When you were one of the millions who streamed Squid Game in 2021, did you think to yourself, “This would make one hell of a reality competition?” No? Well, someone at Netflix thought that, and now we have a reality competition where 456 real people in numbered green jogging suits compete for a life-changing jackpot.
SQUID GAME: THE CHALLENGE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Shots of various cities around the world, and contestants standing and looking for someone to pick them up.
The Gist: In Squid Game: The Challenge, we don’t see much of an intro. We see a couple of players speaking in a stark-looking room about the reasons behind why they’re competing. But there’s none of the usual reality show scenes where people arrive and introduce themselves to each other. The first time we see most of the 456 contestants is when they’re in the green jogging suits, entering the room for “Red Light, Green Light.”
If you’ve watched the Korean hit series Squid Game, you know the horrific game that was everyone’s introduction to the show: A large statue of a little girl is at one end of a room. It swivels its head and goes “green light!” The contestants dash and then freeze when the statue turns back and goes “red light!” Then the statue, or at least the masked people in the control room seeing what the statue sees, finds people who are moving and shoots them. Here, though, the eliminated contestants are merely shot with an ink pellet instead of, you know, real bullets like in the scripted series.
The contestants who survived the game by getting to the other side of the room in the time allotted get to the dorm with bunk beds stacked five-high. They not only introduce themselves to each other, but they find out what’s at stake: $10,000 is added to the prize bank every time a contestant is eliminated. This means that the last person standing potentially can win $4.56 million.
The masked staff come out to inform the group that between games players will be given “tests”, where they will choose one of two scenarios: They’ll either choose one person that will get an advantage in the next game, or they’ll chose someone that will get eliminated. This time out, two people doing kitchen duty are selected for the test, and they’re supposed to be as surprised as everyone else when their decision is announced the next morning.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Squid Game: The Challenge reminds us of Squid Game, of course, but without an actual scripted plot, it also reminds us of a massive game of Big Brother.
Our Take: With the aforementioned scripted plot and characters of the original Squid Game, the horrific games that the characters are put through, where being “eliminated” means being killed, have pretty high dramatic stakes. Taking those games and translating that to a reality show, where hundreds of mostly-anonymous people are going after a big prize for no other reason than it’s a big prize becomes a cynical, nihilistic exercise. It’s also boring, because all of the elements that we really hate about large group reality competitions are on display here, only on a much bigger scale.
We get brief glimpses at a few of the contestants in the first episode, some of whom are eliminated quickly and others that make it past the first game. They’re the usual amalgamation of reality competition contestants: Some douchey bros, some people who think that they’re going to win with no evidence other than extreme confidence, some older contestants who think age is just a number, etc. We really don’t get to know any of the featured contestants or the reasons why they’re putting themselves through this. We don’t even have an inkling whether they watched the original series or not, though it seems that most of the contestants know what’s in store for them once they enter certain rooms.
As the number of contestants get whittled down into at least the double digits, we’ll maybe get to see alliances form and get a better idea who the real contenders are and what makes them tick. But right now, it’s all a blur, and a boring one at that.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: We get the start of the second game, “Dalgona”. That’s the one where teams have to cut a shape into a cookie using a needle; if the cookie breaks, the contestant is eliminated. Let’s just say that of the four shapes available, the one no one wants is the umbrella because it’s so complex. That held a bit more dramatic tension than the mass elimination of “Red Light, Green Light,” but we also threw up our hands at the stupidity of the contestants not leaving their shape selection up to the fate of playing Rock, Paper, Scissors or something similar.
Sleeper Star: We’ll give this to the set designers, who have perfectly replicated the Squid Game sets and made them work for a reality show.
Most Pilot-y Line: Two contestants form an alliance purely on the basis that they both have mullets. Another contestant has a birthday the second day, and as the group sings a haphazard “Happy Birthday” to him, he declares it his best birthday ever. Wow. Who hurt him in life for him to think that?
Our Call: SKIP IT. You’re better off watching Squid Game again than watching the cynical, depressing mess that is Squid Game: The Challenge.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.