When the Korean drama Squid Game hit Netflix in September 2021, it was an instant success. Within the first four weeks, the series garnered 1.65 billion hours of streaming, easily taking the title of most-watched Netflix series, a title it still holds onto today. So it wasn’t completely shocking when Netflix not only renewed the series for another season but also in June 2022 announced a competition reality show inspired by the series called Squid Game: The Challenge. What didn’t quite add up, however, was whether or not Netflix understood the message of the original show, which criticizes capitalistic and classist societies that value wealth over humanity. And after medics had to be called for some contestants on day one of filming, it seems obvious that they don’t.
According to Variety, filming kicked off on January 23 in the U.K. where the weather hit freezing temperatures. Contestants were participating in a massive game of Red Light Green Light (like in the first challenge of the fictional series, without the death) in an airplane hanger with little to no insulation. “Less than five” contestants were treated for cold-related ailments, Variety reports, and at least one injured their shoulder after running into a wall. In a statement to Variety Netflix claimed that appropriate safety procedures were put in place, contestants were prepared for the cold, and “any claims of serious injury are untrue.”
The show itself is massive in scale and stakes — 456 real people from around the world are competing against each other in Squid Game-inspired challenges to win $4.56 million. Much of the coverage of the incident on the first day of filming so far has noted the “small amount” of the cast that sought medical attention, placing emphasis on the 450 others who were just fine. But if anything, it’s just a reminder of how much can go wrong with a cast of this size, even if half of the contestants were eliminated after the first challenge as they were here. On any other reality show, four out of 10 or 20 contestants facing ailments would likely cause production to shut down.
And with $4.56 million at stake, how many of these contestants were afraid to speak out? While it’s not quite the same as asking folks to murder their newfound friends, the concept is still set up to prey on people who are desperate enough for that life-changing, over-the-top prize. One anonymous player told British tabloid The Sun: “Even if hypothermia kicked in then people were willing to stay for as long as possible because a lot of money was on the line.”
One of the many messages in the original Squid Game was to not value money over people. Unfortunately, Netflix is pushing the opposite ideology, going for what they see as an easy cash grab capitalizing on one show’s success. For the narrative thrust of the show to work, each contestant must also keep their eyes on the prize. This is the largest reality show cast ever, meaning there’s no way for Netflix to be fully prepared for the pitfalls and dangers of production, not to mention the actions of each individual involved.
If there’s another health incident, it would serve Netflix well to call the whole thing off. But with so much already invested, it’s more likely that the higher-ups will take on the persona of the masked men in Squid Game, counting their money while watching from afar.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.