Note: This story contains spoilers for the finale of Squid Game: The Challenge.
Despite his own pig-headed statements to the contrary, Squid Game: The Challenge’s EP, Tim Harcourt, is pretty definitively proving that his show is very much about the pitfalls of modern capitalism. Well, at least the part of capitalism where you can work really, really hard for something and still not get your due as a result of negligent and exploitative behavior from the people on top.
Squid Game: The Challenge, which turned Netflix’s breakthrough 2021 Korean thriller about 456 people who compete in deadly children’s games for a huge cash prize into a reality competition, was a notoriously miserable show to film. (It’s also a pretty miserable show to watch, for the record.) Still, for many players, it was worth it for the chance to potentially win a life-changing $4.56 million, the second highest payout ever on a reality competition. (Beat only by the American version of The X Factor, which offered its winner $5 million.)
But according to the show’s winner, Mai Whelan (Player 287), they haven’t been able to offer even that. In an interview with The Times, Whelan said she hadn’t received a single cent of her prize money since the show wrapped in February. (February!) “I feel like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire,” she said. “Show me the money!” Despite ostensibly being pronounced a multi-millionaire, the only fancy things the 55-year-old veteran and immigration lawyer have bought for herself thus far are a new haircut and a velvet Ralph Lauren dress and Jimmy Choo shoes for the show’s gala. “I still have buyer’s remorse from that, but I think it’s well deserved,” she said of the splurge that shouldn’t have been a splurge in the first place.
When (if?) she eventually does receive the money, Whelan plans to donate some of it to charities for the underprivileged, wildlife, and climate change, and spend some of it on a retirement home for herself. In yet another point in the “this show is a nightmare” column, The Times also revealed that even if Whelan wanted to donate some of her earnings to her fellow contestants, she couldn’t. All players apparently had to sign a contract explicitly forbidding it.
If the show ever wants to get their recently announced second season off the ground, they need to fix this ASAP. Or, maybe they won’t, and this whole saga will be over for good.