At what point does reality TV cross the line?

In just less than two weeks, your laptop/phone/TV screen is going to be blessed with what promises to be an epic saga of reality TV. The saga in question? Squid Game: The Challenge.  

If you, by some strange miracle, don’t recall what Squid Game is, let me refresh your memory. In 2021, Squid Game became one of Netflix’s most prolific shows, estimated to be worth £650 million to the streaming giant. It follows a group of people playing childrens games for a huge cash prize. It sounds quite gorgeous when you put it like that – win a game of musical chairs for almost £30 million? Sign me up.  

But wait, as with all good shows, there’s a catch which the players (unfortunately) learn pretty quickly. If you lose, you die. It’s not a Survivor kind of situation, where you let down your team and then you get to go back to camp and eat some beans (but without salt, because you did lose). Squid Game is the real deal. If you want the big bucks you gotta play big risk – or so the evil masterminds running the game seem to think.  

Now, at the end of this month, we are all going to be able to sit down and watch a lovely reality show version of the fictional events described above. If the quantity of fake blood used in the original Squid Game left you with a hunger for MORE death and gore and all-round heartbreak then you are probably quite horrible. But you are also probably going to be very happy soon.  

But, for some strange reason, Netflix has decided not to actually kill the losers in Squid Game: The Challenge. Instead, they get kicked off the show and lose any hope of winning the humongous prize of almost $5 million. Why’s the price lower than the original version you ask? Less risk to life = less cash prize.  

I’m hoping that the irony of the show isn’t lost on anyone – Squid Game has what could be interpreted as a pretty definitive message against the effects of capitalism. You’ve got to give it to Netflix, they are not ashamed of their own audacity. I mean, they made the show right? They’ve got as much right as anyone to profit of it. And then they get to profit off of its spin offs. And sometime in the distant future, I expect they’ll be sat in their spaceship watching hoards of people play red light, green light to win a bottle of clean air. Oh whoops, that’s The Lorax. A good money making scheme for Netflix could be a potential Dr Seuss x Squid Game crossover where the Lorax swivels its orange head around and shoots sharpened tree trunks at anyone who drops litter?  

But that’s all hypothetical. Then again, so was Squid Game when it was first made and now we get to watch it play out in real time.  

At the end of the day, entertainment is entertainment. So what if the production of Squid Game: The Challenge had some unsavory rumors floating around it? If the production company makes hundreds of people play red light, green light in freezing temperatures and a few of them collapse, what’s the big deal?  

But, if you’re not going to follow the original rules of the show, ie. killing people, then you would hope that there are some boundaries. Apparently, Netflix drew the line at actually killing the participants but not at subjecting them to “A human horse race,” as one contestant described it.  

I guess the big question behind this kind of phenomena is really, when does it go too far? Everyone loves to watch people suffering on reality TV from the cozy confines of their living rooms, so I expect that Netflix have yet another smash hit on their hands here.  


Image: Jens Kreuter on Unsplash 

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