Sam, Mai and Phill were the last players standing among 456 total contestants — but only one won the grand prize
Warning: This post contains spoilers from the finale of Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge.
Throughout 10 nail-biting episodes, Squid Game: The Challenge whittled 456 players down to one winner: Mai!
The eliminations leading up to Mai’s victory were nothing short of grueling, with each episode chock-full of competitive spirit as the players fiercely schemed, betrayed and fought for their chance at taking home a life-changing cash prize of $4.56 million.
During the game, players crossed the finish line in Red Light, Green Light, licked their way through difficult Dalgona cookie shapes, hopped over a trap-doored glass bridge and participated in a variety of other children’s games similar to the reality show’s deadlier viral Netflix predecessor, Squid Game.
However, only three players would make it to the finale — and only one would take home the prize.
PLAYER 016: SAM
Despite Sam’s towering height, he purposefully kept a low profile to make it to the end.
“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.”
After avoiding a near-certain elimination in Dalgona and Warships, the close alliances he built saved him throughout the tests and games afterward. Thanks to his strategy of “civil decency,” the 37-year-old Florida-based artist managed to stay away from the back-stabbing tactics of other players, which also put him slightly at odds with fellow finalist Player 287 Mai.
“I’ve been trying to play this game in a way that I’d be proud and [also in line with] how I’d act in the outside world,” he told Mai in episode 9. “As long as we keep our eye on our hearts and our humanity, because we all have that good core.”
With the cash prize, Sam planned to buy a large art studio for his work, help his husband with his film projects, aid rescue animals and invest wisely.
PLAYER 287: MAI
Mai has never been a stranger to tough challenges. Before her journey on the show, she came as a refugee to the United States from Vietnam when she was just 8 years old. From there, her tougher upbringing helped her “be strong” through single parenthood, a 20-year career in the Navy and now within the Squid Game universe.
During the show, Mai made both friends and enemies. It was during the Dorm Test of allegiance that saw her “break the chain” agreed upon by other women players by choosing to save her friend Player 286 Chad. The pair became close and ended up forming a group with other players, calling themselves “The Snack Pack” and dubbing Mai as “Mai Tai.”
Mai later ran into another controversial moment when she clashed with Player 278 Ashley over what Mai called “selfish” behavior from the latter during the fraught Glass Bridge game. When she tried and failed to eliminate Ashley in a later game of dice, Mai only succeeded in isolating herself from some of the remaining players in episode 9.
However, she returned to “self-preservation” mode in the Circle of Trust game by eliminating her ally in Player 418 Roland instead of one of her rivals. “I have to do what I have to do to survive,” she said.
The 55-year-old immigration adjudicator planned to use the cash prize to purchase a home to retire in and donate to causes she cares about.
PLAYER 451: PHILL
Phill said he never had any big plans to make it into the finals. In fact, the self-proclaimed “go-with-the-flow kind of guy” said he never strategized any of the challenges until he stepped into the dormitory.
“I basically have no strategy going into this,” he said. “I’m kind of going in blind. I really just have no idea how this is going to go.”
Despite his initial lack of preparation, the Hawaii-based scuba instructor was able to outlast the challenges, successfully carving out a star Dalgona, winning the Marbles face-off and correctly guessing who put the gift box on his table twice during Circle of Trust.
Like his other finalists, the Brazil native built up a stronghold of key alliances — but also betrayed others, including his friend Player 355 Hallie during Circle of Trust.
Surprisingly, Phill stated his intention to give away a majority of the cash prize.
“If I suddenly become a millionaire, I wouldn’t keep most of the money,” he said. “I’ve personally been helped a lot throughout my entire life by family and friends and I’ve never really been able to reciprocate.”
THE FINAL FEAST
Like the conclusion of its scripted inspiration, episode 10 didn’t take long to get down to business.
After a lavish meal, the final three players were instructed to take part in a game of chance, in which they pushed a button that could make or break their fate in the game.
“Never a treat without a trick,” declared Phill.
Mai chose to shoot her shot, declaring, “I want to be in control of my destiny.”
The button she chose to push had “zero consequence,” leaving Phill and Sam with a 50/50 chance of either guaranteed passage to the finale and the ability to choose their competitor — or immediate elimination.
Sam opted to press his luck — which unfortunately ran out. “To have everything that I’ve worked for just ripped away by chance is just more than I can take,” he said through tears.
After recitation of The Lord’s Prayer and one final night sleeping within spitting distance of the show’s historic $4.56 million prize, Mai and Phill learned their final game would be an all-time classic: Rock, Paper, Scissors.
“I am so happy because this is my childhood game,” said Mai in a confessional. She added of her strategy, “Playing against an adult male, they tend to draw towards rock and scissors because it symbolizes to them the power within them. Rock is solid and it’s strong, and scissors has the power to cut, and it’s also strong.”
In round 1, she chose paper and won over Phill’s rock. She chose a key from a glass box, hoping it would open a safe symbolizing victory.
No such luck.
The game went round after round, with Phill admitting he was “throwing at random” while Mai was keeping an eagle eye on his decisions and adapting accordingly. As the number of keys dwindled down, she hoped her reliance on strategy would eventually bring her the ultimate victory. “I think I can win,” she affirmed.
Phill still held out hope, saying, “This could be the biggest moment of my life. This could change everything. I’m thinking of all of my friends, all those sacrifices they made. I’m thinking of people back home and how badly I want to help them. I’m thinking of all the people that I’ve ever wanted to help in my life.”
Ultimately, Mai found the key to the safe — and to her dreams.
“I don’t know whether to cry or to cheer. I don’t know what to do,” she told Phill in the moment.
In a confessional interview, she said, “Today just validates that anything is possible. Even when [you] feel down and afraid, you have to pick yourself up, be a strong person and focus. Whatever you fear is, fight it with everything you got, and you can accomplish anything. And I’ve proven that tonight. I am the winner.”
Netflix first announced the reality show in June 2022, then announced a second season order for the “biggest reality competition series ever” ahead of the season 1 finale.
And a sequence at the end of the finale — which followed joyous shots of several of this season’s fan-favorite players enjoying their lives (yes, lives!) after the competition — teased a new season to come with the series’ signature black, pink-bowed boxes and yet another round of ominous middle-of-the-night van pickups.
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