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Lad comes up with genius strategy while playing Squid Game: The Challenge

Lad comes up with genius strategy while playing Squid Game: The Challenge

Squid Game has become a reality, with a history-making cash prize up for grabs. And it's as tense as you'd expect.

Squid Game: The Challenge could not be a more apt title - both from the perspective of contestants and the show’s creators.

When Squid Game dropped on Netflix in September 2021 it surpassed all expectations, becoming a global hit and the streaming giant’s biggest ever series.

Naturally, another series was hastily commissioned, but the platform also took the unprecedented step of greenlighting a reality series inspired by the South Korean survival drama.

This presented all kinds of obstacles, in terms of scale, welfare, logistics. Casting and vetting 456 contestants from across the world, creating sets big enough to house them, replicating games fairly and safely.

It was an enormous undertaking by any measure.

There were also raised eyebrows re the irony of Netflix bringing the show to life - given it is essentially a critique of capitalism, wherein the affluent pit civilians against one another for their own entertainment.

What’s more, some were understandably concerned that the looming threat of death was fundamental to the drama, and without the stakes being as high as they can get, it may seem comparatively uninteresting.

Netflix has gone to great lengths to ensure the gameshow is as realistic as possible.
Jack Barnes/Netflix

Netflix has decided the best way to counter this concern is with money - loads of it.

The winner will walk away with $4.56 million (£3.64 million), the biggest cash prize ever offered in gameshow history. Surely watching someone trying not to snap a biscuit for four and a half million dollars is peak TV?

But minus the threat of death, Netflix has tried to emulate the series as closely as possible in the genre-switch spin-off - and as I found out firsthand, the result is mind-blowing.

Like in the show, I was picked up by a car in the early hours and was transported to a secret location - though unlike the show, the driver wasn’t wearing a mask and I wasn’t gassed.

That said, I was made to sign an NDA whereby I promised not to reveal the location (gassing people is basically just like an extra-secure form of NDA).

Upon arrival I was given my jumpsuit and I chuckled - number 69. Then I realised the first number was obscured and I was actually 169 and I felt embarrassed.

Ali was even there - in case things weren't realistic enough.
Jack Barnes/Netflix

Along with my new attire, I had to be fitted with my squib. I asked the man putting it on what it was and he replied, chipperly: “This is what kills you.”

It’s basically a pack of tubes, air and ink (blood) which can be remotely detonated to signify a player’s elimination from the games.

I wondered how long it would be until I felt the cold ink of death. I also wondered if it was really fair for me to feel the cold ink of death when I was taking part in the games with a bunch of journalists for promotional reasons, and presumably wasn’t in with a chance of winning any actual cash.

Before being put to the test though, it was time to be taken to the dorm, which is when the collective blowing of minds began.

It was a vast space, the perimeter of which was filled with rows and rows of bunkbeds, where hundreds of contestants would be sleeping together for weeks - if they managed to survive the games, that is.

The realness was taken to the next level though, when a familiar and hauntingly clinical voice came over the speakers and guards entered the dorm, donning the distinctive red jumpsuits and masks and marching with beefeater precision.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a nervous butterfly start flapping about my stomach, and the tension in the room prompted panicked jumps when a yell was heard from one of the beds. Had someone been killed already?

Skid Game.
Jack Barnes/Netflix

No, a cameraman had lost his footing and slipped from a bunkbed. Nothing like an authentic yell to really get those nervous stomach butterflies flapping about.

But while the guards are typically harbingers of doom, they actually started out with a surprisingly benevolent order: “Line up, it’s lunch time.”

I was one of the last to be served and was given a spork and a metal container with a label that read ‘vegan’. Quite an ethical canteen these executioners are running.

When I opened it up though I was revolted. The warm waft of foot skin infiltrated my nose, and what looked like anaemic scrambled eggs lay waiting for me.

I tried one mouthful and struggled to get it down. It was just a rubbery, grainy texture, accompanied by the smell of feet. I pitied any vegans bidding to live here for weeks in the hope of coming away with the life-changing sum.

I also envied those who were given the non-vegan lunch option - a boiled egg.

Lunch was rank.
Jack Barnes/Netflix


With an empty stomach, it was time to advance to game one, Dalgona – aka the one with all the biscuits (which turned out to taste far better than lunch).

