Squid Game, the mega-hit South Korean survival drama that became Netflix’s most-watched series after it was released worldwide on the streamer in 2021, pivots around a contest between 456 impoverished players who risk their lives playing a series of probably fatal versions of children’s games in hopes of taking home a pot worth $35 million.
If you think, “Sounds like a great idea for a reality show?” Netflix is one step ahead of you.
While the show was renewed for a second season over the summer, the streamer also developed a Squid Game reality competition show with 456 real-life players contending for a significant cash prize.
In June, Netflix issued a casting call with the headline, “Do You Want to Play the Squid Game? Now You Can.” Squid Game: The Challenge would reward the winner with a prize of $4.56 million. As for the format, “Players will be put to the test in a series of games inspired by the show, along with some surprising new additions that will push them to their limits. Strategy, alliances, and character are crucial in order to survive the tension.”
However, once filming began in the U.K., contestants found that the tough feats were too close to the series’ sadistic challenges. Miserable conditions like enduring the freezing cold while filming in two massive airplane hangars and torturous games that caused them to collapse or require medical attention were part of the “fun.” Variety spoke to three contestants anonymously about what participating in the series was like. They said that despite constant contact with producers before filming began, they weren’t prepared for such hellish conditions.
“This is not a Bear Grylls survival show,” says John, who spoke anonymously. “If they had told us it was going to be that cold, no one would have gone through with it.”
Another player, Marlene, told Variety, “It’s not like we signed up for Survivor or Naked and Afraid. “The conditions were absolutely inhumane and had nothing to do with the game.”
During a game of Red Light, Green Light, participants found themselves filming in two airline hangars in the middle of a frigid British winter, ill-equipped in tracksuits. the game included having to hold poses for two minutes at a time. Then they were instructed to hold longer and longer each time, one participant told Variety, who counted to 26 minutes. Out of the corner of her eye, she said, the woman saw a female participant keel over and hit the ground. She wasn’t the first to collapse; some players reportedly needed medical attention.
In a statement obtained by Deadline, Netflix said it “deeply” cares about the health and safety of the cast and crew.
“While it was very cold on set—and participants were prepared for that—any claims of serious injury are untrue,” Netflix and producers Studio Lambert and The Garden said. “We… invested in all the appropriate safety procedures.”
A producer also allegedly told a competitor that the company had been outmatched by the size of the shoot. Beyond that, it isn’t clear what mistakes were made that caused Squid Game: The Challenge to resemble the real-life Squid Game too closely.
However, competing for money on TV is a stunt as old as television itself. High-risk reality shows, starting with Survivor handing out the sum of $1 million, now feel dated. After all, the prize in Squid Game: The Challenge‘s prize is $4.56 million. But cut it in half, as an accountant would say. Doing rough math for taxes, $4.56 million becomes $2.28 million. Which, while a princely sum, might have these contestants willing to compete in a more genteel contest and a less brutal game.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.