‘Why are you in this?’: S'porean Elaine Wong gets asked about hit Netflix show Physical: 100
“Why are you in this?”
That was the question many of Elaine Wong’s friends asked her in shock, after seeing the South Korea-based Singaporean actress and television personality on Physical: 100, the new competition reality series by streaming giant Netflix.
The svelte 34-year-old – who appeared in the first episode, which aired on Jan 24, in a frilly off-shoulder top and skinny jeans – looked glaringly out of place in a sea of professional athletes, Olympians and bodybuilders with eight-packs and bulging biceps.
Contestants introduced themselves in an arena that was populated with clay busts of their torsos.
In a phone interview with The Straits Times, Wong – who is 166cm tall and weighs 43kg – says: “I was very intimidated. After I went in and stood behind the clay sculpture of my torso, the next contestant – a lady who’s a bodybuilder, who is even more muscular than some of the men – showed up. Her clay sculpture was directly in front of mine and I was like, ‘Oh no, can I just take my sculpture and run off now?’”
Physical: 100 – which pits 100 contestants in top physical shape in gruelling challenges that require use of their strength and stamina – is the most-watched series on Netflix Singapore.
Contestants include famed mixed martial artist Choo Sung-hoon, also known by his Japanese name Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Wong was not aware of how physical the games, some of which involve wrestling, would be prior to the beginning of filming.
She recalls: “When I was approached to join the series, the production didn’t tell me what the games were going to be. They just asked me if I thought I have what it takes, if I have the ideal physical body. To me, beauty is subjective. If I’m confident, I think I look good.
“My management really tried to ask what the games would be, but we were told that it’s confidential. They did say that it would be something like the drama Squid Game (2021). All the games played in Squid Game are very simple children’s games, so I thought perhaps the games we’d play would be like those on (South Korean variety series) Running Man.”
Wong, who dropped out of the Singapore K-pop girl group Skarf prior to its debut in 2012, always harboured dreams of being a star.
She was once a K-pop trainee under MBK Entertainment, known for producing the girl group T-ara, but switched tracks to be an actress after starring in Chinese productions such as the films Fight In Causeway Bay 2 (2016) and Undercover (2017).
Wong, who has been living and working in South Korea for 13 years, also appears on South Korean television series such as South Korean Foreigners (2018 to present) as a guest.
Physical: 100, which was filmed in 2022, is one of her biggest gigs to date.
“I know I’m like a tiny rabbit compared with everyone else, but who would say no to Netflix? It’s a good experience to have and I want to win. Even after seeing the rest of the cast, I didn’t give up. I still wanted to give it my best shot,” she says.
Without knowing the content of the series prior to filming it, she had no idea how to train for the show too.
She says: “I take good care of my body. I do yoga and pilates, and go to the gym every day in South Korea, but I’m not a professional. I don’t wrestle or anything. I thought maybe I’d need a bit more strength to compete, so I just added more hours to my usual routine and kept a healthy diet. If I knew what it was about, I might have gone to a boot camp.”
Still, the first mission – where all 100 contestants had to hang on to a raised structure of pull-up bars using just their arm strength for as long as they could, before letting go and falling into a pool of water – frightened Wong.
But the underdog eventually placed 80th, which meant she survived longer than 20 other contestants – including some hulking strongmen.
“I’m scared of heights and I’m scared of water, so I really didn’t want to lose,” Wong says. “I wanted to hang on for as long as I could because it really felt like if I let go, I’d die.”
Physical: 100 is streaming on Netflix.
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