[Note: This post contains spoilers for the first five episodes of Netflix's Squid Game: The Challenge.]
No player in Squid Game: The Challenge's first batch of episodes proves more divisive than contestant 432, Bryton. A student from Clemson, South Carolina, Bryton exudes confidence from the outset of the competition, when he tells another contestant that 432 is "the best number here," because he's "the one" who will win it all. "You control your own destiny," he says in his first on-screen interview. "And the moment that you can control your mind and become mentally strong, then you understand that sympathy, it's only a weakness."
As a former college football player at Clemson, one of the best programs in the nation, Bryton's unwavering belief in his abilities is earned, at least to a certain extent. The young, physically fit competitor is well positioned to succeed in the first challenge, Red Light, Green Light, in which players must run from one side of the arena to the other without a large, robotic doll sensing their movements. Those who are caught in motion are "eliminated" — in this version of Squid Game, squib packs detonate underneath their shirts, leaving ink stains that are meant to look like the gunshot wounds of the Korean drama.
"Having that athletic background helped in Red Light, Green Light, for sure," Bryton tells Primetimer. "I was able to shuffle sideways just like I did whenever I was playing football and stop on a dime, or get out of a break and cross the finish line." He adds that he was "more impressed with the people that didn't have an athletic background" and still survived, saying, "It made me gain a little bit of respect for them."
After sailing through the first game and establishing himself as an outspoken presence in the dorm, it's no surprise that Bryton quickly makes enemies out of a few of the contestants. By the beginning of Episode 2, "The Man With the Umbrella," a few have already taken to calling him "the villain" of the competition, a reputation that's certainly not improved by his open contempt for player 299 (who almost vomits after he's forced to accept the umbrella-shaped cut-out in the Dalgona cookie challenge) or his near-physical altercation with contestant 198.
While Bryton knew he "was going to have a target on [his] back" because of his age and athleticism, he insists that "'villain' is just not the right word" to describe him. "I know my personality isn't that easy to like, especially in an environment like that," he says. "I am who I am, and I will always be outspoken. I've been that way since I was a kid... I know a lot of the time I can come across as demanding or rude or this, that, whatever, and that's something I have to work on. It's not my message, it's my delivery that I know I have to work on."
"Them calling me a villain, I kind of knew it was going to happen, so I wasn't that surprised," Bryton continues. "I wasn't hurt by it. It didn't really affect me because I already knew it was going to happen."
Bryton also believes the other contestants are to blame for much of the conflict that plays out in the first three episodes. "I just wanted to go there and have a good time, and I don't think people there liked to see other people have fun," he says. "They're so uptight and serious all the time. So I think those are a few of the problems I ran into."
Despite clashing with others in the dorm, Bryton emerges as one of the show's more intuitive players. He's the first to realize that taking the phone from 198 is a trap, and he develops relationships with a group of physically fit men, believing the alliance will help them win strength-oriented challenges. In Episode 3, "War," Bryton's crew gears up for one such challenge, tug-of-war (which comes third in Squid Game), but when they enter the game room, they realize the stage is set for something else entirely: Warships, a game of strategy and teamwork.
Like in the board game Battleship, each team must fire missiles at the other team's board, and the first to sink two opposing ships wins. Of course, Warships comes with a Squid Game twist: Players must choose a position in each ship, and if their boat is sunk entirely — even if their team goes on to win the game — they will be eliminated. As such, the players' futures rest on the shoulders of their team captains and lieutenants, who choose the placement of the boats and have final say on where to fire missiles.
"I had to swallow my pride and just kind of rock with it," Bryton recalls. "Some people want to put their fate into other people's hands, but that's not me. It was really hard for me to sit back and take it knowing that if I lose, if I get eliminated, it's not on me."
Bryton isn't interested in being captain, but he levies plenty of criticism at his leaders throughout the game, complaining that they moved his boat to the "frontline" at the last minute and have "no plan" when it comes to selecting missile launch sites. His team recovers from a few early stumbles, but right when they've evened the playing field by sinking one of their opponent's ships, the other team "drop[s] the C4" on them, which happens to be Bryton's location on the board.
With just one other person in his ship, Bryton's future suddenly looks bleak. He and his boatmate, contestant 270, hang on for a few more minutes as the other team fires missiles in every direction around them — "Winning or lose, I'm gonna tell my kids about this," Bryton says as they await their fate — but it's only a matter of time before they hit their target, bringing Bryton's Squid Game: The Challenge journey to an early end. The polarizing player doesn't even get the courtesy of an ink-pack-explosion death; he just gives a brief exit quote, scored to sad piano music, and is never mentioned again.
"I knew that I was going to get eliminated eventually," he tells Primetimer. "I wasn't in there going like, 'Oh, I know for sure I'm going to win.' I knew there were going to be a few moments where it got a little scary, it got a little iffy, and that was the moment."
Bryton adds that he was purposely "being dramatic" as he and 270 waited to see if they'd been hit, as he was "there to have fun." He explains, "I'm there to be myself, and that was me not in my shell. That was me being myself, like, 'Damn, I really hope I don't get sent home.'"
Though his time on the show was cut short, Bryton looks back positively on his experience — with one major exception. He insists "the food" was far and away the most difficult part of Squid Game: The Challenge, which isn't surprising, considering other contestants say their first meal, rice topped with a fried egg, is "disgusting" and "tastes like plastic."
"I live in Louisiana, so food is huge down here. I grew up eating and eating and eating, so once I got there– it's really hard to not have the food you want every day because not only does it take a toll physically, but mentally," he says. "Girls love to use the term 'hangry,' and I now see what they mean because I was hangry. If I got confronted or if something didn't go my way or [I was] disrespected, I was snapping like that. It's like you're not living a normal life."
Food aside, Bryton has no regrets about the way he approached Squid Game: The Challenge or his interactions with the other contestants. "I know I have to stand up in certain situations," he insists. "Me talking and standing up and having drama and doing this — I'm there to make good TV and have a platform for myself, you know? I'm not there to sit in the corner and be quiet."
New episodes of Squid Game: The Challenge drop Wednesdays on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.