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Squid Game’s Move into Reality Television

The Challenges of “Squid Game: The Challenge”

By Entertainment, Featured

Time to give up on your morals — Netflix has dropped a reality show so unethical,it’s almost gut-wrenching with just how entertaining it really is. 

Following Netflix’s prior success of Squid Game” (2021), a Korean Thriller series, a new reality show based on the series has just been released. “Squid Game: The Challenge” (2023) re-imagines the original scripted show with hundreds of real people and trivial drama. 

In “Squid Game” (2021), 456 fictional players are trapped and made to play through a host of child-like challenges from red light green light to tug of war. However, the consequence of losing these games is death. But with the stakes of winning 45.6 billion dollars, players fight competitively to win each game and carry on through the rounds. 

In the new reality show, the concepts are mimicked by retaining each original and iconic set from the first series, most of the original challenges (with some added), and the cash prize at the end that continues to rise per contestant eliminated. The shooting of the series took place entirely in Europe with a whole host of cast members from all over the world. And of course, no one dies in this version. 

The format of “Squid Game: The Challenge” is special. Rather than focusing on a couple or a handful of main characters from the beginning, “The Challenge” lets its most entertaining characters come to light naturally with their actions. We see different confessionals throughout from some of the same or new people. In the first episode, the camera pans across or sits on cast members, playing a voice-over of their confessional, and then we see them make it to the end of the episode or be eliminated. 

This way of highlighting the show’s contestants doesn’t feel contrived and instead provides the show with a natural and unpredictable flow. We never know who’s coming or going, and we’re fed a clean and dramatic editing style that doesn’t leave us longing to know the hundreds of names eliminated from the show in its very first episode.

Besides its format, “The Challenge” is largely successful for Netflix due to the step away from the stale and repetitive casting in many of Netflix’s current and recent reality shows. Seeing new ‘non-reality’ star faces is refreshing since Netflix has been in the habit of recycling its cast members. For example, we’ll often see stars from “Love is Blind,” “Too Hot to Handle” and “Mole” coming back across shows. And while this isn’t unique, as once a reality star always a reality star is true, on a platform really rooted in its original shows, this repetition becomes much more apparent. By casting people we’ve never seen before, I think Netflix has already gotten a large portion of the viewer’s attention beyond its older brother of a title.

But why are the reviews for “Squid Game: The Challenge” so varied? 

A quick Google search of the show will reveal an average 2.1 star rating from Google users out of 590 ratings. Overall, a consensus of confusion has been met with comments questioning the lack of rules and regulations that led to what seems like an unfair environment for the contestants. Viewers have questioned moments such as food theft, private eliminations, real emotional breakdowns, and contestant sob stories.

 It remains unclear if  Netflix is intentionally attempting to make a statement by referencing the original show’s character’s motives. Are these confessionals directed in a way to call back to the desperation of the original characters who were living in debt and struggling under capitalistic society? Or is this cast just especially dramatic chasing their fifteen minutes of fame? Is the show acting as some social experiment over entertainment with the viewers taking the place of the wealthy investors watching the games in the original drama series? 

And while the show appears to lack producer interference in terms of scripted conflict, the actions of the cast then become all that much more questionable as viewers contemplate how they can be driven so far by money without the looming implication of death present in the original show. It is still left to see how some cast members will walk away from the show, specifically those who had extreme emotional reactions and health complications from the challenges. 

These poor reviews also stem from the circulation of three “Challenge” cast members intending to sue Netflix for poor working conditions. This potential civil suit rests on cast members’ complaints of cold temperatures, extremely long shooting hours, and a lack of medical attention for health incidents.. As of early December 2023, no true legal proceedings have taken place,but public reviews of the show are filled with the defense of these cast members In a statement made to CNN back in early January 2023 Netflix has retained that they always put their cast members first and prioritized their wellbeing. 

Despite the chaos and confusion, the love and hate of the series, audiences are glued to their seats. “Squid Game: The Challenge is number one in the global top 10 shows on Netflix, right next to “Cocomelon,” and no one is missing the release of The Challenge’s” final episodes.  

“The Challenge” is inventive despite its cosplay of the original series, and it is captivating with its twists and turns. Viewers are upset just as much as they can not look away.

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