Written by Sophie Wyatt
Squid Game has been on everyones lips since it hit Netflix back in 2021. It became the most watched Netflix original show of all time, and caused a huge impact across the world. So, it only seems right that the imaginary was made reality. The game show spin-off Squid Game: The Challenge, was announced last year and has had fans and avid game show watchers waiting with baited breath. And it did not disappoint. With amazing set designs, games to challenge contestants strength both physically and mentally, and a whopping £4.56 million prize fund, Squid Game: The Challenge has been considered one of TV’s best reality game shows to date. To get some more insider info, we spoke to Sam Kohn (aka Player 188), who was in the show up until his demise in the game of Battleships. From the moment he heard about casting, to the moment he was eliminated, he gave us the scoop on it all.
1. First of all, what made you apply for the show?
Impulse more than anything! I’d been at the pub with my housemates and saw an ad on Instagram asking if I wanted to play Squid Game for real. As a huge fan of the show, it was a no-brainer. Despite my concerted efforts to be a discerning film and TV buff, anything that involves playing life-or-death games is like crack to me. Squid Game: The Challenge gave me the opportunity to live out that fantasy without the threat of death, all while being on the biggest reality series ever with the biggest cash prize. Who wouldn’t?
2. What were your first impressions when you arrived on set
“Oh shit, they’re not fucking around.” The first day of filming was Red Light Green Light, and we were picked up from our hotel in the middle of the night and driven miles to an airship hangar somewhere outside London. We weren’t allowed to speak on the bus, so the ride over was unbearably tense. When we arrived at the site and saw the size of the building for the first time, everyone was speechless. Stepping inside was like stepping into the Death Star, and in that moment, the abstract threat of “death” suddenly felt very real. Standing on that pink line before the game started was probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life, which sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but that’s just what the doll does to you.
3. Did you have a game plan going in, and how did your strategy change as the show went on?
My game plan going in was to be as ruthless and conniving as possible – double-cross and deceive, befriend and betray, etc. – which is another thing that sounds ridiculous in retrospect, because I ended up doing almost none of that. When it comes to reality TV, I’ve always been more drawn to the villains than the heroes, and I’ve always believed I have it in me to become one (I can be a bit of a wanker). But that’s just not how it shook out for me. I ended up loving about 95% of the people I met in there and I just didn’t have it in me to plot or scheme or backstab. I also wasn’t there long enough (RIP) to get to the proper strategic bits, so who knows what might’ve happened.
4. What was it like living in close quarters with 456 people?
In many ways, it was as bad as it sounds. The dorms were cramped, the showers were gross, and the social fatigue was EXTREMELY real after the first few days, but it was also kind of magic. Being locked in what was essentially a low-security prison with hundreds of people from around the world (and no phones) laid the groundwork for some of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more than I did in those seven days. Towards the end of my stint, I couldn’t wait to leave – to the point that I was literally hallucinating my IRL bedroom every time I closed my eyes – but now, I’d give anything to be back there.
5. Who were your closest friends in there, and who were the villains?
My core clique included Radhika, Manu, Saïd, Rachelle, Onur, Kevin, Husnain, Neta, and Tyo, and I was also good friends with Melissa, Dash, and Jessi, the last of whom actually took me out in warships (bitch). Who the villains were depends on who you ask. Most of the Brits didn’t vibe with Bryton, and most of the Americans didn’t vibe with Husnain. There was somewhat of a cultural divide between the two camps, and rumours of each leader’s supposed villainy spread thick and fast. I heard, for example, from several Americans that Husnain had poured an entire bottle of water over a girl’s head on the first night, which… LOL.
6. What was your favourite and least favourite moment from filming?
I have two favourite moments. The first was crossing the line in Red Light Green Light, which was probably the single most euphoric moment of my entire life. The second was the twist before Dalgona, where the first four players were surprise-eliminated after failing to unanimously choose their shapes. They were gagged. We were gagged. The world was gagged. And it was the first time I really realised I was on a TV show. My least favourite moment, unsurprisingly, was being eliminated in warships. Our boat was sunk fairly early on in the game, so we were forced to sit there for ages knowing we were going home. Brutal.
7. What was it like watching the show back? Were you and your friends represented fairly?
Watching the show back was absolutely fascinating. I consume a lot of reality TV and I’ve always thought I had a decent understanding of how “the edit” works, but you truly can’t grasp how strange it is watching your experiences back through someone else’s lens until you’ve… well, experienced it. Some of the things that happened on screen were not how I remember them AT ALL. For example, in the scene where I almost pick up the phone from Husnain, I thought I’d only made it about halfway across the room before Elliott dragged me away. In the show, I’m inches away from the phone! Is it down to TV trickery, or the unreliability of my own memory? Hard to say. All I know is I wanted that chocolate muffin.
8. What’s your take on the claims that the show exploited contestants?
Zzz. Isn’t that what reality TV’s all about? In all seriousness, I think the claims – and specifically the lawsuit – are complete horseshit. We all knew what we were signing up for, and the show was literally based on a program where 455 out of 456 characters were brutally murdered. It was never going to be a walk in the park. And for anyone who couldn’t hack it, the giant steel-plated doors were always open (after saying “welfare” into your mic three times, at least). Other than the physical and mental torture, the starvation, and the incessant mind games, I felt pretty well looked after.
9. And how do you feel about the criticism that the show missed the point of the original?
Again, zzz. People are acting like Netflix have desecrated a sacred text or something, completely forgetting that Squid Game was in itself a commercial product designed to entertain audiences and retain subscribers. It’s the Discourse Olympics, and everyone parroting the same tired take is doing so because they want to feel smarter than Netflix, Studio Lambert, and the 456 of us for pointing out the obvious. Newsflash: we were all well aware of the irony, but not everything has to make some grand statement to justify its existence – some things can just be fun.
10. If given the chance, would you participate in a similar show again?
Absolutely. Big Brother. The Traitors. TLC’s I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant. Bring it on.