I was a player on Squid Game: The Challenge! Here’s what the experience was actually like
‘We didn’t see sunlight or fresh air for seven days’
I don’t know if anyone expected Squid Game to be the 2021 pop culture phenomenon that it was in 2021, but there was nary a soul on earth not watching. It became the most watched Netflix original show of all time – and whilst it felt (and honestly, still feels) like a show that should stand as one season only, it seemed inevitable that a second season would be following. The announcement of the sophomore season came last year, as did the less expected announcement of a reality TV game show spin off titled Squid Game: The Challenge. I don’t know if anyone anticipated it being as good as it is, but Squid Game: The Challenge is big budget, high octane, edge of seat viewing and pretty much everyone is hooked. To find out what filming and competing was really like, I jumped on a call with Sam Kohn – player 188, eliminated during Battleships – who gave an insight into what it was like to be a part of Squid Game: The Challenge.
Hey Sam! So firstly, what’s it been like watching the whole thing back?
A lot of the things happening in the show are not how I remember them at all! The bit where I nearly picked up the phone, one of my only two moments where you get a close up shot – my memory is so warped of how that happened. I was convinced I only made it about halfway across the room but in the shot I’m like an inch from the phone.
The other strange thing about watching the edit is the show doesn’t focus on the people I clocked as main characters. I thought Husnain [player eliminated via the phone saga] was going to be the villain of the season and be in it all the way through. The mum and son, nobody clocked them as big characters. They were just keeping to themselves in the corner.
I was actually going to ask exactly that: if there were anyone you thought would be the focus who wasn’t really featured. I guess with the mum and son duo Netflix already knew that was an interesting dynamic to focus on, but if they were quiet in the dorm the players wouldn’t have really noticed?
I think that’s the case, but they weren’t even the only parent and child in there! My friend Melissa was on there with her dad, and he was eliminated in Red Light Green Light and she made it through – she was sobbing on the other side of the pink line. I thought they would definitely feature that storyline.
It’s really tricky to know how much of the Netflix decision making happened in the editing room and how much was decided from the beginning. There were a few things that happened when we were in there that made players twig, okay, we’re focussing on these people.
I was friends with a guy in there called Kevin with 600k on Instagram and he was being interviewed loads and he’s been invisibly edited from the show completely. That’s happened to a lot of people, and a lot are very bitter about it. Some are taking it in their stride, though – that’s just TV.
Player 188 – how long was the Squid Game The Challenge application process?
I applied about six months before getting the call. I was out drinking with my mates and saw an advert on Instagram asking if people wanted to do Squid Game for real. At that point, there was no indication it was a TV show with a cash prize, it was more just putting the feelers out. I sent a one minute video, I did like a skit where it looked like I’d already got the call and I was practising for the games. I didn’t hear from them for six months and I forgot about it completely.
They then called me in December for a video interview. Did one with the casting agent, one with Netflix, one with a psychologist and a criminal background check. It went on for like a month, and then they told me three days before Christmas that I was going to be on and we were filming on January 7th.
Did you do much to prep?
The only thing I did was practice all the games. I ordered some of the cookies online and practiced every shape. You could take literally nothing in so there wasn’t much you could do prep wise. I just worked out a bit to make sure I was fit and healthy.
How long did you guys actually film for?
That’s another thing the edit doesn’t capture, because when they start doing cookies at the end of episode one that was the fifth day of filming. We did Red Light Green Light on day one and then there was a three day gap where we were in the dorms and had nothing to do at all. All that time was filled with making friendships and alliances, and there were a lot of fights in those three days. People were beefing. Husnain was beefing everybody – he was a menace in there. We were sticking to Husnain like flies on shit because he was getting so much screen time and if we made friends with him we could ride his coattails. They edited out the whole three days and just moved on to the next game.
I think the thing that surprised me the most about the final edit is they seem to have scrapped the social experiment side to focus on the games. I think they’re trying to recreate the real Squid Game rigidly.
Three days of just making alliances in that one room?
We didn’t see sunlight or fresh air for seven days. You can’t have cigarette breaks, we all had nicotine patches. The only other room we had was the bathrooms. That was it. You were in the dorms 24/7 for three days. It felt like filming days would start at 6AM and later people would sneak a look at a producer’s watch and it would be 3AM. We only slept for like four or five hours a night.
That’s so disorientating!? Did it drag?
