In 2021, millions of people around the world were united by a shared obsession with Squid Game. The acclaimed K-drama provided masterfully poignant social commentary on class divides and capitalism as 456 desperate people put their lives on the line for a life-changing amount of money as billionaire moguls derived entertainment from the slaughter. It was a gripping, thoughtful, compelling tale that lands with all the subtlety of a giant robot doll that shoots you if it catches you moving during Red Light, Green Light.
The success of Squid Game not only spawned a second season, but it also inspired a reality show competition that — from start to finish — completely misses the point of the original show.
Enter Squid Game: The Challenge, the new reality show series that pits 456 actual people in a similar series of games with $4.56 million on the line. In execution, the show completely spits in the face of the messages that the original series stood for, but the show was marked with controversy right from the start.
'Squid Game: The Challenge' faced controversy barely a month into filming.
The reality series was first announced in June 2022. Shortly after it was revealed, the show received mixed reactions from fans on social media.
"I literally cannot express just how ironic Netflix being a huge corporate entity and making the general public play Squid Game from everyone's entertainment is," one person commented on the reveal trailer.
Many criticized the series for completely ignoring the premise and morals of the original show by recreating it.
With initial reactions already leaning toward negative, it certainly didn't help that the show got hit with some bad press almost as soon as filming started in January 2023.
In February 2023, reports began emerging that contestants in The Challenge faced "cruel" treatment and that many aspects of the show were "rigged."
In a report from Rolling Stone, anonymous former players were allegedly made to play in inhumane conditions, with filming for the "Red Light, Green Light" game lasting for over nine hours in "a freezing airport hangar". Some reports claimed that ambulances arrived in order to treat injured and unhealthy players who were suffering due to filming conditions. The show was briefly subject to inspection by Britain's Health and Safety Executive, which found no actionable offenses at the time.
Netflix subsequently released a statement saying that player safety was one of their top priorities during filming and that the medical issues on set were greatly exaggerated.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the only issue plaguing filming. Former players also believed the results of the games to be rigged. In the same Rolling Stone report, anonymous players claimed that players received favoritism if they were influencers or popular TikTokers.
Favored players had their mics prepared properly while others reportedly wore dummy mics. In more extreme cases, players who had successfully completed games were artificially eliminated and removed from the show in between filming sessions. Because of this, eliminated players accused Netflix of trying to generate false narratives and storylines around preferred players.
As of this writing, Squid Game: The Challenge has garnered some positive critical responses from many outlets for being able to draw actual stakes from the show. However, many players still accuse Netflix of fabricating that drama in an attempt to legitimize a reality show that fundamentally misunderstands the assignment on execution.