Squid Game: The Challenge is the most addictive kind of reality show. In some moments, it’s all about social strategy, and in others, the results come down to a very random and specific set of skills. (Like licking a cookie enough to release a very delicate umbrella from its shell.) Really, however, the appeal of this show is even simpler than that: It’s also chock-full of very fun, very captivating games.
In adapting its mega-popular Korean dystopia series, Squid Game, into a real-life race in which 456 people compete to take home $4.56 million, Netflix has borrowed a few tricks from its own reality franchise, The Circle—particularly that show’s passion for keeping its players on their tippy-toes through constant switch-ups and misdirection. While many of the trials featured in Squid Game: The Challenge come straight from the original, down to the disturbingly childlike sets, this show also features a handful of new games that reliably land when players least expect them.
But which is the best one? Here, for your perusal, is a ranked list of all the games, challenges, and “tests” from worst to best—including, as No. 1, an entirely new game that eliminates more than half the group at once, bringing us down to our Final Three.
Elimination Test - Friend or Foe?
This one is very straightforward. During the first episode, Kyle and Dani, aka Players 101 and 134, are doing chores in the kitchen (yes, players also have to do all the household chores in this game) when the ominous voice on the speaker tells them they’ve got two options. They can either give one of their fellow players an advantage or eliminate someone.
The brilliance of this test is its timing. Early on in the competition, strong alliances have yet to form, with the exception of the mother-son pair Leann (Player 302) and Trey (301). Dani and Kyle don’t have enough trust in any of their fellow players to give anyone an advantage and trust that they’ll pay it back in kind, so they choose to eliminate the unfailingly friendly player Mothi (200) instead. This immediately backfires for Kyle, who apparently has zero poker face, and when Dani gets out later on in the next challenge, she chalks it up to karma.
Elimination Test - Dice
A dice game can only be so exciting, which is why this doesn’t rank too high. That said, by the time this test drops more than halfway through the game, the social dynamics are fascinating.
Somewhere around the Glass Bridge recreation, a lot of the players develop an “all for one” attitude—but not everyone. Each player has a choice: They must decide whether to send themselves or someone else home in the event they roll a six. Player 287 (Mai) gets to go first and immediately chooses Player 278, Ashley, who did not act like a team player in the last game. Unsurprisingly, Ashley chooses Mai back after she survives—but ultimately, neither of them goes home.
Elimination Test - Top 3 Players Picked Go Home
Unlike the first elimination test, this one drops later in the game, once the group has begun dividing itself into factions. The entire group must vote publicly as to which of them should be eliminated—and the top three choices all automatically go home.
It’s during this episode that Chaney, Player 179, solidifies her team’s alliance. The group has chosen to vote for Kien, Player 330, who has already rubbed a few groups the wrong way. While every player before her had chosen between Players 161 and 374, Chaney, the first of her team to vote, sticks with the plan and punches in Kien’s number. This puts a target on her back when Kien chooses to vote for her, but Chaney and her team ultimately prevail. Ultimately, Players 330, 171, and 374 go home at the end of a real nail-biter.
Elimination Test - Jack in the Box
A follow-up to the nightmare voting scheme, the Jack in the Box test is simple but chilling: Five players must volunteer for an unknown trial, and those who do find out that they must open a jack-in-the-box to discover their fates. Some will be eliminated, while others will send others home or gain advantages.
The sheer randomness of this challenge is what’s so nerve-wracking. The highlight comes when Phalisia, Player 229, decides that now is the time to step up and get cutthroat. She cries when she first finds out what the game entails, and her nervousness nearly prevents her from even opening the box. Once the little jester pops out and tells her to eliminate three players, however, she shows no mercy. Not only does she eliminate the beloved “gramps,” Rick (Player 232) and his ally Steve (243)—both of whom are in a larger alliance called the “Gganbu Gang”—but she also eliminates Player 130, who had just been standing next to her and won an advantage in the next game.
“I think the players have underestimated me,” Phalisia says. “But I think now is the time to start showing I can be the winner of Squid Game.”
Elimination Test - The Ally Chain
The Circle fans will instantly recognize this test, in which one by one, each player must choose an “ally” to save from elimination. Only 20 players can survive, and whoever’s left after that will be eliminated.
In other words, this game is all about testing people’s connections—and it inspires a fascinating bit of strategy from a select group of players. It’s during this test that former Royal Navy weapons engineer Amanda (Player 019) looks around and notices just how few women there are left in the game. To even the score and prevent a run of bros on the prize money (and before she knows exactly what the challenge will be) she suggests that the women team up and make sure that whatever challenges lie ahead, they support one another.
