Mai Whelan wins ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’; reality show renewed for Season 2


Mai Whelan

Mai Whelan

The finale of Squid Game: The Challenge, the reality show inspired by the phenomenal South Korean survival drama series of the same name, aired on Netflix on Wednesday to show 55-year-old Mai Whelan emerge as the winner. Meanwhile, Netflix has ordered a second season of the show, which notably amassed 20.1 million views in the first five days since its premiere on November 22.

Mai is a Vietnamese refugee who moved to the United States after suffering a near-death experience there. She participated in the competition after 20 years of service in the US Navy and a career as an immigration adjudicator for the Department of Homeland Security.

In the finale that aired on Wednesday, Mai (Player 287) defeated Phil (Player 451) and Sam (Player 016) to win a $4.56 million cash prize, the highest ever in television history. To much surprise, after Sam got eliminated in a round of Button Test, Mai and Phil had to compete over a game of Rock, Paper & Scissors to determine the winner.

Squid Game: The Challenge pits 456 real-life contestants in diverse games and challenges based on the original show (minus the lethal danger). “Though the reality version of Squid Game isn’t a matter of life or death, there’s still a lot on the line. Through a series of games, each player will be pushed to their limits and forced to ask themselves just how far they’ll go to win, with opportunistic alliances, cutthroat strategies and timely betrayals to follow,” reads the synopsis.

In the Korean original series Squid Game, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, 456 players play a series of Korean children’s games with a deadly twist. The last surviving contestant is promised the reward of 45.6 billion won as a cash prize. Earlier this year, Netflix announced the cast members of the second season of the series. Lee Jung-jae, Lee Byung-hun, Wi Ha-jun, and Gong Yoo return to star alongside newcomers Yim Si-wan, Kang Ha-neul, Park Sung-hoon, Yang Dong-geun, Park Gyu-young, Jo Yu-ri, Kang Ae-sim, Lee David, Lee Jin-uk, Choi Seung-hyun, Roh Jae-won and Won Ji-an

The show was shot for over 16 days in January 2023 at Cardington Studios, a former Royal Air Force base in Bedford.

Controversy erupted after the premiere of the show as the contestants of the show threatened legal action against Netflix and its producers. Two unnamed players claimed that they had been injured during the filming of the game show, resulting in hypothermia and nerve damage because of shooting in cold conditions in the UK. Netflix had confirmed that three of 456 players required medical attention.


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