‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ Winner Lied to Family About Winning $4.56 Million


Following the success of Squid Game, Netflix adapted the series into a reality spinoff, Squid Game: The Challenge, loosely based on the South Korean drama. Similar to the source material, the competition featured 456 contestants competing for a $4.56 million jackpot, which was both the largest cast and greatest cash prize in reality television history. (Though, no players were killed during the game, unlike the original.)

Obviously, with that much at stake, the streamer had to keep details tightly under wraps. And in a new interview with Business Insider, Mai Whelan, the winner of the first season, recalled having to keep the secret from her family.

The mother of two, 56, said the show’s producers required her to sign an NDA and her husband was the only person she was permitted to tell she had won until the finale was released on Dec. 6, 2023. Whelan admitted that she never thought she would win to begin with, especially after coming in last in the first game, Red Light, Green Light. However, the real challenge was in the 10 months that followed.

“During those 10 months, I told the rest of my friends and family that I didn’t want to discuss the show because it was stressful,” she recalled. “That was not enough for my 36-year-old daughter, Catherine, who kept asking whether I had won the competition.”

To evade any further line of questioning, Whelan said she told Catherine that she got eliminated very early, and let her think she left the competition in episode three.

“When the series finally premiered, Catherine was confused when I wasn’t eliminated by the third episode,” she explained. “But she still believed that I didn’t win the competition—until she watched the season finale. Catherine, my other daughter, my granddaughter, and the rest of my family were completely surprised when they found out I won.”

But despite her newfound wealth, Whelan later said how she hasn’t let it change her, and is trying to use the bulk of the money for good.

“To this day, I try not to let the win get to me,” she said. “I have given the prize money to charity and invested it in my future nonprofit organization, a sanctuary for animals and people with mental illness. I’ve always wanted to help animals and underprivileged people, so I plan to buy a farm and rescue and raise animals, and those animals could, in turn, help people.”

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