The day I got killed by Squid Game’s giant doll
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The challenge for Squid Game: The Challenge is twofold. For the 456 competitors in Netflix’s new game show, it’s to win a cool $US4.56 million ($7.2 million) by being the last person standing after a series of already famous tasks.
For Netflix, it’s to not muck it up. Squid Game is a Korean dystopian drama about a divorced gambler (instant global star Lee Jung-jae) who enters a secret tournament of schoolyard games which come with a catch: all the losers are executed. It’s the streaming giant’s “biggest show ever”.
Squid Game: The Challenge. In real life 456 competitors vie for $US4.56 million.Credit: Netflix
On its release in September 2021 it quickly became a global phenomenon. Netflix says that more than 142 million member households in 94 countries watched it, amassing 1.65 billion viewing hours in its first four weeks on the platform. Squid Game has a claim to be the most watched TV drama of all time.
Season two is currently filming, but in the interim, to feed the beast Netflix have made a reality show version. We are promised contestants from all over the world romping around in the familiar green tracksuits, a series of games inspired by the original show (plus surprising new additions) and all the strategies, alliances, and brute Machiavellianism that made the drama such grim theatre.
Back in January I was invited to a super-sized aircraft hangar an hour north of London, decked out in a tracksuit of my own and sent to try out the most famous game of the lot, Red Light Green Light (a take on the well-known “Statues” playground game.) Reader, I survived to tell the tale, even though I was spotted moving by the giant talking doll and summarily shot.
Yes, shot. The first, most obvious question about a real-life Squid Game is how to do the murdering. Even in big-time entertainment some laws still apply, and as the Netflix rep says when I ask, “No one’s going to die.” (I still thought best to check.)
No one dies in Squid Game: The Challenge.Credit: Netflix
It turns out to be the right question, though, because on the same day I go to the Squid Game Challenge set, the British tabloid newspaper The Sun reports that some real players have been stretchered off from the Red Light game suffering from hypothermia. Dying of cold is not a plotline from the original Squid Game.
“We care deeply about the health and safety of our cast and crew, and invested in all the appropriate safety procedures. While it was very cold on set, and participants were prepared for that, any claims of serious injury are untrue,” Netflix and Studio Lambert, which is co-producing Squid Game: The Challenge, said in a statement.
I was kitted out in thermals and a woolly hat, and told that I could tag out at any time if I was feeling the cold. Obviously I wasn’t going to admit I was cold, but you could see how a potential prize of more than $7 million might make a player cling on for too long. That’s the whole plot of the original, after all.
Before all this, however, there was still the matter of how to get killed. Once I’d been issued with a tracksuit, it was down through the canteen to be issued with my Squib Vest. The producers had come up with a system that faithfully mimicked assassination: your vest contained a tracker and an ink well.
Even the slightest move was monitored by what they called “Dollvision”, which turned out to have nothing to do with the huge doll at one end of the arena that sung that freaky song and turned round when you had to stop moving. Instead, the arena was decked out with an array of cameras that fed in to a video village round the back where your every move was watched, logged, edited and compiled. If you moved at the wrong moment, the all-seeing doll would spot you and the ink in your vest would explode. You would be shot.
I wasn’t shot until quite late in the challenge, I’m proud to say. The doll sang, me and my fellow have-a-go Squiders set off and the clock ticked down. What seemed like plenty of time to make it to the other end of the room (alive) quickly became not enough, so that suddenly I had to peg it for the last 10 metres and was duly rumbled by the angry doll. DOA.
I spoke to some of the camera people who’d worked on the real (but not real) Red Light game that will appear in Squid Game: The Challenge. The problem was that in order to get all of the camera angles and coverage of the artificial mutilation, the game, which imagines a countdown from five minutes, had taken seven hours.
The contestants had all remained stock still, afraid of the all-seeing doll, as production made sure the show looked just like Squid Game the drama: which was why some of them had got extremely cold.
Squid Game: The Challenge: our correspondent was duly rumbled.Credit: Netflix
Far be it from me to say that a little bit of actual jeopardy and a headline did Squid Game: The Challenge’s publicity no harm at all. As for the show itself, well, of course it’s contrived and a little nasty and you’ll hate yourself for watching it. But you will watch it. No one wants to be eliminated.
Squid Game: The Challenge launches on Wednesday November 22 on Netflix.
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