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Squid Game: The Challenge crowns winner of $4.56m jackpot in dramatic finale

Mai Whelan has won the first season of Squid Game: The Challenge.

Mai beat out Phillip Cain and Samuel Wells to win the prize sum of $4.56m (£3.57m) – the biggest cash jackpot in TV history.

You can read all about the three finalists here.

Sam was the first to be eliminated after the finalists’ last meal in a game of pure chance where they players were asked to push one of three buttons. One button would eliminate them, another did nothing and the third gave the person who pressed it the chance to choose the person they’d face in the last challenge. Sam selected the button that eliminated him.

Mai and Phil then played Rock, Paper, Scissors for a chance to win keys that could potentially open a safe with the final sum in.

After numerous attempts, Mai eventually found the right key to open the safe.

“Today just validates that anything is possible,” Mai said in a piece to camera after winning the jackpot. “Even when you feel down and afraid, you have to pick yourself up, be a strong person and focus.”

(From left) Phillip Cain, Mai Whelan, Samuel Wells in ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ (PETE DADDS/NETFLIX)
(From left) Phillip Cain, Mai Whelan, Samuel Wells in ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ (PETE DADDS/NETFLIX)

The games began with 456 players, who competed in a series of challenges filmed over 16 days at Warf Studios in London.

The reality series is adapted from Netflix’s South Korean dystopian drama, which became a viral sensation upon its release in 2021. While contestants in the original series were killed after they were eliminated, the competitors on The Challenge wear an ink packet under their shirt that bursts once they’re eliminated.

Squid Game: The Challenge has been the streaming platform’s leading show for the past fortnight, with 20.5 million views in its first week and 11.4 million in its second.

Sam, a 37-year-old artist from Florida, purposefully flew under the radar for the majority of the show, keeping a low profile at the dormitory and confiding in only a few trusted fellow contestants.

“I grew up a little gay boy in a very religious family,” he said in a confessional. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to hold my cards close to my chest.”

The three ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ finalists (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)
The three ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ finalists (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)

Born in Vietnam, Mai, 55, came to the United States as a refugee when she was just eight years old. In a confessional, Mai told cameras that as a child in Vietnam, she was nearly killed when a solider saw her move in a field and held a gun to her forehead. Now, she lives in Virginia, and is a single mum with one granddaughter.

Phillip is a Hawaii-based scuba instructor, who moved from his home country of Brazil to the United States during middle school.

“I basically have no strategy going into this,” Phill said of his game plan. “I’m kind of going in blind. I really just have no idea how this is going to go.”

According to Tudum, approximately 81,000 people applied to be on the first season of the show.

On Wednesday (6 December) it was announced that The Challenge has been released for a second season.

Potential contestants can apply for a place on the show at SquidGameCasting.com, with three separate links for US, UK, and “rest of the world-based” participants.

In a statement, a Netflix spokesperson expressed the confidence the company has in creating further iterations of the reality competition.

“There was no red light in our decision to greenlight Season 2 of Squid Game: The Challenge, the most ambitious unscripted show we’ve premiered at Netflix,” said Brandon Riegg, Netflix VP of Nonfiction Series.

“We’re so excited to continue the franchise of Squid Game with our team in Korea, and producers at Studio Lambert and The Garden for this epic competition series.”