In the show, players were instructed to line up behind one of four shapes - triangle, circle, star or umbrella – with no knowledge of the game that lay ahead. But seeing as we had all watched the show – and knew that the task was to pry the chosen shape from a biscuit – we were told to line up in front of the guards, who would dispense the biscuit containers at random. We would then have 10 minutes to prise the shape from the biscuit without cracking it, using nothing but a needle and our initiative.

“The difficult ones are the star and the umbrella,” Ali told me. As in Ali from the actual show. That’s right, Netlfix had gone and got actual Anupam Tripathi – who plays the beloved and betrayed Ali in the drama – to come along for the day. As if the whole experience wasn’t surreal enough.

Manifesting a triangle.
Jack Barnes/Netflix

Legs crossed in a sandpit for the first time in at least two decades, I opened my container: star. Damn.

But this was not the time to feel sorry for myself, this was the time to lick – and lick hard. Yes, I had decided from the outset I would adopt the strategy of protagonist Seong Gi-hun and lick the life out of that honeycomb biscuit.

Five minutes had passed and I hadn’t even picked up my needle, only stopping intermittently to hold my biscuit up to the light and behold that the outline of the was indeed growing ever brighter.

However, as the timer ticked down things started to get hairy. And sandy. I was starting to panic about that damn clock, so I decided to finally pick up my needle and start chiseling out the star that I had lovingly licked to the brink of freedom.

But picking up the needle was no mean feat. My fingers had become sticky from all the biscuit-licking, so I kept dropping it in the sandpit, before desperately scrabbling to pick it back up again.

Turns out finding a needle in a sandpit has haystack-like levels of difficulty, particularly when all around you there are screams and explosions, red suits looming over you, looking out for the smallest biscuit break.

My hands were shaking with adrenaline, my heart pounding. I don’t know how I would have coped if a life-fixing sum of money was on the line.

Licky licky.

With the clock ticking down, I was now alternating between needle scratching and licking. It was desperate stuff, my hands, face and tongue now coated in honeycomb sap and sand.

The end was nigh, one way or another, with about 80 percent of my star extricated, and then... SNAP. My handles trembling, I held aloft a perfect star; except, it wasn’t a perfect star, it was a star missing one of its arms/starms. My heart dropped.

“Adjudication takes place after the clock reaches zero,” the haunting/somewhat annoying voice boomed across the arena. I had failed the game, but it wasn’t over until the fat lady sang – and by that, I mean when my squid vest detonated.

As a guard marched in my direction, I made a desperate bid to stay in the game. I placed the star back in the container hastily and retrieved the dismembered arm, sliding it back alongside the star body and pressing the two together, hoping the sugary saliva coating would hold it in place. For good measure, I sprinkled some sand over the fault line just before a pair of black boots appeared in my eye-line. I waited silently as the guard loomed over me for what felt like a lifetime, trying to supress my guilt but certain of my fate.

“Pass,” the guard determined, and I scurried out of the sandpit, propelled by pure adrenaline. I may have even said ‘thank you’ as I passed the guard, which on reflection was a bit odd, but I was flying, high on sugar and deception.

I was Squid Game’s Coughing Major.


Having slithered my way through the biscuit sandpit – and established myself as a villain of the games in the process – it was now time for more sand-based tests of nerve.

We’d been transported to a labyrinth of golden hour alleys, warmly lit and vividly colourful. It was the setting of one of the most heartbreaking games in the show, in which contestants were told to pair off, before realising the pairs would compete against each other, and the loser would die. Again, having watched the show, I knew this was going to happen, and yet I was more than happy to pair up with Rhik from The Guardian.

It was a closely contested game of marbles, I'll say that.

We were told to make up our own games. The only rule was that the loser would die. Honestly, it was so heartbreaking.

While pairs around us concocted elaborate competitions, we decided to keep it simple: crate, line, stand behind line and throw marbles in crate, most marbles wins. I sold this to Rhik on its simplicity, but truth be told I backed myself to beat him. Beat him until he was dead. Surely there was some transferable muscle memory from all the hours frittered away beer-ponging.

Lo and behold, I surged to an early lead, goading Rhik all the while. “G’ahhh, so close. Unlucky pal,” I comforted with a pat on the back... I was really leaning into the Squid heel persona I’d crafted for myself by this point.

