Attention all players: The Squid Game reality show is actually good

Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge, a reality TV competition series based on the hit Korean drama, takes a daring leap by pitting 456 contestants against each other for a chance to win $4.56 million, the largest cash prize in TV history. While skeptics questioned the feasibility of translating the dramatic tension of the fictional Squid Game into a reality format without the threat of death, The Challenge manages to deliver palpable suspense and genuine human drama without resorting to extreme measures.

Filmed in England on meticulously recreated sets, The Challenge faithfully captures the visual style of the original series. Contestants, clad in green and white sweatsuits, navigate surreal, candy-colored environments reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s art, complete with a menacing giant robot doll overseeing the Red Light, Green Light challenge. The show maintains the essence of Squid Game’s challenges, creating a sense of urgency and competition.

The diverse cast of contestants represents a wide range of backgrounds and motivations, adding depth to the competition. While their situations may not be as dire as those in the fictional Squid Game, each contestant has a compelling reason for wanting to win, whether it’s to support a loved one, escape poverty, or retire comfortably.

The show’s success hinges on its casting, with contestants fitting into classic reality TV archetypes like the everyman, the hero, and the villain. Viewers quickly become invested in the contestants’ journeys, rooting for their favorites as the competition unfolds.

Without the threat of death, The Challenge amps up the psychological pressure on its contestants through additional “tests of character” and strategic changes to the original games. Contestants are forced to make difficult decisions and alliances, adding layers of drama and intrigue to the competition.

While some aspects of The Challenge, such as the ink packs that “eliminate” contestants and the contrived control room scenes, feel unnecessary and detract from the authenticity of the experience, the show overall succeeds in delivering an engaging and suspenseful reality TV experience.

Despite the lack of real-life stakes, The Challenge manages to capture the spirit of Squid Game, offering a compelling and entertaining competition that explores the human condition under pressure. Grade: B+

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