The ‘Horrific’ Reality of ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’: Contestants Allege Harsh Conditions, Rigged Results

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For the 456 players who took part in the first season of “Squid Game: The Challenge,” the Netflix reality show was billed as an exciting way to win a record-setting amount of money. Who wouldn’t want to take part in a real-life version of one of their favorite shows while becoming a millionaire overnight?

None of the contestants expected their time on the reality show to actually mirror the grisly realities depicted on the scripted series of the same name. But several contestants said the Netflix and Studio Lambert production left them starving, freezing and even injured. It took one contestant “about three weeks” to emotionally recover from the experience of making the show, she told TheWrap. Her physical injuries, the nature of which she declined to reveal because they were personal in nature, will take even longer to heal, she said.

“I would say to this day [the injury] is still affecting my life to some degree,” the contestant, who was eliminated from the first game — a large-scale rendition of the scripted show’s iconic Red Light, Green Light — told TheWrap. “We’ve heard that conditions did not improve once [other contestants] got in. If anything, they got worse.”

“They treated us like we were truly a part of ‘Squid Game,’” another contestant told TheWrap. He said his arm “turned blue” due to the extreme cold he experienced while participating in the challenge. Last week lawyers for a number of contestants said they were preparing legal action against Studio Lambert for injuries related to the cold.

The shoot took place at a production facility outside of London in December 2022 with contestants from all over the world.

“Heartbreaking,” “excruciating,” “awful,” “horrific” and “absolutely s—y” were all words used to describe the experience of participating in “Squid Game: The Challenge” by four female and two male contestants who spoke to TheWrap anonymously about their time on set. None of them made it past the first game in a competition that promised $4.56 million to the winner — the largest single jackpot for a reality or competition show in history. Yet nearly all of them alleged that their eliminations were unfair. Some of them even claimed the initial challenge was rigged, as some say they were eliminated after crossing the finish line before time ran out.

“We care deeply about the welfare of our cast and crew. All appropriate health and safety measures were taken throughout the filming period,” a spokesperson for “Squid Game: The Challenge” said in a statement to TheWrap. “All eliminations were checked by a team of independent, impartial adjudicators to ensure they were accurate and fair.”

“They were supposed to serve us”

The reported chaos around the reality competition series — which started filming in the U.K. in December 2022, premiered on Nov. 22 and is currently the No. 1 series on the streamer — began well before the game even started.

All of the contestants confirmed to TheWrap that they stayed in the same hotel and were given specific meal times. Contestants were not allowed to order food from off of the premises. And from the beginning, that system wasn’t always reliable. One contestant claims he was not given a meal time and missed a dinner (a representative from Studio Lambert later ordered him food for his first day). Another said that his driver was three and a half hours late picking him up from the airport, leading him to miss his “set time” for dinner. Still another said that the production team “ran out of” the provided food before the competition even started.

The demands of the series compounded this seemingly minor complaint. According to those interviewed, contestants were told “everything” would be provided, including food, drinks, underwear, clothes, shampoo and sanitary products. Wallets were also discouraged.

“They were supposed to serve us. There are some people who did not get the chance to eat. It was just bad,” one contestant told TheWrap. Later, after 259 contestants were eliminated in the first round, the show’s promise of free food and water turned into $10 and $12 vouchers that could be used at the hotel, one player told TheWrap. An eliminated contestant recalled buying one of her peers a water at the hotel bar.

“She was just so distraught,” she said. “Folks were there with no money because they told these people that they were going to be fed. They were taking care of all amenities.”

“Folks were there with no money because they told these people that they were going to be fed.”

One contestant told TheWrap

Another player called her time before the game started a “mindf–k.” This contestant alleged that times changed often. At one point, participants were told that their cell phones would be taken at 1 p.m. London time the next day. But she awoke to a new email saying that production would be taking their devices at 7 a.m. GMT, leaving little or no time to connect before going dark. “No one from the United States could talk to their families before they took all of our devices,” she said.

All confirmed that they were discouraged from talking to other contestants. Those who were caught breaking that mandate were rebuked. While some people were given outdoor privileges, others claimed they were told not to leave their hotel rooms for anything other than food. Producers at Studio Lambert and The Garden disputed that contestants were forced to stay in their rooms and told TheWrap that contestants were allocated equal times outside of their rooms for production activities.

