When Netflix announced its reality game show Squid Game: The Challengeit immediately drew the ire of fans who’d sat through the original twisted South Korean thriller, about a group of poor people recruited to compete in a series of deadly games for millions in prize money, and wondered: How could this possibly end well?
Still, the ambitious competition managed to find 456 contestants willing to compete for a $4.56 million prize — earning the show the bragging rights of boasting the largest cast, and cash prize, in TV history. But the first day of filming had barely wrapped last Monday when reports began to trickle out about how the show’s production was a complete disaster.
“It was just the cruelest, meanest thing I’ve ever been through,” one former contestant tells Rolling Stone. “We were a human horse race, and they were treating us like horses out in the cold racing and [the race] was fixed.”
“All the torment and trauma we experienced was not due to the game or the rigor of the game,” another former player adds. “It was the incompetence of scale – they bit off more than they could chew.”
Four former players have detailed their experiences Rolling Stone, confirming earlier reports that contestants were forced to play the show’s “Red Light, Green Light” game in inhumane conditions, spending up to nine hours inside a freezing airport hangar, unable to move for 30-minute stretches, with medics rushing in to tend to people who were unable to take the extreme cold. All requested that their names be withheld, citing their NDAs.
Netflix previously said in a statement that three sought medical attention for minor conditions, but defended the safety of the production, saying it had “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.” (The streamer referred us to their previous statement when reached for comment.)
But sources allege that Netflix and the show’s co-producing studios, Studio Lambert and The Garden, have downplayed the gravity of the hellish day. Additionally, they believe the news coverage missed a key point in their complaints: that the game seemed to be rigged to begin with. (Studio Lambert did not respond to a request for comment; The Garden directed our request to Netflix.)
The former players claim that some contestants — several of whom were TikTok and Instagram influencers — appeared to be pre-selected to advance to the next round no matter the outcome of the first game, and were fully mic’d up while a majority of the eliminated contestants had dummy microphones around their necks. One former player claims rules were bent to heighten a contestant’s storyline, and another says they witnessed an eliminated player being put back into the game.
“It really wasn’t a game show. It was a TV show, and we were basically extras in a TV show,” one explains.
Three former players describe what contestants are now calling the “38-second massacre,” when a large group of contestants made it across the finish line with time remaining on the clock, meaning they had successfully made it through to the next round. However, as they waited for producers to go over footage and get drone shots from the round, their blood squib packs went off minutes later, and they were told they had been eliminated, despite making it across the finish line. “They went crazy,” one contestant recalls.
Two contestants say when they got their original flight to London, their return tickets were already booked. It just so happened that their flights were scheduled for right after they wound up being eliminated. “Instead of Squid Game, [they] are calling it ‘Rigged Game.’ Instead of Netflix, they’re calling it ‘Net Fix,’ because it was clearly obvious,” one former player adds.
Filming on the reality-competition series began last Monday, as players were woken up in the early morning hours and bused from a London hotel nearly two hours away to Cardington Airfield, a former Royal Air Force base. It was an unexpectedly chilly day, and in the large metal hangar with concrete floors, one source says it felt closer to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius).
Although the cast was dressed in two layers of thermals, two pairs of socks, plus theirs Squid Game tracksuit, the contestants claim it wasn’t adequate clothing to keep them warm. (Hand and foot warmers that were given to players were taken away before the game began, sources say.)
Producers allegedly said the game was only supposed to last two hours, but the former players said they were on set for up to nine hours, unable to move for 30-minute stretches, with some losing feeling in their hands and feet. Their only relief came in the form of a roughly seven-second period when they scrambled to get closer to the finish line — only to freeze in place and wait another 30 minutes as producers took drone shots, reviewed footage and decided who was eliminated.
“I’m shaking and I’m talking about like, I’m-on-top-of-Mount-Everest-and-I’ve-got-nothing-on shaking,” one recalls.
The freezing conditions resulted in at least 10 people collapsing during the game, sources say, with medics being screamed for as people fell and convulsed on the ground. One alleges that medics took ages to reach the players because producers were worried about the camera shots being ruined. As a solution, masked people in pink jumpsuits were sent out on the floor with black coffins and positioned themselves to block out the medics attending the fallen player – all while the rest of the contestants remained frozen in place.
With a life-changing amount of money on the line, the former contestants say they felt trapped — fearing that if they moved to help, they’d be out of the game. “People were beating themselves up, including myself, around the fact that you’ve got a girl convulsing and we’re all standing there like statues. On what planet is that even human?” asks one former contestant. “Obviously, you would jump and help — that’s what our human nature is for most of us. But absolutely it’s a social experiment. It played on our morals and it’s sick. It’s absolutely sick.”
“There’s $4.5 million up for grabs and if you move, you’re out,” another adds. “I noticed a lot of people with the idea that they are going to change their family’s lives. These people were willing to die. Somebody says, ‘I’m going home with this, I don’t care what it takes.’ I think the producers wanted that. They wanted people not to think about their health, not to care about their safety.”
One player says he sustained a herniated disc and a torn knee tendon. “My legs went completely numb,” he explained, adding that when trying to access the bathroom after being eliminated from the game, he fell going up the stairs because he couldn’t feel his feet and legs. Another player says she developed pneumonia and an ear infection, and two other players were coughing throughout their conversations with Rolling Stonesaying they also had developed colds after competing.
Beyond the brutal conditions, the former contestants allege they witnessed clear signs of players being pre-selected to advance to the next round. One says they noticed only the players who were fully mic’d up being taken away to film before the game started, cameras following them as they mingled with other mic’d-up players. Two say they saw some contestants clearly moving when they were supposed to be frozen, yet weren’t eliminated. One claims they saw a contestant eliminated, only to be added back to the game.
Another says she was eliminated when there were five seconds left on the clock at the end of the grueling nine hours. But as she waited to be escorted off the set, she says she noticed cameras pointed at a contestant who was playing with his mother. “This kid is sitting at the finish line, he’s crying, and cameras are on him and he’s waiting for his mom. They added [more time] to the clock for her to get across because she was one of the people that they wanted to be in the show.”
Two former contestants confirmed that some players, including themselves, were seeking legal advice to see if there were grounds for a lawsuit against the production studios for workplace safety violations, negligence and false pretenses. (Co-producer Studio Lambert, which is behind popular reality shows such as The Circle, Naked Attraction and The Traitors, has previously faced claims of making employees work in “inhumane” conditions. Staffers on the UK’s Gogglebox alleged in 2021 that they worked excruciatingly long hours and were made to go without breaks.)
In response to the sneers that contestants should have known better when signing up for a game based on a deadly TV series, the former players say they were reassured every step of the way that the show would be safe, fun and most importantly, a fair opportunity to win a life-changing amount of money. “It’s not like we signed up for Naked and Afraid or Survivorwhere you’re gonna eat ants and it’s gonna be grim — that wasn’t the game,” one maintains.
“The funny thing is,” offers another contestant, “equality and fairness was the main theme of the original Squid Game.”