In possibly the most tone deaf attempt at cashing in on the most wildly successful television show it has ever produced, Netflix is in the process of casting contestants in a live-action reality show based on Squid Game. Titled Squid Game: The Challenge, the show will feature 456 players competing for $US4.56 ($6) million, making it the largest contestant pool and prize pot in reality television, ever. For reference, Survivor, which has run for 42 seasons and consists of 662 episodes, has had 626 participants since 2000.
Announced via a panel hosted by the Hollywood Reporter earlier this week and publicly confirmed on Twitter, Netflix also said in a press release that the show will run for 10 episodes and contestants will “compete through a series of games inspired by the original show.” This announcement comes in the wake of a season two announcement for the Korean drama, which, once again, is the most watched series ever, clocking in at over 1.5 billion hours watched in the first 28 days.
The irony of this announcement is not lost on anyone who watched Squid Game, which is a narrative that is explicitly against the kind of voyeuristic cash-grab competition show and the kind of systems that would encourage down-on-their-luck individuals to compete for money at the risk of their lives. While I doubt Netflix is going to murder people for entertainment, there’s no way to spin this show as being anything other than completely antithetical to the very ethos of Squid Game. (Let’s not forget when MrBeast, the YouTuber, did the same thing a few years ago, and also missed the point.)
What part of a show that encourages people to commit incentivized murder for entertainment feels like something that Netflix to seek to emulate via the reality show format? This announcement feels like the embodiment of a horrible, uncaring timeline where art is relegated to content, and IP is only ever in existence to make money, rather than telling any kind of story. If it were any other Netflix show, it might be funny (I wouldn’t mind a Black Mirror reality show, or a Stranger Things D&D actual play, why not?), but there’s something insidious about American capitalists taking this show and making it into something that emphasises and celebrates exploitative corporate entertainment capitalism.
According to the press release, Challenge is a “co-production between Studio Lambert (The Circle) and The Garden (24 Hours in A&E), part of ITV Studios, and it will be filmed in the UK.” Casting applications may be open, but I’m not going to encourage anyone to submit their bid. Just in case.
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