This quickly falls apart when it’s time to play the game. TJ (Player 182), whom the group semi-elected to be the Team Captain, gets to pick first, and he goes with Mai. When given the chance to choose another woman, however, Mai breaks from the group and chooses Chad (Player 286), her longtime ally, instead. Other women break the chain from there, but thankfully, all of them make it through anyhow—ensuring that the group is a little more even moving forward. At the same time, the men definitely take notice of the strategy before the game is over.
Red Light, Green Light
I realize that placing this last among the real games on this list might be controversial, but I stand by it! There’s nothing technically wrong with the show’s execution of this game—it all unfolds pretty much exactly like it does in the original Squid Game—but that’s also why it turned out to be my least favorite.
The show’s editors use their time in this game wisely, establishing key players and revealing that in this version of the show, eliminated players will still drop “dead” as a squib of black ink explodes on their chests to simulate gunshots. (Yes—like the original, this game is quite morbid.) In the end, however, nothing super unexpected happens here, which means that while the game is just as fun as the original, it doesn’t add as much as some of the other trials do. That said, that giant girl and her rotating head will undoubtedly continue to haunt my nightmares.
Elimination Test - Pick Up the Phone
One of the cleverer tests comes in Episode 2, when the show’s masked facilitators drop a corded phone in the middle of the dormitory.
The minute the phone rings, Husnain, Player 198, eagerly answers in the hopes that he’ll get to eliminate someone. He’s desperate to eliminate Bryton, Player 432, who previously threatened to snap him like a twig for calling him a “frat boy.” Unfortunately, he gets a delicious meal of hamburger and fries instead. (Hell, it beats the airline-food-looking grub in those metal tins—I’d take it!)
When the phone rings a second time, however, Husnain makes like Icarus and lets his grandiosity lead the way, picking up a second time. Instead of a treat, he gets a trick: He will be eliminated, unless he can get someone else to take the phone from him. Armed with nothing but fear in his eyes and the feeble promise of a chocolate muffin, he fails, much to Bryton’s amusement.
Dalgona Cookie Challenge
We all knew this one was coming, but I was admittedly not prepared for how gross this would be to watch.
But like many other Squid Game games adopted for the reality show, the best part of this one might actually be the lead-up. All of the players must form four even lines for this game, and then, the first four people in line must pick their shapes—which will carry over to everyone behind them. Snag the circle or the triangle, and you’re a hero. Leave your line with the umbrella, however, and there’ll be a lot of people gunning for you when the game is all over—assuming any of you survive.
The first couple groups are a masterclass in fruitless stubbornness: Because no one agrees to take the umbrella, they all die. Eventually, however, Bryton manages to convince Spencer (Player 99)—a very shy, soft-spoken Mormon—to take the umbrella, on the promise that he’d help him finish the umbrella if he finished earlier. Too bad they all find out that players cannot help each other—a fact that Bryton seemed to have surmised going in, based on his grin.
Once we get into the actual cookie challenge, the sound editing is just diabolical. You hear every lick as the camera shows us close-ups of folks frantically tonguing their honeycomb before freeing the shape inside with a needle. Players who break their shapes are all eliminated and must play dead in the sand until it’s all over.
Poor Spencer, whose hands shake uncontrollably as he literally wretches over his bowl from the stress, never stood a chance—and neither did most of the umbrellas, the vast majority of whom go straight home. The massacre is gut-wrenching, but still, I found myself left with one question: Did no one think to practice for this game?!
The Chore Challenge (Slash Fakeout)
At first, this challenge seems absurdly easy, but that turns out to be a misdirect of evil-genius proportions.
To start, five people must volunteer to do some “chores.” (Given the jack-in-the-box massacre that comes not long before, players are understandably reluctant to volunteer for anything.) It turns out, all they need to do is fill three jars with freshly squeezed orange juice within 30 minutes—a task they handily accomplish, rewarding the group with a picnic.
It’s only after they’ve sat down and began noshing on their allotted snacks that folks find the bag of marbles in the bottom, teasing what will surely be the most brutal game when the show returns next week.
By far the most traumatizing “game” in the original drama, the threat of an inevitable marbles game hung over this season like a dreadful pall until halfway through. Now that it’s over, we can confirm it was every bit as grueling as one might expect.
