Squid Game: The Challenge Player 278/Ashley on her rivalry with Mai and episode 9's shocking result

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'Why am I the villain, but I'm essentially playing the game the same way that other people have been playing the game?' Ashley Tolbert tells EW.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Squid Game: The Challenge episodes 1-9.

It's almost too perfect that one of the biggest rivalries to unfold on Squid Game: The Challenge was between Player 278, a.k.a. Ashley Tolbert, and Player 287, a.k.a. Mai Whelan. That kind of symmetry just can't be scripted.

Their issues began when Ashley heard Mai talking badly about Player 182/TJ Stukes, but then noticed Mai acting like she loved TJ after he chose to save her during a challenge. Then, when Ashley didn't overtake Player 301/Trey Plutnicki during Glass Bridge, Mai tried to target her for elimination during the dice rolling challenge immediately after. Mai got heat from the other players for her actions, whereas Ashley was mostly defended during the game. But now, Ashley's been getting hate from viewers blaming her for Trey's elimination, since she didn't step up during Glass Bridge.

Ultimately, Ashley's game ended right before the finale, as she was one of the last players to be eliminated during episode 9's Circle of Trust. Below, Ashley talks with EW about her rivalry with Mai, being seen as the villain, and what led to her elimination.

<p>Nic Serpell-Rand/Netflix</p>

Nic Serpell-Rand/Netflix

What did you think of how Mai targeted you in the dice rolling game for what you did during Glass Bridge?

I love Mai but I thought it was a joke. She was like, "You're not a team player," and then the No. 1 guy TJ was volunteering for everything left and right, being the biggest team player of them all, she was like, "I can't stand him. I think he's fake. I think he's phony." And she's the first person he chooses.

I understand her perspective on why she nominated me for the dice game or whatever, but it's crazy because it's hypocritical. Everybody's on me about, "She agreed and then didn't do it," even though I never agreed [to the Glass Bridge plan], but Mai could say the same thing in the dice game. She didn't agree, but she didn't say s--- either when everybody was like, "We're gonna self nominate." And that's the same thing that I did! But [the viewers aren't] upset with Mai. Why am I the villain, but I'm essentially playing the game the same way that other people have been playing the game?

Did you notice the other players being upset with you for Glass Bridge, or were they more upset with Mai for the dice rolling game?

They were upset with Mai for what happened in dice rolling. People recognized, "Oh s---, you're right. Ashley's ass did not agree with us because she was out by the f---ing bathroom crying and bitching about her low number when we were coming up with this plan for an hour and a half. She never agreed with it, and damn near didn't even talk to us before we got on the bridge." I think everybody recognized that.

Then when we get into this small circle [for the dice game], it's easy to recognize when somebody's going back on their word. In that moment, we all were talking about integrity — they love to throw that word around. We all voted for Mai to be the little captain, and then she immediately nominated me [for elimination]. Her biggest ally Chad was very disappointed in that. That's messed up. It was just unexpected.

<p>Courtesy of Netflix</p> Player 287/Mai and Player 278/Ashley

Courtesy of Netflix

Player 287/Mai and Player 278/Ashley

When Mai later apologized to you, how did that conversation go? We see her tell you that she didn’t see you take a risk, in regards to making Trey jump twice, but you say you did.

We did talk and in that moment, I didn't understand her perspective, because she was like, "You didn't take your jump." I'm arguing with her, like this lady is crazy. What is she talking about? Of course I took my jump. But now I'm discovering I didn't take the jump that others thought that I should take. I took my jump, my one and only jump that I was required to take. That is the jump that I was referring to when me and Mai were going back and forth. That's what I thought she was talking about. I didn't think she was talking about taking a jump on behalf of somebody else. Hell no, I'm not sacrificing myself for anybody. I'm trying to win for me.

In Circle of Trust, why did you target Phill when, in the round before, he already mentioned that he was considering you the first time he was targeted?

Because I thought I could trick Phill. I was upset when it was my turn because several rounds had passed, and there was only five of us left. We're down to the nitty gritty, and my options are Sam who's my homie, Phill who I was also pretty friendly with, Mai who everybody's expecting me to put the box on her desk, and then Hallie. Me and Hallie, we hadn't really mingled with each other or had a conversation, nothing. My first mind was to put the box on her desk. But I was like, no, she's going to immediately guess me because she's been hanging out with everybody else in the room.

Because Rose had just put the box on Phill's desk, I thought maybe I could trip Phill up. However, when I sat down at my desk, my heart was just beating like a mile a minute. It's on your conscience that you just did sneak some sneaky s---. I could not keep a poker face. My whole entire face told on me. I couldn't keep eye contact with Phill and he immediately knew. I felt like everybody in the f---ing room knew. I was sweating. I don't know, I just didn't see myself passing that round with the people that were left. Everybody's like, "You should have done Mai!" But even though Mai said I wouldn't want my revenge, when it's just us left, then I'm pretty sure she would have guessed it was me. And I didn't want to do that to Sam.

<p>Pete Dadds/Netflix</p>

Pete Dadds/Netflix

Who do you want to win out of the three finalists: Mai, Phill, or Sam?

Sam is my dog, I love Sam. And Phill is awesome. But I'm not even gonna lie, I hope that Mai wins. I felt that she was my biggest competition, and she is so wise and she is a very loving and caring person. And she played the game so well. Yes, she nominated me in dice but it wasn't anything personal. She even pulled me over to have a conversation and explain to me her reasoning behind it, even though clearly it went over my head. She didn't have to do those things. But if anybody were to win, I would hope Mai won. If I had to go head-to-head with anybody in the end, I wouldn't want to go head-to-head with her. She's a great competitor. People want me to be mad at Mai but I'm not mad at Mai. We were just out there playing the game. I still can recognize when somebody is a great player. You can't take that away from her.

The season finale of Squid Game: The Challenge premieres Wednesday, Dec. 6 on Netflix.

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