This article contains spoilers for SQUID GAME: THE CHALLENGE through episode 5.
Netflix‘s reality competition series Squid Game: The Challenge clearly takes great pains to resemble the original Korean drama as much as possible.
The production design and costumes are strikingly familiar, the games are largely the same (minus the death, of course), and a staggering 456 players are all engaged in the same battle for a big payday ($4.6 million in this case). Still, watching the first five episodes of this 10-episode experience, one can’t help but wonder: is The Challenge secretly incorporating another aspect of the Squid Game plot as well?
In case you’ve forgotten, the actual Squid Games at the center of Netflix’s 2021 super hit Squid Game weren’t as fair and equitable as they claimed to be. One of the 456 players, Number 001 Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su) was the rich creator and host of the games who decided to enter them to experience what they were like. Notably this meant that he was not killed by the pink-clad guards following his defeat in Marbles against protagonist Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae). He gets to pass away peacefully in bed later on.
Squid Game: The Challenge, for the most part, seems to avoid selecting individual players as “characters.” Seriously, it’s fun to go back and rewatch the “Red Light, Green Light” challenge in hindsight and see all of the highlighted interviewees get summarily gunned down in the first round. Still, by the time the middle of the season rolls around and the player count has fallen under 100, some contestants eventually begin to stand out. And one of those contestants seems to have a lot in common with Squid Game‘s 001.
We’re referring to Player 232 a.k.a. physician Rick Mercurio. Here’s what he looks like:
We’re not saying that Netflix has for sure installed an Oh Il-nam-style mole within Squid Game: The Challenge (and it’s worth pointing out that I personally have not watched any pre-release screeners for the series beyond episode 5). But if Netflix has planted a mole within The Challenge, it would undoubtedly be Rick. Here are some reasons why.
232 Is Old
Both 001 and 232 are old men. Your honor, we rest our case. Take ’em away, boys! OK so that’s a pretty superficial reason to suspect 232 is an 001-style mole within Squid Game: The Challenge. But superficiality kind of matters here. Without at least some physical similarities, this case isn’t as strong. It at least lends more credence for the arguments to come. 232 even addresses his age in his first interview, saying “I’m gonna use my age as an asset. No one thinks I’m a threat. I’m not really frail. And my mind is sharp. That can help my chances a great deal.”
232 Is Very Conspicuous
Speaking of interviews, The Challenge chooses to highlight a dozen or so players via interviews throughout the games. 232/Rick is not only one of those players but it seems like he gets an outsized amount of attention. The show allows him to delve deep into his backstory. Rick explains everything about himself from the fact that he doesn’t consider himself a leader to his passion for beekeeping and the orchids he likes to grow to represent his many grandchildren.
Within the games themselves, people seem unusually drawn to Rick. He ends up being the emotional lynchpin of the so-called “Gganbu Gang” and everyone enjoys his presence. He’s extremely charismatic, almost like he’s … an actor.
232 Is Unusually Knowledgable About Squid Game
Many, if not most, of the players in Squid Game: The Challenge are understandably big Squid Game fans but 232/Rick takes things a step further than most. He talks about getting a “calling card” tattoo from the series, along with his player number. He doesn’t come up wit the “Gganbu Gang” team name but he does immediately explain that gganbu means friend in Korean (almost as if he’s addressing the camera).
Most notable, however, is his absolute dominance at the paper game ddakji. It’s perhaps telling that 232’s closest friend in the game, 243/Stephen is invited to the kitchen for a chore and instructed to bring a partner. Of course he’s going to choose 232, which means that The Challenge has someone knowledgable in ddakji to guide Stephen through it and manufacture a dramatic moment.
232 Is Eliminated
This whole theory seems to fall apart by episode 5 when 232 is eliminated alongside his gganbu 243. BUT LET’S NOT FORGET: Player 0001 was eliminated in the original Squid Game as well, and right around the time that 232 is here. If anything, 232’s departure from this competition confirms that other players like 229 realize there’s something off about this old man. We’ll see if they’re right.
Squid Game: The Challenge episodes one through five are available to stream on Netflix now. Episodes six through nine premiere on Wednesday, Nov. 29. The 10th and final episode premieres Wednesday, Dec. 6.