Credit to Rhik, as the game wore on, he got into a bit of rhythm and clawed his way back. How far back he clawed though we’ll never know, as the cameras and guards had long moved on to the next stage of our tightly scheduled Squid Game experience. And so, once again, I had survived. Somehow.


When making Squid Game a reality, one of the many, many questions the producers faced was which games to keep in and which to leave out. In the end they plumped for ‘a series of games inspired by the original show - plus surprising new additions’; but could they really have called it Squid Game without Red Light, Green Light?

In the show, this is the opening game. The game in which they realise this isn’t a game at all, as contestants are wiped out in their droves by a hail of gunfire.

It’s grandma’s footsteps, except if grandma catches you moving when she turns around, grandma guns you the f**k down.

It makes for gripping TV, but how were they going to make this work in a reality TV format? As we’ve established, the prospect of death is what ramps up the tension in the drama, and this was unsurprisingly off the table with the reality gameshow iteration.

It was a breathtaking sight.

Evidently, they determined that the lack of death could be the only compromise, everything else must be as realistic as possible.

And so we walked through the green gates to the field of screams and let out a collective gasp. The set was like nothing I’ve ever seen, which isn’t really saying much; however, a producer who had worked in TV for more than 30 years also told me that it was like nothing they had ever seen, so hopefully that gives you a bit more of an idea of how extraordinary this thing was.

The enormous aircraft hangar had been transformed into one of the show’s most memorable settings. A vast, brightly lit plane, with surrounding walls that produced a sort of mirage effect. At the far end, stood eerily beyond a luminous pink line, was the doll of death.

And behind her, hidden beyond the far wall, was a bank of cameras, sensors, and producers, standing by to detect even the slightest of movements.

As well as being absolutely massive and trippy as balls, the set was also deathly cold. Any aircraft hangar in the UK in January is gonna be on the nippy side, but we were in the grips of a cold snap. It was about –6C outside - where there was sunlight. Even with all the thermals, heat pads, and appearance of an unexpected PT to lead a team warm up, knees were knocking.

The day prior they’d shot Red Light, Green Light for real, and it was reported in the press that some players had required medical attention. The prospect of frostbite certainly added an authentic sense of fear to proceedings, and as the game got under way and the five-minute timer ticked down I hurtled forwards – eager to get the blood pumping as much as anything – before slamming to a halt as the doll turned.

However, I soon realised this was a mistake.

My strategy worked. For a bit.

In order to make sure that every execution was entirely accurate, the producers double and triple checked each contestant’s movement before detonating the squib, meaning we had to hold our poses for an age. Given that I had frozen mid-sprint, legs bent, this was not easy. After five minutes, I was worried I was actually frozen. After 10 minutes, being actually shot in the face seemed like a kindness.

But I’d come too far to collapse now, and eventually, mercifully, the doll turned once more. This time around I scuttled forwards in a rigid, upright position, like I was gliding along an airport Travelator thing. I knew I wouldn’t last another freeze with knees bent; this way I could come to a quick stop and hold it relatively comfortably.

The plan worked, and as competitors all around got mowed down, I gradually progressed across the bleak playground.

I calculated that I would just about make it across the finish line in the last 10 seconds or so, even with the doll’s periods of back-turning becoming ever briefer. I was the tortoise, surrounded by dead and defeated hares.

But then, with the finish line in sight, disaster struck. I had frozen as the doll sharply turned her head with 20+ seconds still on the clock, but this time the clock wasn’t stopping, it just kept ticking down.

I stood completely still, except for my jaw, which dropped as I watched the time tumble all the way down to three seconds. I was done.

Player 169 - eliminated.

On Squid Game: The Challenge, the producers took every step to ensure that Red Light, Green Light eliminations were fair.

But on this press day, they’d botched it like a bunch of VAR officials.

Perhaps they’d seen that I cheated at Dalgona, perhaps they’d seen my marbles collapse, perhaps they’d seen that I didn’t eat my disgusting lunch.

I’ll never know for sure, but as black blood burst from my chest, I knew the Squid Game was up.

Stream Squid Game: The Challenge on Netflix now.

Featured Image Credit: Jack Barnes/Netflix

Topics: Netflix, TV and Film