Squid Game reality show replicates K-drama’s striking aesthetic, Latest TV News - The New Paper

Squid Game reality show replicates K-drama’s striking aesthetic

Squid Game: The Challenge

3 stars

Fans of the hit South Korean survival drama Squid Game (2021) are a ready-made audience for this non-scripted spin-off. It pits 456 players against one another for a US$4.56 million (S$6.12 million) prize, the biggest in reality-television history.

Here are a few reasons to tune in to the show, which recreates the premise of the drama – cash-strapped adults competing in children’s games – minus the lethal consequences.

1. Delightful deja vu and controversy

The show recaptures the striking aesthetic of the original, replicating everything from the sets for games such as Red Light, Green Light to the contestants’ tracksuits and the towering bunk beds.

And even before it debuted in November, a frisson of controversy swirled around the series when contestants alleged inhumane and unsafe treatment and a few threatened legal action as a result.

Viewers know, going in, that no one is going to die. But the minute the first people are eliminated, not with a bullet to the head, but an ink pack attached to them bursting, you realise how laughably low the stakes are compared with the drama – which will either delight or dismay.

2. Sob stories and social commentary

One reason the series was compelling was the social commentary. The contestants were working-class folk desperate enough to play a deadly game orchestrated by a cabal of rich sickos.

The show tries hard to reproduce that. Contestants tell you about living pay cheque to pay cheque and not knowing what it is like to not be in debt. And even the villains have sob stories.

Some of these snapshots are genuinely moving, although compared with other reality series, this is not especially well-edited or cast.

But it is still fascinating to watch people posture, fawn and crack under pressure.

3. Parable about dumb luck

Staying in the game requires a degree of skill, strength and strategising, but much of it is down to chance.

The role of the latter in the finale, which aired on Dec 6, disappointed some viewers, and many have wondered if some of the games were rigged.

But if it makes viewers question whether programmes such as this are truly unscripted – or shatters the illusion that luck does not play a giant role in life – then perhaps Squid Game: The Challenge has performed a public service.