Attention all players: Netflix’s “Squid Game: The Challenge” might not be what you’re expecting.
The streaming giant on Wednesday unleashes the follow-up to creator Hwang Dong-hyuk’s 2021 South Korean viral series, “Squid Game.” But it’s not another harrowing chapter of the chilling survival drama depicting contestants getting killed in a bloody secret contest filled with macabre children’s games.
“Squid Game: The Challenge” (streaming first five episodes Nov. 22) is a 10-episode reality series featuring 456 real contestants playing the same children’s games for a cash prize of $4.56 million. So that means no blood (thankfully) and obviously, no one dies.
Here’s what happening with “Squid Game: The Challenge,” which drops four more episodes on Nov. 29 and the finale on Dec. 6.
How did Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ become ‘The Challenge’ reality show?
“Squid Game” was a global phenomenon. Netflix’s most-watched series received 14 Emmy nominations and won six, including best lead actor in a drama series for Lee Jung-jae, who played contestant Seong Gi-hun, also known as Player 456.
With a long gap before a planned Season 2, Netflix followed up with the reality series “The Challenge” around the “Squid Game” premise, hiring the United Kingdom’s Studio Lambert, which has created reality shows such as Netflix’s “The Circle” and the BBC’s “Race Across the World.”
“‘Squid Game’ was not only an immensely popular scripted show about a game, but it was also a game that you could put real people in to play,” says Stephen Lambert, one of ‘The Challenge’ executive producers. “It was almost inviting this unscripted series to be made.”
The entire “Squid Game” set was recreated on six massive stages around London for the 456 primarily British and American contestants, which include a mother-son duo. The participants were fully immersed in the “Squid Game” world for 16 days, assigned numbers and the tell-tale green tracksuits while living in giant dorms featuring stacked bunk beds.
“It’s a very immersive world that people genuinely didn’t leave,” says executive producer Tim Harcourt. “People showered, used the restrooms, ate there. They really have their heads in the game.”
What carries over to the ‘Squid Game’ reality show ‘The Challenge’?
The memorable “Squid Game” features are all in “The Challenge.” Contestants leave the dorms and walk through the eerie labyrinthine stairwells guarded by distinctive masked guards. The most horrifying and memorable “Squid Game” sequence, the Red Light/Green Light game, was constructed in a separate 100,000-square-foot former airplane hangar. The monstrous rotating child’s doll, who turns to eliminate contestants who move after the “Red Light” command, was constructed in the U.K.’s biggest 3D printing facility.
But there was no shooting as on the original series. Each player wore tracking devices, and if they moved after “Red Light,” a black dye-pack canister on their uniform exploded, eliminating them from the game as they were instructed to roll over and play dead. With the (fictional) danger gone from the children’s games in “The Challenge,” the sizable grand prize adds to the drama and the pressure.
“The prize, the biggest in Netflix history, compensates for the fact that obviously we weren’t going to shoot our contestants,” says Lambert. “We needed something of a huge scale so that (players) could be invested.”
“The Challenge” adds to the intrigue by allowing players to turn on each other and eliminate fellow contestants to be the last one standing.
The dorm piggy bank fills with ever more money the more people are “killed” off. An elaborate computer graphic effect on “Squid Game,” the clear piggy bank was fully constructed for “The Challenge,” filling with the equivalent of $10,000 with every elimination.
Squid Game: The Challenge: Release date, trailer, what to know about Netflix reality show
What’s the ‘Squid Game’ controversy around ‘The Challenge’?
Backlash around “The Challenge” has centered on two issues: Disappointed fans were expecting a new drama season ― the first streamed more than two years ago, in Septmber 2021 ― but instead get a reality show built around children’s games. The series has received mixed critical reviews, with a 63% positive rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Adding to “The Challenge” woes, a February Rolling Stone exposé featured unidentified participants who said they mulling legal action after an experience filled with real “torment and trauma” that they claimed was “rigged” from the start.
Lambert calls the claims “completely untrue,” saying that the welfare of the participants was paramount and the games were “rigorously checked. It’s very easy when you’ve been eliminated from a game to anonymously make all kinds of claims,” says Lambert. “But every single elimination was overseen by a team of independent adjudicators. The idea that Netflix would contemplate giving away their largest prize ever, and not ensure it was scrupulously fair, is just ridiculous.”
When is ‘Squid Game’ Season 2 coming?
If you’re not into “The Challenge,” creator Hwang is working on the second “Squid Game,” which started filming in July. It will star Lee and a host of new players fighting for their lives, in a new scripted drama. However, fans will have to wait until at least late 2024 for the series to come to Netflix.