The situation only became more confusing as the first official day of filming began. Contestants were driven to the hangar that would serve as the set of Red Light, Green Light around “3:30 or 4” in the morning. It was quickly clear that this game would be more challenging than previously thought.

“When we got to the warehouse, that’s when things started going downhill,” one contestant said.

Another described the hangar as “nosebleed-level cold,” adding that some people got frostbite. According to a widely cited report in The Sun at the time, temperatures reached a low of 30 degrees Fahrenheit or negative 1 degrees Celsius.

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A contestant plays Red Light, Green Light in “Squid Game: The Challenge” (Netflix)

Contestants were given hand and feet warmers as well as thermals, but participants told TheWrap they were divided unevenly. One contestant heard that not every player was given two layers of thermals, and claimed that his provided shoes were “way too small.” Production has denied accusations that contestants were given clothes that didn’t fit them. Though heaters were provided in the tents, there were conflicting reports about whether all of the heaters worked.

“We were thinking that we got double pairs of this stuff depending on how long we progress,” a contestant said. “No, they gave us them because they were going to freeze our asses to death.”

“The first red flag”

Talking to other contestants in the tents also served as “the first red flag” for at least one participant. As he spoke to the people around him, he started to suspect he hadn’t been given a real microphone, a suspicion he says was proven once he squeezed his mic and found it felt “empty” compared to the mic of those around him. That’s when contestants began to suspect producers had already selected who would move forward to the next round.

“I had contestants coming up to me saying, ‘You were hired by Netflix. You have a real microphone,’” one contestant said, noting that a rumor was spreading “like wildfire” that extras had been hired by the series. “They were purposely pitting people against one another.”

Producers at Studio Lambert and The Garden confirmed that not everyone had a working microphone but disputed that there was any correlation between microphone activation and elimination.

Multiple contestants told TheWrap that producers said filming Red Light, Green Light — the first challenge — would take anywhere from two to three hours. Instead, contestants claimed the game actually lasted somewhere between eight and nine hours.

Just as in the scripted show, the Red Light, Green Light game found participants running from one end of a football-sized field to another without getting caught by a giant robot doll. If a contestant got caught moving when the doll’s head was facing the contestants, a squib in their chest would explode, eliminating them from the game. Red light = stop, green light = go.

“I counted in my head every minute of those nine hours,” one contestant said. According to that contestant, players were first told they had to hold their poses for about five minutes during every red light period. That’s significantly longer than the amount of time poses had to be held on the scripted show. It’s also a fraction of the time contestants actually had to stay frozen. As the game went on, players were allegedly asked to hold their poses in the cold facility for 40 to 45 minutes at a time. By then the hand and feet warmers had been returned to production staff and most contestants resorted to sticking their hands in their pockets for warmth. The contestant said medics on set eventually told producers that the players had to be allowed to move between takes. Hand movement and squatting were allowed as long as a player’s feet didn’t move.

Producers at Studio Lambert and The Garden disputed these claims and told TheWrap that filming for the Red Light, Green Light challenge took seven hours for a few players only, while most were released earlier. They said players were told to hold poses for an average of 10 minutes for proper adjudication.

Bathroom and water breaks were not allowed during the game, which producers told TheWrap participants were warned about ahead of time. At least two contestants said they heard of a woman who was on her period and bled through her pad while in the middle of the competition. Because of the extreme cold, her tracksuit allegedly froze to her body (the incident was never reported to producers, according to an individual close to production).

“Had they said, ‘You’re going to have to hold these positions for 30 minutes,’ I doubt a lot of us would have signed on,” one contestant told TheWrap. “But to have that be the reality after you told us, at max — at the very last minute, by the way — that we might have to hold these positions for 10 minutes? And then double and triple that? That estimate was inhumane.”

Then there was the fainting.

“I see this person standing completely still and then all of a sudden they’ve dropped to their knees and they’ve dropped backwards and they just completely pass out”

‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ contestant

“I see this person standing completely still and then all of a sudden they’ve dropped to their knees and they’ve dropped backwards and they just completely pass out,” one player said, adding that because the medical team didn’t see the collapse, a group of contestants put their hands in the air and called for a medic as they had been instructed. “Then those people got eliminated.”

