Squid Game: The Challenge

Aside from one massive fail, the reality TV adaptation of a Netflix hit is completely compelling.

If you’re still waiting in endless frustration for Squid Game 2 to drop, relax. Squid Game: The Challenge has got you covered.

The world went gaga for the South Korean drama back when we were all in lockdown. Turning children’s games into a cold, sadistic drama with captivating performances proved to be a winning combination.

Now life imitates art as Netflix reconstructs the set (in the UK) and morphs it into an actual TV reality contest. Full points to the Art Deparment for convincingly replicating the look of the show, from the cornfield with the mesmerising giant Doll, to the Escher-like staircases and the warehouse full of bunk beds.

And yes there are 456 players in green track suits all hoping to take home the $4.56m cash prize hovering above them in a giant glass piggy bank. This surely, is TV’s biggest ever prize -is this why Netflix fees have gone up?

Contestants have travelled from all over the world to compete in this contest (there is an opening glimpse of the Sydney Opera House), silently collected by black vans ahead of the first game, Red Light, Green Light.

If you thought Million Dollar Island‘s 100 contestants was a lot to follow, you better sit down for 456 of them. While every player has a number, many will be named and profiled with back stories. The US accents dominate here, more on that later, but there is Australian, UK, Indian, Italian.

Amongst the contestants are Alpha males, a mother and son, a 69 year old, LGBTQIA+, black mothers, deaf players, former refugees and contestants trying to fly under the radar.

There’s also no host, with instructions for games booming through a PA system or from behind a masked guard in pink jumpsuit. But the challenges and tests, which land without warning, will ruthlessly eliminate contestants and drive the cash prize higher.

In Squid Game, characters were literally shot dead, but here producers have cleverly devised a dye pod under t-shirts which explode to replicant gunfire, while “assassinated” players fall down “dead.” Alliances will form through the drama of the games and time spent together.

Squid Game: The Challenge is like Big Brother meets the Hunger Games, but it brings to life the ‘playability’ that every viewer no doubt fantasised whilst watching.

There are simple moral choices, with huges stakes at risk, which work brilliantly as episode cliffhangers. I was compelled to dive from one episode into the next to see how dilemmas were resolved. Netflix will release 5 episodes at once, then another 4 and finally 1, so as to avoid binge spoilers.

Netflix also does not want me to reveal the various games, suffice to say the original included Ppopgi aka “Cookie” and “Marbles” and the reality series is uncannily faithful.

Filming in the UK must have been incredibly cold for participants, who are often clutching at their tracksuits for warmth.

Yet my biggest complaint is around the producer favouritism of American participants. Almost every individual player profiled is American, coming from CO. VA. and various states (they don’t even have the courtesy of spelling out Connecticut and Virginia for global viewers).

There is barely any Asian representation which, for a show from South Korean origins, I find pretty insulting.

Squid Game was a global sensation. It’s appalling of Netflix to shun so many of its own subscribers with negligible screen representation at the hands of editors. Highlighting so many Americans sucks the enjoyment out of what is otherwise a pretty remarkable achievement.

Frankly, Squid Game should not be so successful in transitioning from drama to reality. If you loved the original you will be hooked by this adaptation, and maybe raising your hand if a second series gets the green light.

Squid Game: The Challenge premieres Wednesday November 22 on Netflix.

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