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In ‘Squid Game: The Challenge,’ the Deaths Are Fake, but the Cash Is Real

Player 450, dressed in a green and white tracksuit, lunged forward, rushing to reach the finish line. Suddenly, the head of a gigantic doll swiveled around and she froze, but it was too late. She crumpled to the ground.

Those who watched the TV thriller “Squid Game” will remember the Red Light, Green Light blood bath, in which players had to race across a room and stop moving every time a doll’s head turned around, or be shot to death.

But in this version of the game, it wasn’t blood soaking Player 450’s shirt — it was black ink from a squib under her T-shirt. And not long after dropping to the ground, Player 450 would get up, disappointed but otherwise unscathed.

She and 455 other contestants were competing for a $4.56 million prize as part of “Squid Game: The Challenge,” a Netflix reality competition, premiering Wednesday, that recreates the devilish games of the streamer’s hit Korean drama, including the dalgona candy contest, the glass bridge challenge and the marbles game. When Netflix opened its casting call in 2022, more than 80,000 people applied to join.

As their numbers dwindle, the players forge alliances and break promises, making Machiavellian maneuvers to avoid elimination and gain the upper hand in pursuit of the cash prize.

“We wanted the show to reveal, just as the drama had revealed, a study of human nature under pressure and what people are really made of,” John Hay, one of the show’s executive producers, said in an interview. The show, filmed in England, is co-produced by the Garden and Lambert Studios.

Unlike with the original drama, the producers of this show say they didn’t know ahead of time who would ultimately win. Earlier this year, some former players told Rolling Stone that the games were rigged, claiming that some players were preselected to advance to the next rounds.

In a statement to The New York Times, Netflix denied that this happened. “All eliminations in the series were approved by our independent adjudicators, who were on set at all times to ensure fairness of all games,” a spokesman said.

In an interview, executive producers said they compiled an enormous amount of footage of all the contestants early in the games, which allowed them to edit the show to focus on contestants who survived until later stages.

To supplement the games, the producers also introduced a series of “tests of character”: mini-challenges in which contestants are forced to make difficult choices. Early on, two contestants receive the option to either eliminate a player or give another player an advantage for the next game. In a different test, a man gets a phone call and is told he has two minutes to convince another player to take the phone from him and be eliminated.

“The drama is all about the alliances and groups people form,” said Stephen Lambert, an executive producer. “We needed to find ways to create challenges for people that would play to their sense of loyalty and sense of trust.”

Recreating the games required complex engineering and a scientific attention to detail. To re-enact the dalgona game, in which contestants had to extract part of a candy without breaking it, the show’s designers spent months testing a variety of cookie recipes to find one that would accommodate contestants’ allergies while not being too soft or too brittle.

Re-enacting Red Light, Green Light also posed challenges. To design the doll, which is more than 13 feet tall, the show’s designers requested exact dimensions from Hwang Dong-hyuk, the director of the original drama.

Then they fed the designs into the largest 3-D printer in the United Kingdom and left it running for a month in order to fabricate the doll’s components, said the lead production designer, Mathieu Weekes. The most difficult task was designing an enormous head that could whip around fast enough to eliminate contestants without flying off the doll’s body in the process, said Ben Norman, the lead games designer. Once the doll was ready, the contestants were brought into a gigantic airship hanger in Cardington, north of London, to play the game.

Former contestants told Variety and Rolling Stone earlier this year that they were forced to play the game in cold temperatures, resulting in some players receiving medical attention, a claim that Netflix has confirmed.

“On the day of filming Red Light, Green Light, a small number of people were treated for mild medical conditions caused by the cold temperature, and one person was treated for a shoulder injury,” a Netflix spokesman said. “There were no other medical issues with the contestants during the remainder of the games.”

The spokesman added that medics were on set at all times and that “all appropriate health and safety measures were taken throughout the filming period.”

One of the contestants, Bryton Constantin, 23, said in an interview that he recalls people complaining about the cold, but he doesn’t remember any contestants experiencing severe injuries because of it.

“We didn’t sign up for a beach trip in Hawaii,” he said. “We signed up for ‘Squid Game’ to win $4.56 million.”

A Netflix spokesman would not say whether or not any contestants were compensated for their physical suffering or other unpleasant experiences on the show.

After filming Red Light, Green Light, the show moved to studios in east London, where contestants lived in a large room filed with dormitory-style bunk beds, similar to the living quarters in the original series. Once they entered the studios, the lucky few who survived to the end would not leave for 18 days.

“Nobody likes to sit in a room with 200 other people and eat not good food every day,” Constantin said. “But you’re in there struggling because everyone’s there for the same exact reason.”

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