'Inhumane' Conditions On The Squid Game Reality Show Prove It Was, In Fact, A Terrible Idea

In news that can be filed under "disappointing but not surprising," Variety is reporting that filming for Netflix's "Squid Game" reality show has taken a dark turn. The outlet spoke to several contestants whose names were kept anonymous about their experiences filming the show's first challenge in late January. While "Squid Game: The Challenge" isn't a real-life bloodbath like its fictional counterpart, accounts shared from the set paint a picture of a nonetheless dangerous production.

The challenge in question was filmed on January 23, 2023 in Bedford, England, amidst a cold snap that left temperatures hovering around 32 F. In an attempt to mimic the massive thriller hit "Squid Game," the production reportedly asked contestants to play a game of "Red Light, Green Light," the kids' party game that requires freezing in place before dashing towards a finish line. Only this time, hundreds of people in tracksuits gathered in a freezing airplane hanger where they were allegedly told to hold some poses for 15 to over 25 minutes at a time in a two-hour shoot that Rolling Stone's sources say wore on for nine hours.

Similar to the fictional series — which is, it should be said, a satire in which the games in question are sadistic, unimaginable, and rigged — 456 unpaid contestants reportedly competed for a grand prize of $4.56 million, with "Red Light, Green Light" as the first of several planned challenges. 228 contestants lost the first challenge, but more importantly, multiple participants required medical attention. One contestant told Variety she saw a woman buckle and fall and heard her head hit the ground, an event that was followed by a voice on a microphone warning contestants "to hold our positions because the game is not paused." The player says that "after that, people were dropping like flies."

Life imitates art, and not in a good way

Netflix stated that three people required medical attention for the shoot, but participants interviewed by Variety seem to think that number is low. "I'm infuriated by the narrative that Netflix is putting out there, that only [a few] people were injured," one participant told Variety, claiming that the shoot also didn't allow for bathroom or water breaks. "We were all injured just by going through that experience." The woman who describes seeing someone fall estimates that medics were called for approximately eleven times before the production team began allowing the players "relaxation breaks."

The concept for "Squid Game: The Challenge" has been heavily criticised since it was announced. As /Film's BJ Colangelo put it, with this show, Netflix "has inadvertently taken on the position of the billionaires who think watching poor people fight to the death for money is a quality form of entertainment." The show has an obvious financial appeal for the streamer, though. If completed, it would become the show with the biggest cash prize and biggest cast of any reality competition to date, breaking records that surely appeal to streaming execs who want Netflix to recapture its staggering "Squid Game" viewership numbers.

Maybe this reality show record isn't worth breaking

Yet that latter point seems to be precisely the problem: one contestant says she spoke with a junior production assistant who told her the shoot required "far more staff than we have," and other reality TV executives interviewed by Variety call the idea of coordinating such a large shoot "a complete nightmare." While one participant calls shooting conditions "absolutely inhumane," Netflix has released a fairly underwhelming statement refuting claims of serious harm or rigged competition, another accusation brought forth by contestants who spoke to Rolling Stone. "We care deeply about the health of our cast and crew, and the quality of this show," the statement reads. "We've taken all the appropriate safety precautions, including aftercare for contestants."

Contestants for "Squid Game: The Challenge" are reportedly bound by NDAs, but the sheer size of the cast means some people were bound to speak up. It's good that they did, because this soulless, dystopic, point-missing idea for a reality show was bad from the start and seems to have only gotten worse. Unlike the fictional show on which it's based, though, there's still time for Netflix and the team behind the series to give this story a happy ending — by making responsible decisions that put the safety of the cast ahead of world records, profits, or reality show drama.