If watched with the right spirit, Squid Game: The Challenge is an unintentional comedy. If not, then it is simply something interesting that drags out for too long. On that note, it is worth questioning whether this reality show is relevant now. When Squid Game was first released during the pandemic, it became a cultural phenomenon, and nobody is going to forget the craze it generated back then. A second season is in the works, and in many ways, this reality show feels like a way to refresh people’s memory of the original season.
Squid Game: The Challenge follows most of the original show’s games, with the Red-Light Green-Light or the Dalgone Coffee Game. It is after them that the deviation starts. Needless to say, the reality show isn’t as brutal as the real game, not just because people are not really dying but also because everyone is quite civil. There was quite a bloodbath in Squid Game season 1, in the dorms themselves. There is also an attempt to subtly recreate some elements of the previous game, be it with Player 200 (Mothi) or Rick, the old man, or even with Player 179, Chaney, who calls everyone arrogant but is herself not the least bit humble. But here is why it is difficult to enjoy this reality show: because there is no one to feel invested in.
There are a total of 456 players, and it is impossible to know any player for more than 10 minutes. The audience is literally given a brief background on them before letting them take center stage for a while, and then they are pushed into the background to repeat the process with another player. It is particularly sad because there are a few who manage to make an impression and promise to be entertaining, but they just don’t get the chance. There is no doubt that Squid Game has high stakes, but why would you care about that when you don’t know any of the characters?
Lorenzo is very sassy, and for a brief two minutes, we loved his ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Rick seemed like he would bring a lot to the table, but there was no way to see when and how. Bryton was someone who was very good and quite aggressive and had the audience been allowed to know more about him, he may have gained a loyal fan following. That is the thing with Squid Game: The Challenge: since the audience doesn’t know anyone or nobody has been given the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with one another, the heightened emotions are simply not seeping through the screen. This is what makes us believe that this reality show is nothing but a refresher course in season 1 in preparation for season 2.
But there is Leann, who has made a bit of a soft spot in our hearts with her dignity and grace. It would be a shame if she left next week. A lot of the contestants here are cash-strapped, just like in the real game, and are here to make some quick money. However, it is so evident that, for a huge chunk of them, the show was scripted. Essentially, a lot of the dialogue reminded us of Big Boss, be it someone saying that the masks are coming off now’ or that ‘I am not here to make friends’ or the ever-classic, ‘I cannot be fake under any circumstances.’ The audience knows it is fake. The contestants know that the audience knows it is fake. But the writers are already fed up and just want to take their check home, which is hopefully a decent percentage of the mythical 4.56 million, a number we find impossible to believe as the prize money.
On that note, was a second season of Physical 100 really not possible? It brought a lot more to the table than this reality show is doing. Hell, even another season of Single’s Inferno would have been welcome. Despite the previous season’s lukewarm personalities, the audience will never tire of making fun of the conversations that are either frivolous or exaggerated, with no in-between; as for Squid Game: The Challenge, it is the same complaint that manifests in many ways.
On the other hand, it was interesting to see a show made by Asians turned into a reality show with all the contestants being white people. In the original Squid Game, the entire thing was orchestrated for the entertainment of rich, white billionaires. Was this the reality show’s way of making up for the racism or a balm for what is to come in the second season? Now that the topic has been broached, it may be important to remember a discussion surrounding the popularity of Squid Game that acknowledged that the fame was due to the ‘white man’s approval’ since Korea already had much better shows than this, but it was the one that caught worldwide attention. There is something culturally balanced about using that very controversial approval to promote season 2 of the show.
In Squid Game: The Challenge, it is the time between the games that are far more thrilling. Be it the first time two contestants had to select someone to eliminate, or the guy who just couldn’t get anyone to pick up the phone, or even the last round in episode 5, where a contestant evened the playing field by eliminating contestants very strategically, it all carried a lot of weight. Our favorite was the elimination round, where Lorenzo was taken out. The contestant may have been likable, but there was something so beautifully petty about the process and its aftermath that made the whole thing funnier than it needed to be. That reminds us how the Dalgona coffee was simply not enjoyable this time. In Squid Game, it was funny. In the reality show, it felt a little gross. Also, who are they fooling with the money in the glass thing in the room? It is so evident that it is fake money. Or maybe everyone knows, and we simply wanted it to be real to inculcate some element of real tension in the game. But it is what it is.