There have been plenty of tears, vomit and brutal eliminations... but only one person can win Squid Game: The Challenge.
Netflix’s new reality competition, based on the original 2021 South Korean drama, sees 456 contestants compete in a series of games and tests for the chance to win $4.56m (£3.55m) – the largest lump-sum jackpot in the history of reality TV.
Warning: spoilers for episode eight and nine of Squid Game: The Challenge follow
While the players in the real-life version don’t get shot dead upon elimination, of course, like they did in the drama, the contestants are certainly not spared from taking part in mentally taxing challenges.
Those challenges have now whittled the 456 players down to just three finalists, who triumphed against their fellow contestants during the 16-day filming period at Warf Studios in London.
But who are the three resilient contestants who have survived multiple eliminations and made it to the final round?
Sam (Player 016)
Sam in ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’— (Netflix)
Sam, a 37-year-old artist from Florida, has purposefully flown under the radar for the majority of the show, keeping a low profile at the dormitory and confiding in only a few trusted fellow contestants.
“I grew up a little gay boy in a very religious family,” he said in a confessional. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to hold my cards close to my chest.”
Throughout his time on the show, Sam has tried to champion the strategy of “civil decency” to ward off chaos in the game and to prevent in-fighting between the contestants. At several moments in the latter half of the series, Sam has been the mediator in particularly tense moments. For example, during the dice roll test in episode eight, he suggested that players nominate themselves, rather than maliciously nominating each other, in an attempt to curb any animosity between plays going forward.
“I’ve been trying to play this game in a way that I’d be proud of and [also in line with] how I’d act in the outside world,” he told Mai (Player 287) in episode nine. “As long as we keep our eye on our hearts and our humanity, because we all have that good core.”
If he wins, Sam plans on getting a large art studio for his work, helping his husband with his film projects and working to rescue animals.
Mai (Player 287)
Mai in ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’— (PETE DADDS/NETFLIX)
Born in Vietnam, Mai, 55, came to the United States as a refugee when she was just eight years old. In a confessional, Mai told cameras that as a child in Vietnam, she was nearly killed when a solider saw her move in a field and held a gun to her forehead. Now, she lives in Virginia, and is a single mum with one granddaughter.
Mai has continued to use the difficult memories of her past to remind herself “to be strong”, as she navigated life as a single mother and a 20-year career in the Navy, before moving to work in the US immigration enforcement department, where she reviews visas of non-immigrant students who want to study in the United States.
Mai has often been looked up to by fellow contestants, such as Chad (Player 286), who has praised the immigration adjudicator for her intelligence throughout the series. During the glass bridge challenge, Chad turned to Mai to decide what step he took in his turn – a decision that could have led to his elimination.
However, Mai found herself in hot water when she broke the chain of “civil decency” by deciding to eliminate Ashley (Player 278) during the dice roll test in episode eight. In the next episode, Mai brutally decided to secretly eliminate her ally Roland (Player 418), instead of one of her foes. She then lied to her fellow finalists, Sam and Phill, when they asked her who she had eliminated in the challenge.
“This game is all about self-preservation,” she said in episode nine. “I have to do what I have to do to survive.”
If she wins the prize money, Mai hopes to purchase a home, where she will spend her retirement, and donate to causes she cares about.
Phill (Player 451)
Phill in ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’— (PETE DADDS/NETFLIX)
The Hawaii-based scuba instructor, who moved from his home country of Brazil to the United States during middle school, has proved to be an easy-going, non-confrontational contestant. His calm energy might have been what has kept him in the game, in comparison to several hot-headed contestants who were eliminated much earlier on.
“I basically have no strategy going into this,” Phill said of his game plan. “I’m kind of going in blind. I really just have no idea how this is going to go.”
Phill has said that his psychology degree may have put him at an advantage during the game because he said he “understands” the way people operate. Phill is a quad ball player and a member of the modern pop-punk group called Six Ways to Saturday
In a confessional, Phill admitted that he was bullied “pretty viciously” when he moved to the United States as a teenager. “That sort of put me into a small shell,” he said.
Phill bonded with several players during the competition, forming alliances with Jackie (Player 393), his fellow finalist Sam, and Ashley (Player 278), whom he chose to save during the Dorm Test of allegiance.
The three finalists competing in the final episode of ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’— (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)
But he’s also had to make some ruthless decisions, like betraying his friend Hallie (Player 355) during Circle of Trust in a final stunning twist. Still, so far, he has remained loyal to his friend Sam, who he will now face in the final.
Should Phill come out on top in the finale as the winner of Squid Game: The Challenge, he claims that he will likely give most of his prize pot away.
“If I suddenly become a millionaire, I wouldn’t keep most of the money,” he said. “I’ve personally been helped a lot throughout my entire life by family and friends and I’ve never really been able to reciprocate.”