Mai Whelan, a 55-year-old immigration adjudicator from Falls Church, won Netflix’s massive $4.56 million on Squid Game: The Challenge Wednesday night.
The Challenge is a reality show competition that is based on the South Korean hit series, Squid Game, where players receive invitations to compete in children’s games. Whelan, who was Player 287 on the The Challenge, was one of three finalists along with Sam Wells (Player 016) and Phill Cain (Player 451).
The show follows 456 contestants who compete on sets that look like those in the series, but the outcomes are not life or death, like they are on the thriller series.
“As they compete through a series of games inspired by the original show — plus surprising new additions — their strategies, alliances, and character will be put to the test while competitors are eliminated around them,” Netflix said in describing what happens.
Among the challenges in the show, the players play the game Green Light, Red Light, in which a huge doll sings the song and the contestants must stop when she stops singing. They remain frozen in position for 40 minutes. If they move, they risk being “killed.”
In another challenge called Circle of Trust, the players are blindfolded at school desks. A player tapped on the shoulder places a gift box on another competitor they want to eliminate. Once everyone has their blindfolds off, the recipient must guess who gave the gift. If they are correct, the giver is eliminated. If they are wrong, the recipient is eliminated.
“This game is all about self-preservation,” Whelan said in the Circle of Trust episode. “I have to do what I have to do to survive.”
In episode nine, Whelan shared a real-life story about how her life almost ended when a soldier pointed a gun at her head in Vietnam before she escaped to the U.S. at age 8. Her experience made her realize how precious life is, according to her show profile.
The final episode featured a feast where the final three get to know each other better. During the episode, the final game is Rock, Paper, Scissors, where the final two play to see who opens a safe. Mai Whelan comes out on top.
Whelan’s show profile says, “If she wins, she plans on looking for a home to spend her retirement in.”
Since her win, Tudum by Netflix said Whelan has been spending time with her husband and their two dogs, and with her 12-year-old granddaughter.
“It was a relief to go back to normal life and not worry about getting eliminated,” she said on Tudum. “I needed that after two and a half weeks of intense go, go, go, and emotional ups and downs.
“But the person that came into [the competition] is me. I’m still Mai, and she hasn’t changed — except that I came out stronger.”
Another Season on the Way
The show will be back for a second season Netflix said.
“There was no red light in our decision to greenlight season two of Squid Game: The Challenge, the most ambitious unscripted show we’ve premiered at Netflix,” said Brandon Riegg, Netflix vice president 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.”
Netflix is recruiting for season two at SquidGameCasting.com.
Feature image of Mai Whelan by Pete Dadds/Netflix
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