worldview” is a global trend. Films like “The Wailing” attracted 10 million viewers in South Korea with its unique take on shamanism, and the American drama “The Three-Body Problem,” featuring mysteriously flickering night skies, swept the top spot in Netflix’s series category across 77 countries as of March 25.

Both stories, centered around super-science, resonate with the public’s fascination with narratives that AI cannot quantify or predict, showcasing anti-AI or AI-surpassing themes.

Mixed Martial Artist And Tv Personality Kim Dong-Hyun Takes Part In A Competition In 'Physical: 100 Season 2.' / Courtesy Of Netflix

Mixed martial artist and TV personality Kim Dong-hyun takes part in a competition in “Physical: 100 Season 2.” / Courtesy of Netflix

Director Jang Jae-hyun of “The Wailing” expressed his motivation to highlight undervalued non-scientific elements in a world dominated by numbers and science.

Culture critic Sung Sang-min said that experiences awakening human senses, such as the sudden proliferation of pop-up stores nationwide drawing crowds, align with the consumption trends of content challenging the AI worldview.

As the world grapples with the implications of AI, “Physical: 100” and its contemporaries remind us of the irreplaceable value of human physicality and emotion. In a society increasingly governed by algorithms, these stories celebrate the unpredictable potential of the human spirit, offering a counter-narrative to the AI-dominated discourse.

This article from the Hankook Ilbo, a sister publication of The Korea Times, was assisted by generative AI and edited by staff at The Korea Times.

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