(Warning: This story contains spoilers from “Squid Game: The Challenge.”)
In June 2022, multiple news outlets reported that Netflix was turning its widely successful South Korean series “Squid Game” into a reality television show.
“Squid Game: The Challenge” would follow 456 players competing for a $4.56 million cash prize, the largest in reality television history. The new competition series would also recreate games from the drama series, minus the death part, of course.
Skeptics raised eyebrows, wondering how a bloody and heart-wrenching series could become a fun reality show. They grew more wary when Rolling Stone, Variety and more publications revealed gruesome details about the filming process. In February 2023, Rolling Stone published a story from anonymous eliminated contestants who shared their experiences shooting the show in the U.K. Some alleged that the games were “rigged” and others recalled battling cold and “inhumane” conditions.
Netflix denied the allegations, issuing a statement to Variety at the time that said, “We care deeply about the health of our cast and crew, and the quality of this show. Any suggestion that the competition is rigged or claims of serious harm to players are simply untrue. We’ve taken all the appropriate safety precautions, including after care for contestants — and an independent adjudicator is overseeing each game to ensure it’s fair to everyone.”
TODAY.com reached out to Netflix for comment but has not heard back.
Then on Nov. 23, Express Solicitors, a British personal injury firm, said that two contestants reached out to Daniel Slade, Chief Executive Officer (Legal) at the firm, “to help them seek compensation for injuries they suffered during the show’s filming in January of this year.” The contestants allege that the conditions on the set left them with injuries such as hypothermia and nerve damage, the firm said in a post on their website.
Express Solicitors told TODAY.com in a statement Nov. 27, "No lawsuit has been filed yet, but we have served letters of claim to the show’s producers for two contestants outlining their injury claims and now we are gathering further evidence before filing court action if necessary."
TODAY.com also reached out to Netflix for comment but did not hear back.
In a statement to Deadline, a spokesperson for the show said, “No lawsuit has been filed by any of the 'Squid Game' contestants. We take the welfare of our contestants extremely seriously.”
TODAY.com also reached out to Studio Lambert, the TV production studio that produced “Squid Game: The Challenge,” for comment but has not heard back.
With the premiere of “Squid Game: The Challenge” on Nov. 22, fans were finally able to witness the tests and challenges the 456 players went through. The watched contestants sleep in stacked bunk beds, eat meals out of tin boxes and try their hardest to start and stop on command in the most pivotal Red Light, Green Light game of their entire lives.
By the end of Episode Five only 63 players remained, meaning most of the contestants who were highlighted early had been eliminated. Now a few of those contestants — Lorenzo (Player 161), Dani (Player 134), Spencer (Player 299) and Bryton (Player 432)— are opening up to TODAY.com about their experience on the show.
Coming up with a strategy
The first two games in “Squid Game: The Challenge” are Red Light, Green Light, and Dalgona — the cooking cutting competition — following the original show’s format. However, producers surprised contestants during the third round by having them play a new game called Warships — a real-life version of the board game Battleships —instead of tug of war. The show also included mini dorm games that could lead to advantages or sudden eliminations. The unexpected twists made preparing for “Squid Game: The Challenge” difficult. So, some of the contestants opted to avoid coming up with a strategy.
Dani tells TODAY.com that before flying to the U.K. to compete she simply watched “Squid Game” a second time and that was it. “I did absolutely no preparing besides watching the show again,” she shares. “I didn’t want to overthink any of the challenges, so I didn’t prepare at all.”
Lorenzo also says he didn’t think he needed to prepare for the show, but he did take multiple ice baths and cold showers to condition his body for extreme conditions. When the challenge began, he quickly realized that having a strategy was a disadvantage because the games were so “unpredictable.”
“There’s no amount of preparation (that helps) and not having a strategy is a strategy, too, as long as you’re confident about it,” he explains.
Meanwhile, Spencer incorrectly guessed that the challenges would be more physical, so he trained by exercising more frequently. Bryton had a similar mindset going into the show. As a former athlete he knew the one competition he could nail was Red Light, Green Light, he says. As for the other games, he says he didn’t attempt to plan ahead of time. He also points out that it would have been impossible for him to map out a strategy for warships.
“It’s pure luck,” he says about making it through each round.
Competing in the hours-long challenges
For the second round, players were told to choose one of four lines. Then, the four people at the beginning of each row were taken to a second room where they all had to agree on which shape to cut out for the Dalgona challenge. If they couldn’t come to a consensus, they were immediately eliminated.
