When Netflix announced its reality game show Squid Game: The Challenge, it immediately drew the ire of fans who’d sat through the original twisted South Korean thriller, about a group of poor people recruited to compete in a series of deadly games for millions in prize money, and wondered: How could this possibly end well?
Still, the ambitious competition managed to find 456 contestants willing to compete for a $4.56 million prize — earning the show the bragging rights of boasting the largest cast, and cash prize, in TV history. But the first day of filming had barely wrapped last Monday when reports began to trickle out about how the show’s production was a complete disaster.
“It was just the cruelest, meanest thing I’ve ever been through,” one former contestant tells Rolling Stone. “We were a human horse race, and they were treating us like horses out in the cold racing and [the race] was fixed.”
“All the torment and trauma we experienced wasn’t due to the game or the rigor of the game,” another former player adds. “It was the incompetencies of scale — they bit off more than they could chew.”
Four former players have detailed their experiences to Rolling Stone, confirming earlier reports that contestants were forced to play the show’s “Red Light, Green Light” game in inhumane conditions, spending up to nine hours inside a freezing airport hangar, unable to move for 30-minute stretches, with medics rushing in to tend to people who were unable to take the extreme cold. All requested that their names be withheld, citing their NDAs.
Netflix previously said in a statement that three sought medical attention for minor conditions, but defended the safety of the production. In a joint statement from Netflix and co-producing studios The Garden and Studio Lambert on Friday, the production companies denied claims of a fixed game, saying “any suggestion that the competition is rigged or claims of serious harm to players are simply untrue.”
In response to the sneers that contestants should have known better when signing up for a game based on a deadly TV series, the former players say they were reassured every step of the way that the show would be safe, fun and most importantly, a fair opportunity to win a life-changing amount of money. “It’s not like we signed up for Naked and Afraid or Survivor, where you’re gonna eat ants and it’s gonna be grim — that was not the game,” one maintains.
“The funny thing is,” offers another contestant, “equality and fairness was the main theme of the original Squid Game.”