Netflix brings ‘Squid Game’ to life with reality competition series

The hit fictional Netflix series “Squid Game,” a dystopian drama featuring life-or-death children’s games, is coming to life (sans the death part, presumably) in the form of a new reality competition series.

Netflix announced Tuesday that it greenlit the series, called “Squid Game: The Challenge.” The show will see 456 real players compete for a $4.56 million prize, which Netflix says represents both the largest cast and lump sum cash prize in reality TV history.

Casting is happening now and is open to English-language speakers from anywhere in the world. The streaming giant has approved 10 episodes for the series, which will be filmed in the U.K. with co-production between Studio Lambert and The Garden.

It marks a move to capitalize on Netflix’s most popular series of all time, as the scripted “Squid Game” show amassed 1.65 billion hours in the first 28 days after it premiered in September 2021. On Sunday, “Squid Game” was officially renewed for a second season.

“Squid Game took the world by storm with Director Hwang’s captivating story and iconic imagery. We’re grateful for his support as we turn the fictional world into reality in this massive competition and social experiment,” said Brandon Riegg, Netflix VP of Unscripted and Documentary Series, in a statement. “Fans of the drama series are in for a fascinating and unpredictable journey as our 456 real world contestants navigate the biggest competition series ever, full of tension and twists, with the biggest ever cash prize at the end.” 

Smart move, analyst says

Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TVREV, told Fierce Video that the new series plays up the strength of one of its existing shows, noting that Netflix hasn’t yet pursued franchises.

And “while this is not exactly what say, Disney is doing in that regard, it’s a start and a smart move,” Wolk said. “Though like with all forms of art, the execution is everything.”

Wolk had previously pointed out that Netflix’s content reputation started to become somewhat lackluster as the streaming giant pumped out large volumes of new original shows appearing to opt for quantity over quality, and was also quick to cancel fan favorites after only two or three seasons. It’s also pursued more reality TV based shows.

The only downside he sees for the new competition series is if “Squid Game: The Challenge” is a flop where it “doesn’t ring true to fans or seems tone-deaf or exploitive.”

It’s not Netflix’s first time leveraging popular content for different kinds of formats. One foray involves gaming. Last summer it debuted an in-app mobile game integration of two Stranger Things games based off the highly popular original series (season 4 of which just captured the crown for Netflix’s biggest premiere weekend viewership for an English language TV show). In April, the streamer said it would use IP for popular card game Exploding Kittens to launch both an exclusive mobile game and an adult animated series (coming in 2023).

In terms of using content across different formats, “Netflix has taken the lead here,” according to Wolk.

“It’s a smart play to extend the lives of shows across platforms,” he said. However, it’s not exactly a new idea for TV, Wolk explained, as networks have created spin-offs from popular series going back to the 1960s and 1970s, citing “Maude” for example which ran from 1972-1978 as a spin-off of “All in the Family,” and was followed by its own spin-off “Good Times.”

“So taking popular characters or aspects of a show is a tried-and-true method” and Netflix is wise to follow that path, Wolk said, but again emphasized the importance of execution.

“Not all spin-offs worked, but enough did for the networks to continue spinning,” he said.

See the competition series teaser here: