Games adults play, in a reality show : The Tribune India

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Games adults play, in a reality show

Games adults play, in a reality show

The template is the same as the successful South Korean ‘Squid Game’.

Film: NETFLIX Squid Game: The Challenge

Cast: Executive producers: Nicola Brown, Tim Harcourt, John Hay, Toni Ireland, Anna Kidd, Stephen Lambert, Louise Peet, Nia Yemoh and Stephen Yemoh

Nonika Singh

When Hwang Dong Hyuk’s South Korean drama ‘Squid Game’ streamed in 2021, it trumped all other offerings to become the most watched Netflix show and picked up a clutch of awards too. Even today, it occupies the numero uno position. The ingenuity of the idea, how the director turned innocent childhood games we play into a visceral look at human greed, had the viewers transfixed.

While most fans are waiting for its second season with bated breath, Netflix decided to cash in on its humongous popularity and released a British reality show based on the super-hit series. The template is the same, production design a complete simulation and the prize money a whopping 4.56 million dollars, the largest cash prize in television history. The 456 players are obviously not actors but real people.

Expectedly, unlike the fictional series, they don’t die and are only eliminated. And you could say that takes the steam out of the show. The cutting edge of ‘Squid Game’ lay in its bloody, macabre goriness. The do-or-die spirit of the original can be replicated, but with stakes limited to just winning the prize money, they may not be that high.

Indeed, like all reality shows of similar nature, this one too appears to be a social human experiment. Strictly from behavioural scientists’ point of view, it is indeed interesting to watch how people behave when confined to a restricted space. How when push comes to shove, they are ready to step on each other’s toes, is of course not a new insight. We have seen it in umpteen number of shows, homegrown ones too. Yet, the makers need to be credited for maintaining the excitement and drama.

The opening lines — ‘people do a lot worse for far less’— explains the core of the game show. Somewhere, the talk of karma, too, filters in. As the games intercut comments of actual participants, who include a competitive mother-son duo, the idea is to give it a human touch, and the viewers a peep into who these people are. On the face of it, the idea is to make us empathise. However, emotional outbursts are not particularly touching. Not all back stories or characters are interesting. What is, however, is how the producers have tweaked the hit formula. Yes, some of the games like Red Light Green Light and the cookie one are ditto same. As you watch grown-up adults lick those cookies, the salivating greed is more than apparent.

But just when you and the contestants brace for a tug of war, they spring a surprise. Sure, some games go on forever. In fact, the most engrossing bits are ones where players are invested with the power to eliminate others. You may presume that competition is about the survival of the fittest, but when human beings are given that power, the first to fall are those with an advantage. Interesting also is to watch how alliances are forged under controlled circumstances. Even though one winner will take it all, one can see team spirit and even some degree of warmth and affection among competitors.

With only five episodes dropping as of now, at a point of inflection, with picnic partners (read friends) turned against each other, more drama is in store. But unlike other series where the break in the show, fast becoming a norm, seems like an unwarranted intrusion, we are grateful for the reprieve here. There is only so much we can take of the games adults play in one go.

Are we keen on knowing who will take the booty? For sure. Are we sitting on tenterhooks? Not quite. Perhaps that should tell you about both its weaknesses and strengths.

If reality shows are up your alley, the tension-fraught game is very much on. Interestingly, the drama is not restricted to TV screens. A couple of contestants are threatening to sue the makers for injuries on the sets. Clearly, both on and off screen, the plot thickens.