‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ EPs Say Their Show Is About ‘Opportunity Rather Than Need’

The heads of the historic Netflix reality series explain why the original series is more than a commentary on capitalism

Squid Game: The Challenge
Season 1 of "Squid Game: The Challenge" (Pete Dadds/Netflix)

When it was first announced Netflix was moving forward with a “Squid Game” reality show, the project was immediately met with criticism. But the reality show’s executive producers reject the idea that the original South Korean series was primarily a commentary on capitalism and economic inequality.

“I think to say that the original show is about that reduces what the original show was to a quite a narrow definition,” executive producer and chief executive of Studio Lambert Stephen Lambert told TheWrap.

“It was about all kinds of things. It was about people revealing their character and human nature in an extreme situation. It was about people being given an opportunity to be extremely competitive or to show empathy and camaraderie with people. It was an unusual — very unusual — scripted show because it was a scripted show about a competition that invited viewers to think, ‘I wonder what would happen if I played that game?’ So I think it’s much too narrow to think that somehow the drama was only about its criticism of capitalism,” Lambert continued.

The studio head kept this wide-spanning focus in tact when it came to creating “Squid Game: The Challenge.” “The way we’ve made the show and the quality of interviews that we have with people lifts it from being just a simple game show,” Lambert said. “It reveals a lot about human nature and people’s behavior in a way that mirrors a lot of what was going on in the scripted show.”

It’s also important to note that context of “Squid Game: The Challenge” was “flipped” in comparison to Hwang Dong-hyuk’s original show.

“It’s driven by opportunity rather than need. And it’s a huge opportunity,” executive producer John Hay told TheWrap.

With a grand prize of $4.56 million, the Netflix original has set the record for most single cash prize offered in reality television and game show history. According to the EP, over 80,000 people applied for the 456 spots available in the series. “It feels like the keynote of our show is opportunity,” Hay said.

Squid Game: The Challenge
Season 1 of “Squid Game: The Challenge” (Photo Credit: Pete Dadds/Netflix)

As much as the team hoped they could find 456 interested people who had never seen “Squid Game” before, they knew that “every single person who entered that game” would have watched the Netflix original.

“We had to absolutely be one step ahead of them,” Hay said. That meant incorporating the games that appeared in the series with “some songs off our new album,” Hays joked. That includes War Ships, a life-size version of Battleship. It also includes a jaw-dropping twist on the marbles game that happens at the end of Episode 5.

“Getting that balance of familiarity and surprise felt really, really important,” Tim Harcourt told TheWrap. “We’ve tried to tread that line all the way through.”

But the contestants weren’t the only ones shocked by the series. “What actually surprised us was not how well they knew ‘Squid Game’ or how much they anticipated playing it. It was actually that there was still lots of room for camaraderie and tenderness and togetherness. They all bonded. When the number gets even smaller, they really did come together,” Harcourt said.

As inspiring as the camaraderie may be, at the end of the day “Squid Game: The Challenge” is still a competition. “It only takes one person to be out of step, out of march with that sense of unity for something absolutely dramatic to happen,” Harcourt said. “That always seemed to happen. One person would break rank, and drama would ensue.”

Part 2 of “Squid Game: The Challenge” premieres on November 29 with four new episodes. Part 3 premieres December 6.

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