Three contestants claimed the number of people who passed out during the challenge was between 11 and 12 contestants, but producers at Studio Lambert and The Garden disputed that number and said only two people fainted. Producers also said contestants who flagged medics were not eliminated.

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Contestants in “Squid Game: The Challenge” (Netflix)

“Some cooler heads should have said, ‘Let us pause the game and reassess what is happening here,’” one contestant told TheWrap. “We’ve seen extreme conditions on reality shows. Some of these that’s the name of the game. Certainly ‘Squid Game’ is one of them… A heads up would have been nice, but there was no heads up.”

Rigged Squid Games

After all of that, the players who managed to make it across the finish line were confident they would at least be making it to the next round before they were met by another surprise. But players who spoke to TheWrap said that an estimated 20 people were eliminated at the 38-second mark, despite making it through the finish line.

“Right before [production] came back to record them crossing the finishing line, ‘Bop bop bop bop bop,” one contestant said. “They just kept dying like one by one. We’re like, ‘What the f–k happened?’ There was clearly time left before they crossed it there. The doll was still singing.”

Much like with the microphones, these eliminations have fueled a theory that “Squid Game: The Challenge” producers chose who they wanted to follow to the next round ahead of time. But producers refuted the claims, saying no players were eliminated if they crossed the line before the allotted time.

Multiple players told TheWrap that certain contestants who progressed to later rounds were given extra time to complete the challenge or were seen moving during the game.

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LeAnn Wilcox Plutnicki, aka Player 302, in “Squid Game: The Challenge.” (Tom Dymond/Netflix)

One of those players was allegedly No. 302, LeAnn Wilcox Plutnicki, who gets a significant amount of screen time in the series alongside her son Trey, player No. 301. According to one player who spoke to TheWrap, LeAnn was “nowhere near the finish line” for Red Light, Green Light.

Eliminated contestants also pointed out how some of their peers looked “camera-ready,” supporting the idea some of the finalists had been chosen from the beginning. Multiple female contestants told TheWrap they were asked to arrive without hair products, makeup or painted nails. But once on set, they noticed that several women around them did not abide by these rules.

Producers at Studio Lambert and The Garden strongly denied that select contestants were given unfair advantages and said it would have been impossible given the presence of independent adjudicators.

“There were many people where they would bring a Steadicam right in front of their faces while we were all frozen and then, as soon as the Steadicam was in front of them, their squid pack would go off,” one contestant said. “They didn’t move.”

“We felt like none of us were given a fair shot”

Contestant

Later, some players claimed that their flights home had been booked ahead of time. One contestant realized he was booked to return home as soon as he returned to the hotel. When he confronted production about it, he said they made “this bulls–t excuse that everyone’s flight was already pre-planned and that if they didn’t get eliminated, we would just keep delaying the flights,” he said.

After the elimination of the “38 second” group, a handful of contestants started arguing with producers and asked to speak to the director. According to one person familiar with the conversation, they asked to see the footage that showed they had moved but were denied.

There was even more frustration after the game concluded. Though eliminated contestants were told there would be food at the hotel upon their return, one contestant returned only to find a pizza that was “sitting on the floor.” “It was absolutely disgusting,” he said.

Two others said they were told McDonald’s would be delivered to their hotel room. One says their food never arrived, and one said she only found hers the next morning. “People went to bed starving,” the latter contestant said.

“We just all wanted a fair shot”

Despite the “mixed emotions” the series provided, not everything was as nightmarish as the reality show’s source material. Multiple contestants praised the medics and welfare team. One said that they thought the producers “sympathized” with us “because they didn’t realize what it was going to be and how it was going to impact us.”

Another contestant noted that they thought the production team was “disappointed” about how filming unfolded.

“I don’t think they did it to us on purpose. I just think they didn’t understand how long it was going to take to film an episode with 456 people,” one contestant told TheWrap. “We just all wanted a fair shot at the $4.56 million purse, right? We felt like none of us were given a fair shot at it.”

The post The ‘Horrific’ Reality of ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’: Contestants Allege Harsh Conditions, Rigged Results appeared first on TheWrap.