The giant (and creepy) robot doll from Squid Game: The Challenge's "Red Light, Green Light" game
Reporter Benji Wilson on the set of Squid Game: The Challenge
Before playing Squid Game: The Challenge — the reality competition inspired by the grisly games in Netflix’s Squid Game — contestants are given a comprehensive briefing. Representing emmy magazine, sporting signature white slip-ons, a sea green Squid Game tracksuit and the number 437, I have only one question about the "Red Light, Green Light" game I am about to play.
The answer: “No, we don’t want people to die.”
That’s a relief, because, of course, in the original Squid Game – the multi-Emmy-winning South Korean drama about a Hunger Games-esque gauntlet in which down-on-their-luck contestants compete in a hyper-stylized playground Olympics — the penalty for losing is death. In “Red Light, Green Light,” for example, a giant robot doll presides over a vast game of Statues, where contestants have to get from one end of a room to the other but can only move when the doll is singing its eerie song. If you’re caught moving when the song stops, it’s elimination. Which means, well, termination.
But not today. For Squid Game: The Challenge, Netflix has ensured that — although the stakes are high, 456 players from around the world will compete for $4.56 million — they are not fatal. To keep the game show as close to the fictional drama as possible, the production fitted me with what they call a “Squib Vest,” a proprietary piece of technology that contains a sensor and an exploding ink capsule. The vast “Red Light, Green Light” arena — which is housed in a massive former aircraft hangar on a disused airbase an hour north of London — is ringed with cameras that link to a bridge of monitors and observers backstage. If you move when you shouldn’t, you will be spotted. If you are spotted, a button is pressed (e.g., 437) and your shirt explodes. And you may fall to the ground in as extravagant a manner as you like.
I go for strike a pose akin to the iconic Platoon poster, collapsing to my knees with arms outstretched to the heavens when, finally, the giant doll spots me making a last-ditch sprint for the line and my shirt-front turns to Jell-O.
I get a look and a tut-tut from Anupam Tripathi, one of the original Squid Game cast members, who is here as an advisor. She had advised me to cover a lot of ground in the early stages because the five-minute clock keeps counting down long past when the giant doll stops singing. This, palpably, is unfair, but then, as one of my fellow contestants reminds me, the original Squid Game wasn’t fair either.
That’s the whole point.
Squid Game: The Challenge is streaming now on Netflix.