Yeah, for me it was really, really slow. The hardest part of the show for me was the boredom and lack of stimulation between games.
Player 188 – something that really sticks out to me about Squid Game The Challenge is the vibe difference between UK and USA players. Especially when it comes to emotional reactions. Did you feel that in there?
Honestly, I think that’s why the UK alliance was so strong. There were like 300 US versus like 100 UK, and within the US there were a lot of cliques and infighting. And that was before Red Light Green Light. By the time we got to the dorms, there were like 60 Brits compared to 250 Americans. I definitely found the Americans jarring.
A lot of the Americans would be performing and jogging around the middle and the Brits would all just be sat about.
Do you think they were actually performing or is it just a cultural difference?
Good question. Initially I think they were all being performative. We got prompted by producers to give it energy but the Americans would never stop. It only really started to crack around day six. The exhaustion was really setting in. Total filming was about 12 days.
I read today how you only got one tracksuit. Did you get to change your t-shirt!?
That’s true. Didn’t get to wash it at all. They gave us a change of pants and socks every day. I wore the same t-shirt for seven days. It was disgusting. The tracksuit wasn’t a big deal, but the t-shirt had yellow sweat patches. It was grim. It was GROSS. People were scrubbing their sweat patches with toothpaste in the bathroom. There was also no vaseline at all.
The only thing I have from the set is this pot of vaseline [Sam shows me a pot with his player number on]. They got us it after six days because everyone’s lips were cracked and bleeding from the dryness of the air. You could see blood running down people’s faces. They kept saying they were working on it – it took them days. They had condom dispensers in the bathrooms and everyone was rubbing the lube from the condoms on their lips.
Um, speaking of condoms – player 188, were there any hookups or romances going on in Squid Game The Challenge that we didn’t see?
There was a little showman between players Joy and Alex. He was on the bunk above me and they’d lie in bed each night and cuddle a bit, but then when it was lights out you had to go back to your own bunk. In the showers there were modesty showers for the Muslim players which was floor to ceiling frosted glass and there were rumours people were fucking in them. But I don’t know how true that is!
Speaking of lights out, was it pitch black and everyone went to bed?
No. In the show it makes it look like it goes pitch black but that’s TV trickery. It was dim. Every bed had an LED light above it so everyone slept with their t-shirt over their eyes or a sock over their face.
Did producers ever intervene at any point or tell anyone off?
Not much at all. I’ve seen people on social media saying the show was rigged, but I think that’s the least fair criticism because I was never once prompted to say or do anything. There was very little contact with the producers in general. We only spoke to producers if there was a health and safety issue. Someone stood on one of the bunks on day two and they came in and said we couldn’t do that.
Bryton and Husnein got a warning after their little argument because Bryton made that “Snap you in half in the real world” comment.
What was the most stressful game?
Red Light, Green Light. For sure. In the show it makes it look like five minutes but it took nine hours to film. We had to freeze from 30 to 45 minutes. There were sensing pads on our shoulders, drones flew over with motion sensor captures and a party of invigilators with binoculars. It was unbelievable.
A few people said it was one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do in their life, and me as well. I was the sixth across the line, so I was only playing for four hours but the people at the back had a full nine hours of gameplay. It was stressful beyond words. People were crying and fainting.
Finally, player 188 – do you have anything to say about people on Twitter claiming the show is exploitative and the existence of it misses the point of what Squid Game was about in the first place?
I can’t even believe it. The way that Twitter works is just people trying to have the take of the day. Even though it sounds right to be like, well isn’t this show all about anti-capitalism, people just latch onto that because they think it makes them sound smarter than Netflix or smarter than the viewers. We all signed up to be there willingly. No one was forced.
Myself and lots of people in there were not desperate for the money. We were really grateful to be there. Despite all the gruelling filming experience conversation, I 100 per cent don’t regret it. I think people are bitter about their lack of screen time. I’m perfectly happy with my two tiny moments. I gained no followers, I got no fee, I won no cash but I got a cool experience and a thing I can tell everyone about and made loads of friends. I’m super happy I did it.
A few of the players are suing Netflix, but I want to distance myself away from that in every way possible because I think it’s bullshit. We signed a waiver saying they can do whatever they want. Someone tried to recruit me for the lawsuit, but I was like fuck off. We signed the waiver!
Catch Sam, AKA player 188 in Squid Game: The Challenge on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.
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Featured image via Netflix.