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Netflix’s Squid Game reality show won’t murder you. They promise.

Netflix’s Squid Game reality show won’t murder you. They promise.
Red Light, Green Light, the first game of Squid Game, in which the players learned they could be killed (Image via Netflix)

Netflix has greenlit a reality TV competition version of the international hit Korean drama Squid Game.

It’s called Squid Game: The Challenge, and it’s now casting internationally for 456 players—the same number as in Squid Game—who will compete for $4.56 million. That’s $10,000 each, if they all survive and aren’t killed for our entertainment.

Why would anyone sign up for a reality TV show version of a game in which nearly all of the players die in horrific and brutally violent ways while playing exaggerated versions of kids’ games, and in which poor people were slaughtered just to entertain rich people?

Netflix isn’t trying to distance the reality show from the scripted series, and is instead mirroring the format and structure of the show in every way it can, at least in its current language.

In Netflix’s press release, its VP of reality TV, Brandon Riegg, said they will “turn the fictional world into reality in this massive competition and social experiment.”

The casting site uses the circle, square, and triangle symbols worn by the guards, and tells us “the Front Man is in search of English-language speakers from any part of the world,” and adding that “The stakes are high, but in this game the worst fate is going home empty-handed.”

Oh, the stakes are high, you say? Sign me up!

The actual applications say players will “compete in a series of heart-stopping games in order to become the sole survivor* and walk away with a life-changing cash prize.” The asterisk refers to this:

*Please note: Win or lose, all players will leave unscathed. But if you win, you win big!

We’re supposed to believe a company worth about $74 billion and is mad about us sharing passwords when they say they’re gathering hundreds of people for “heart-stopping games” will actually just leave people “unscathed”? Okay sure.

Dead Squid game contestants in the foreground with guards shooting other players
Dead Squid game contestants in the foreground with guards shooting other players. (Image via Netflix)

Seriously: It’s (probably) obvious that Netflix (likely) won’t (maim or) murder anyone.

First I thought Squid Game: The Challenge might just be Netflix doing what it increasingly does: knocking off other popular reality shows.

Specifically, I was thinking about how, this spring, NBC ordered a version of a new Dutch show, Million Dollar Island, which also has a massive cast. On the show, “100 contestants must forge friendships and build alliances as they plot to stay on a remote desert island for up to 50 days and compete to win their share of the ultimate $1 million prize,” NBC said.

But curiously, both Million Dollar Island and Squid Game: The Challenge will be produced by the same production company, Studio Lambert, so apparently they’re different enough.

Squid Game: The Challenge is currently scheduled to film for up to a month early next year, so it won’t be until at least 2023 that the show starts streaming.

While I understand Netflix taking its biggest hit of all time and looking for ways to extend its popularity, I genuinely wonder if anyone at Netflix, you know, watched Squid Game, or absorbed any of its messages.

Squid Game offers—in big, beautiful sets—”games [that] are engineered, as they progress, to inspire in the players the worst qualities their game’s wealthy and powerful organizers would ascribe to lower-class people, ignoring that they have created the conditions for this kind of scarcity and strife,” as Vulture’s Roxana Hadadi wrote.

Is that what we will get in Squid Game: The Challenge? If the reality competition just uses the games but takes the violence and meaning out of them, what does that say?

My friend Melanie McFarland called Squid Game “an excellent distillation of how predatory capitalism works” and “the meritocracy lie, gamified. Everyone who isn’t part of the 1% receives assurances that the system is fair, right? Few being mauled by its gears want to acknowledge or even understand how impressively rigged the system is.”

Will Squid Game: The Challenge’s actual games also be “impressively rigged,” despite assurances of fairness? I guess its players will find out.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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