The marbles challenge is simple: The players who paired up for a surprise picnic in Episode 5 all found bags of marbles at the bottom of their baskets, signaling that they’d have to play each other to the death (well, thankfully “death,” in this show’s case). The rules of the game are up to the players, but when the timer stops, each team must declare a winner, or both players will be eliminated.
What’s most striking about this game is what it brings out in each pair of players. Those who know each other all seem to play honorably and behave like good sports, but the strangers who clearly paired up randomly for the picnic? Not so much!
In one apparent pair of strangers, a guy (Player 065) insists he’ll “only” agree to play a throwing game, and after his opponent (Player 399) caves, he refuses to admit that she’s won—so they both go down. (Although they were tied at the buzzer at two marbles in the can, she sunk her second one first, even despite letting him go first.) In another pair, a man named Tim (Player 382) accuses a young deaf woman, Jackie (Player 393), of playing the “sympathy card” for saying she wanted to win the game to boost representation for her community. It’s all a big yuck.
Compare that to the friend pairs, who bond and cry for one another and pat one another on the back, even after losing out on millions. During a recent interview, the show’s creators told The Daily Beast Obsessed’s Fletcher Peters that they wanted to use their show as a vehicle to examine people’s “character under pressure”—and in this game, a lot of character definitely jumps right out.
Like other trials including the Dalgona Cookie Challenge, the lead-up to this one is just as fascinating as the game itself.
We start off with a toy crane, which gives each player a number they must assign to their fellow players. The lower the number, the closer you are to the front of the line for the Glass Bridge exercise—and, therefore, the more likely you’ll die when forced to choose between two plates of glass and determine which is sturdy enough to stand on and which will shatter. (Those toward the back have at least a shot at walking across a bridge that others have tested out from start to finish.) In some cases, those given a low number have the chance to return the favor to those who assigned their number—just another small exercise in understandable pettiness in this game.
Unlike in the original series, however, one player makes a suggestion: What if each player only has to take one uncertain step, and if they succeed, they can stay on that square while the person behind them leapfrogs ahead, effectively spreading the risk out across more of the group? Most people seem to be on board, but Ashley (Player 278) is the only one who refuses—a choice that nearly comes back to bite her later.
Squabbling aside, some of the game’s biggest, most compelling players hit the end of the line during this game, and that’s what makes it so compelling—as with the rest of this game, you never know who’s going to fall next.
Giant Battleship, aka ‘Warships’
My love for this game is twofold: First, it’s another clever bit of deception, and second, it is so thrilling to watch that I think I finally understand how people who like football must feel when watching The Big Game.
When asked to line up for another game, the players immediately deduce that it must be tug-of-war—so they line up according to physical strength. Instead, however, they wind up playing a human-scale version of Battleship (which the show calls “Warships”) in which they must each divide players up into boats on a gridded board and try to guess first where the other team’s players are hiding.
This does not end well for the jocks who love their odds going into the game, but it’s even more fun to see other players’ bravado about their Battleship prowess dissolve as their teammates start sinking. (Battleship, like most things, just hits different when $4.56 million dollars are on the line.)
During this game, heroes fall and new ones rise. Dozens of players sink out of the game in the blink of an eye, often in games that come down to just one move. It’s absolutely riveting, and with any luck (at least for this nerd) Netflix will turn this into its own show.
Circle of Trust
The penultimate episode brings Squid Game: The Challenge’s most messed up game yet—an entirely new creation designed, once again, to pit the best of friends against one another.
In this game, the remaining nine players must sit in a circle of chair desks in a white room, with a wrapped gift in the middle. The guards blindfold them before pacing around them in a circle; whoever’s shoulder they tap must leave the present on someone else’s desk. If the recipient correctly guesses who gave them the gift, the giver goes home immediately—but if they guess wrong, it’s them who goes home.
Coming into the game, there’s already some tension between Mai (Player 287) and Ashley (Player 278). But each of them knows better than to leave the box on the other’s desk—that’s an easy way to get caught. Ultimately, most players wind up leaving their boxes on the desks of close friends or loose acquaintances. (All the better to evade suspicion.)
More fascinating than who goes home in this game and who stays is what happens afterward: While one of the remaining three players immediately cops to sending one of their friends home, another awkwardly lies about choosing her closest remaining ally. Whether or not anyone bought it is hard to determine, but now that we’re down to the Final Three, I’m guessing trust is going to be hard to come by anyway.