After watching other groups fail, Spencer appeared anxious. He became emotional and started gagging before he was taken to the separate room. There, Bryton and other players convinced Spencer to select the umbrella, the most challenging shape, for himself and his entire row.
“It was very stressful,” Spencer says, recalling the experience. “I came prepared for the challenge, to be able to face any difficulty that was thrown at me. I was not prepared to be able to face difficulties that were responsible for other people as well. And so that added like a whole new level.”
He tells TODAY.com he felt a wave of sadness when he saw the other players’ reactions to his decision. He remembers thinking about, “the difficulty that we’re all in now together because of me.”
At the same time, he knew he needed to shift his focus to completing the task. He came up with the best strategy he could think of and other players seemed to have the same thought process.
“We were all focused on the preparation. I know many people in that room were focused on saving up as much spit in their mouth as they could and I, myself, was saving up spit for the past few hours because I had no idea over the past few hours when the game would finally begin,” he shares.
Despite his best efforts, he struggled during the round. He heaved repeatedly while attempting to remove the cookie from the tin. With one sharp movement, he cracked the cookie and gasped, realizing he had been eliminated.
Surviving the living conditions and receiving advantages
When they weren’t competing, Bryton reveals the contestants spent “all day” in the dorms. “You are in there from the moment you go to sleep to the moment you wake up. And then if you go film a challenge, you get to leave for however long and then come right back. You’re in that room all day,” he says.
Producers created dorm games and secret missions that were given to particular contestants. One of the select few was Dani, who in Episode One is shown peeling carrots with Kyle (Player 101) in a separate room. The two are given an advantage: they can secretly eliminate one person. They cut Mothi (Player 200). The show doesn’t explain why the two were chosen.
“I think it was completely random then,” she says about receiving the advantage. “Because out of the 200 people left in the game during that time, they just randomly selected me and Kyle then and I always kind of wondered why we were the chosen ones for that experience.”
If they weren’t getting secret advantages, the players had to sit in the communal room, which at one point had 197 contestants. Dani says that even as an extrovert, she felt the dorm was “very overstimulating” and “an exhausting experience.”
Bryton paints a similar environment, confirming the living conditions were identical to those depicted in “Squid Game.” “We’re right on top of one another. People are snoring; some people can’t sleep,” he says.
Episode One includes a scene of the contestants receiving individual meals in small tin boxes. In case viewers couldn’t tell, the food was far from a gourmet dinner.
Bryton reveals that the food was his biggest obstacle on the show.
“You got fed three times a day, but you knew you weren’t going to be getting fed five-star meals,” he shares. “The best meal that we had was (what viewers) saw: the little tin can that we were eating. It was yellow rice, meatballs, with no seasoning or anything on it, and then some onions and peppers.”
Although they were fed three times throughout the day, Dani shares that the players “had no concept of time in the game.” So, unlike in the drama series, all of the “Squid Game: The Challenge” players became excited each time they saw the masked guards because that meant they were allowed to eat.
“Definitely wish there was more seasoning,” she adds.
Lorenzo described the dorm as “livable.” He agrees that the food was bland and difficult to eat, “especially as an Italian,” he says. But, he says the environment was expected given the stakes. “Let’s put it (this) way. You can survive in those conditions,” Lorenzo says. “And, if you don’t adapt, you don’t deserve to be there.”
Compared to his competitors, Spencer had a more optimistic view of their living situation. He likened the show to “adult summer camp” due to the lack of phones and other types of technology.
“There was room for the food to be improved, but the company couldn’t get any better,” he says.
In “Squid Game: The Challenge,” any contestant can be at risk of being eliminated at any stage. Lorenzo exited the competition in Episode Four after he was one of three contestants who received the most elimination votes.
Lorenzo, who points out that fairness is subjective, says the unpredictable nature of the game made the competition as fair as possible. He doesn't complain about his outcome on the show because, “That’s giving loser,” he says.
He continues, “I accept my loss. It happened when it happened."
Bryton, one of the most outspoken personalities on the series, is aboard one of the sunken ships during the Warships round in Episode Three when he is eliminated. He also feels all the eliminations on the show, including his, were reasonable.
“You knew what you were signing up for before you even got there,” Bryton says. “Yeah, some things take skill, but it also comes down to luck. So everything is fair. There’s nothing that was unfair in there.”
Fans will learn who will join the growing list of eliminated players when new episodes arrive Nov. 29.