Netflix’s most ambitious reality show project, Squid Game: The Challenge, was released on November 22, 2023, and despite the many criticisms surrounding it, the show has raked up an impressive viewership.
The show’s popularity has led to its renewal for a second season already. But Mai Whelan, the season one winner, has yet to receive a single cent of the promised USD 4.56 dollar million cash prize from Netflix.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, Whelan revealed that she is yet to receive the prize money, though the filming was already over by February. The 55-year-old is an immigration adjudicator and a US Navy veteran who beat 455 other contestants during a two-week competition to bag the winning title and the second-largest reward in reality TV history.
In her interview, Whelan mentioned that she plans to use the prize money to buy property, “I’m thinking about a retirement home somewhere.” She also plans to donate a portion to “charities for the underprivileged, wildlife, and climate change.” But as per her contract, she can’t share any of her winnings with the contestants she competed against on the show. All of these plans, however, are hanging in uncertainty as of now.
I feel likeTom Cruise in Jerry McGuire. Show me the money!
— Mai Whelan
Whelan’s revelation has put another dent in the show’s reputation, which was already under heavy criticism since its inception. When it was first announced, many debated if recreating a fictional drama like Squid Game, which is built on the premise of exposing a hyper-capitalistic society’s exploitation of the poor into a reality show, was a good idea. The project was greenlit for production anyway, but during the filming stage, contestants started revealing horrific stories about their working conditions and lack of transparency.
According to an industry insider who is well-versed in the ways of TV production, Whelan will receive the prize money now that the finale episode has been aired on December 6. To their knowledge, all the contestants of the show were aware of the payment plan. However, Netflix has declined to comment on this issue.