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Challenging Squid Game: The Challenge

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

Seong Gi-hun was a gambler. A bad one. His addiction had left him deep in debt, jobless, and struggling to support both his daughter and his elderly mother. All seemed lost, until a stranger invited him to play a game. A game that, if he won, would pay enough that Seong Gi-hun and his family would be set for life. He was taken to an unknown location, given a nondescript track suit, and informed that he and 455 other equally desperate and destitute players would be challenged to compete in a series of challenges, each based off of popular Korean children's games. Little did Gi-hun and his fellow competitors know, but every game came with a bitter twist: the losers wouldn't just be eliminated from the game, they'd be eliminated from the earth itself.

By the time Seong Gi-hun arrives at the challenge's finale, titular Squid Game, it's been revealed that the whole competition is essentially a sick joke. The money is real, of course, but so are all the deaths, and so are the jagged grins of the indolent rich who sit and watch the carnage from VIP lounges. The lifechanging sum that the contestants fought and died for was practically a pittance to the masked, wealthy, and seemingly inhuman monsters who literally dangled it above the heads of the poor, desperate, and now-dead men and women who needed it so badly.

Squid Game was one of 2021's biggest surprise hits, quickly going from unknown property to being seen by 142 million households in its first four weeks, making it Netflix's most-watched show ever. Something about it resonated with viewers in America and 93 other countries. Maybe it was the plight of the main characters, the gleeful cruelty of the rich facilitators – plus the fact that they get away unharmed – or the familiar brutality of a battle royale-style setup juxtaposed with the innocence of the games themselves. Whatever the case, the series gained an impassioned following from America to Europe and beyond, and their passion endured well after the credits rolled on the final episode.

Squid Game IRL

Squid Game season 2 was announced in 2022, with production officially beginning in July 2023. That was neither quick nor real enough for some viewers – or for Netflix itself, apparently.

Someone at Netflix had a "genius" idea sometime between the release of Squid Game season one and November 2023. "Hey," they probably said. "What if we did Squid Game, but in real life?" And instead of firing that person, the higher-ups at Netflix nodded and signed a blank check. Thus Squid Game: The Challenge was born.

Squid Game: The Challenge is a ten-episode British reality competition series based on Squid Game. It features the same or very similar games (with some reality TV twists), the same number of players (456), and a prize of $4.56 million (a bit more than 10% of the prize in Squid Game).

The production itself was intense and expansive. Filming began in January 2023, with shots spread out across two studios in the UK, a studio in Bedford, and on six huge sound stages in London. The 456 contestants were pitted against each other in a set of challenges that mimicked the games in the actual Squid Game, albeit with a twist – the losers got to walk away without being murdered … which Netflix may now view as a mistake (kidding).

Red Light, Green Light

Squid Game: The Challenge opened much like the series itself; with a rousing and twisted game of red light, green light. The differences between the two games were minimal. Both included every contestant, both occurred under the watchful eye of a weird robot, and both apparently involved some amount of risk to life and limb.

Now, granted, the original game was a bit harsher than its Netflix original equivalent – namely because contestants who failed to stop on a red light were immediately shot to death, something you can't really get away with in the real world. That's not to say the IRL version was a particularly fun or wholesome affair, however.

Like many or most productions, Squid Game: The Challenge involved a nearly torturous filming schedule with incredibly long hours, many of which the contestants spent sitting around waiting for something to happen. Most of the sitting around happened on indoor sets with heating and refreshments, but not all of it.

According to the contestants on Squid Game: The Challenge, the production company filmed the red light, green light challenge outdoors at a studio in the UK during a particularly chilly spate of January weather. The shoot, meant to mimic the five-minute game played on the original show, took at least seven hours to complete, leaving the show's 456 contestants to sit, crouch, and hold stress positions for hour after hour in potentially hazardous temperatures.

At least two of the contestants have threatened to sue the production company and Netflix itself, claiming that they experienced some combination of nerve damage, hypothermia, and emotional duress. They and other contestants claim some of their hands turned purple from the cold, that one of the contestants was taken out in a stretcher, and that several suffered injuries spending hours stuck in painful stress positions. Netflix acknowledges that three of the show's 456 contestants were treated for "mild" injuries after the shoot.

No lawsuits have been filed as of yet, and it's hard to imagine that Netflix would have gone ahead with any of the games without having the contestants sign bulletproof liability waivers to protect them from just such an occurrence. If the contestants were to proceed, the would likely have to contend against the agreements they signed originally as well as the full might of the Netflix legal team. And unless they could prove that the production company was so negligent that their disregard for the contestants' safety was enough to render the waivers moot, it's hard to imagine any potential lawsuits coming out in their favor.

It remains to be seen whether the contestants will sue or whether their lawsuits will succeed. It hasn't bothered Netflix that much, as Squid Game: The Challenge has also been renewed for a second season. One thing is certain, however: the contestants on the actual Squid Game would have loved the chance to sue the organizers for putting them in danger.

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