The Challenge’ Isn’t Bleak, It’s Just Boring


Out of morbid curiosity, I finally ended up watching a good portion of Netflix’s Squid Game reality series, which always seemed like an inevitability after the original show was a massive hit.

Yes, obviously, it deliberately misses the entire point of the show, the exploitation of the poor by the rich, and turns in into a normal game show cash grab, with no lethal stakes, to farm viewership on the service. I think we all recognize the irony here. It’s deeply stupid. But pushing past that, does it at least make for an entertaining show?

While they have recreated the exact sets, props and costumes from the original series, they have not recreated any of the tension. Without the contestant’s lives on the line, it’s just a very boring reality show with a unique aesthetic. Obviously I am not suggesting they should come up with actively dangerous games, but the point is, the reason the main series worked at all, that looming brutality, means this is just bland.

It is mildly amusing and ridiculous how they tried to echo the show, by outfitting each contestant with a squib full of black(?) blood that explodes when they fail in a challenge like Red Light Green Light or the cookie cutting game. The contestants are told to play dead and slump over, which makes the disparity even more goofy.

Tiny mistakes or random chance that lead to deaths are thrilling on the show. They are boring here. I don’t really trust that the two hundred or so people they say failed Red Light Green Light by twitching actually did so. Then when the show gets to non-Squid Game originals, it’s just bizarre. There’s a large scale game of Battleship (like, the board game) where it often comes down to a 50/50 coinflip if a team wins or loses rather than any kind of skill or strategy. That blind luck may work on the show, it doesn’t here.

There are “tests” the game inserts to make the dormitory parts less boring because no one can covertly murder each other there like in the series. These are lame, like giving two people the power to anonymously send someone home or reward them (of course they cut someone). Or telling a guy who answers a mystery phone he must get someone else to take it from him in two minutes or he is eliminated (of course he no one does as he desperately shouts at them).

For me the one entertaining moment I’ve seen this far was a bizarre sequence where four players had to agree which cookie their entire line of people would cut, with everyone wanting to avoid the difficult umbrella. Here, the jock bully manipulates a weak-willed competitor into finally taking the umbrella with a false promise, dooming 90% of his entire line to failure. But this was like, ten minutes of entertainment in the face of several hours of viewing.

It’s certainly not the worst reality show Netflix has, but that’s not saying much. At baseline, it clearly, deliberately misunderstands its source material, but removing the fiction and death from the main series makes it roughly 10% as interesting as even say, Ninja Warrior, or the better Ninja Warrior, Most Extreme Elimination Challenge.

A lot of people will watch this. It will be multiple seasons. They already built the sets so all they have to do is recruit 456 new people and come up with a few new games and twists. This is set in stone, given how Netflix wants to spend its money, even on things that are terrible, so long as someone is watching. And they are watching, for some reason.

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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.

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