Get in touch ...

Know of something happening in
us on

E-mail your contributions to:

We are on Facebook at

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Father Lee's insider view of competing in TV Squid Game

* Lee Taylor (circled) with fellow players of the Squid Game.

As llanblogger recently revealed, Father Lee Taylor of St Collen's Church, has been competing as contestant #123 on the new reality TV series: Squid Game: The Challenge which is now showing premiere on Netflix.

The 10-episode competition, dubbed ‘The biggest Netflix show ever’ on the trailer, has had the largest number of players ever to compete in the history of reality television. Here, Father Lee gives an insider view on what it was like to be involved in the show ...

"Last year I was contacted by an independent television production company who asked if I would consider being one of 456 players from around the world to enter a reality television competition show in pursuit of a record-setting cash prize of $4.56 million.

I began watching the original series when it came out on Netflix in 2021 but didn’t get very far into the first episode. It was too gory! However, the casting production team urged me to watch the whole of the original series and I was relieved to be given the reassurance that all contestants for Squid Game: The Challenge would leave ‘unscathed.’

So, I ensconced myself on the sofa in front of the television and settled down to a Squid Game spree. Having overcome the spine-chilling scenes of the elimination process of the games, I was surprised and drawn in by the subliminal themes and motifs that began to emerge. There are many messages that call for attention! The story is not simply about a large number of people competing in a series of games, testing their agility and endurance for a life-changing cash prize. Something dark lies beneath the innocent exterior of childhood games and colourful playgrounds.

The overshadowing theme is capitalism. The Squid Games conveys a political, moral and social message of how the ruling, global elite are keeping the rest of us locked in a state of fear. Living in constant survival mode from one day to the next in a competitive, anxious, debt-laden and fear-driven society is making people sick. The Squid Game draws attention to fear: the emotion that drives people to take risks and betray each other.

So, what could I expect if I was to agree to go on the reality show? Surely there would be a chasm of difference between the hopeful contestants of Squid Game: The Challenge and the characters in the original series who were facing some harrowing dilemmas. Fear of deportation and crippling debt, the cycle of gambling addictions and the atrocities of gang violence had brought these players to the very edge of despair.

Trapped in a cycle of fear and as a last resort, they entered the deadly Squid Games in the hope of a way out of their pain and suffering. John Hay, an executive producer of Squid Game: The Challenge, recently responded to criticism about the new reality show missing the political point of Squid Game by saying, ‘Our version is driven by opportunity, rather than being driven by need.’

Finding the philosophy of the original show interesting, I decided I would take up the challenge. My only concern was how contestants would be eliminated in the games. Was I selected as a priest to read the Last Rites?

All contestants were accommodated at The Tower Hotel, just by the iconic Tower Bridge in London. We all arrived four days before filming. We were allocated a room, issued with our player number and advised that we were to stay in our rooms, not speak to any other players or leave the hotel unless it was an emergency. With a stunning view out of my window of all the London landmarks lit up at night it was so tempting to nip out for a few riverside cocktails! No chance! The hotel was monitored by security 24/7 with guards on each floor!

Meal times at the hotel followed a phased schedule to avoid all the players meeting up at once. Food was served into take-away boxes to be consumed back in our rooms. I did wonder whether the greatest test of endurance of the whole experience might be being cooped up in a hotel room. But apart from larking about with other contestants through our bedroom windows like something straight out of Commedia dell'arte - the pretend walking downstairs mime was one form of silent entertainment - some time was taken up for a number of pre-filming activities: briefing videos for us to watch via our iphones, a schedule of fitting times for our Squid Game tracksuits (as well as thermals) and photoshoots for graphic purposes.

All our personal items, mobile phones and luggage were collected from our hotel rooms by a member of the production team the night before filming. A combination lock, unknown to the players, sealed our luggage and we wouldn’t see this again until after filming. The only items we were left with were our Squid Game clothes, a complimentary hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste with our contestant numbers branded on them and a small zip-lock bag for any essential, approved items like medication and contact lenses.

We set off at 4am the next day for our unknown destination and it was freezing cold. Now the thermals made sense. Several coaches took the 456 players on a two- hour journey. We arrived at what appeared to be an old RAF hangar which I later discovered was Cardington Studios. It was even colder in that haunting, cavernous building. It was so cold my nipples could have cut through diamonds!

There was a lot of waiting around outside of the main set for more briefings and microphone fittings, but hot drinks, snacks and hand warmers were provided. When the time came to play the first game ‘Red Light, Green Light’ there was a lot of excitement as we all congregated outside the set to wait for the doors to open.

The set for the first game, ‘Red Light, Green Light’, was very similar to the original series, very colourful but eerie. It was a huge cathedral-like space with a painted scene of a cornfield that spanned all surrounding walls. The temperature was unpleasantly and painfully cold. There was a personal trainer from a local gym who led us all in ‘warm up’ exercises before the game began: jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, squats and burpees etc. I guess this was to prepare us mentally, physically as well as to increase body temperature.

In the far distance, across the finishing line, was the iconic doll whose tune we had to run to. The aim of this game was to get to the doll's side of the field within a set time limit, but we could only move when the doll was singing and had its back to us. The doll sang the chilling song we recognised from the original series, ‘Mugunghwa Kkoci Pieot Seumnida’ which translates as ‘The hibiscus flower has bloomed’. Hibiscus is the national flower of South Korea.

When the doll stopped and turned around we had to freeze (and we did in more ways than one) on the spot, maintaining the same position for ten, fifteen and even up to twenty-five minutes while drones flew overhead to detect the slightest movement from players. I knew the longest time was around twenty-five minutes because I sang (in my head) the popular Christmas carol, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, five times and I know it takes about five minutes to sing this carol once through. Very appropriate for these post-Christmas, ‘hard as iron’ conditions. This was the most challenging part of the experience. The game took around 7 hours to film. About a quarter of the way through, pain, tingling and numbness set in all over my hands. My nose was dripping like a leaky tap. 

Several people collapsed and concerned players nearby yelled out ‘medic!’ In my stationary position and from the corner of my eye, I noticed that a couple of people were being taken out on stretchers. At these points throughout the game it was announced that we would take time out to relax a little while the medics intervened. Although we could relax a little, we were told not to move from our spot. During these pauses many of the players around me were advising each other to keep hands in pockets. 

I felt so sorry for Jordan (Player 385) who was stuck in a squat position for almost 15 minutes. I stood behind her (almost 1 o’clock position when viewing the scene on TV) and watched her. With the shivering and numbness caused by the penetrating cold, and the rapid onslaught of eliminations, it’s fair to say that I became a bit fearful.

But let us make no mistake: fear is the key note of the Squid Game. The tone of fear even makes its way into the theme music of Squid Game. Having an interest in sacred music, I became fascinated at how Gregorian Chant is adroitly utilised in the Squid Games soundtrack. The haunting Pink Soldiers melody signals when trouble and danger is brewing around the games. The first four notes are taken from the opening of an ancient plainsong melody Dies Irae, from the Latin text meaning, ‘Day of Wrath’.

This chant was sung regularly during Requiem Masses in churches over 800 years ago. It is a very foreboding melody that matches the solemnity of the funereal text which goes on to remind those grieving the dead of the day of impending doom and judgement when everything will turn to ash. This four-note Dies Irae musical idiom has been picked up by many film composers as an effective way of sending a cue to the viewer of imminent peril and danger. It is meant to be fearful! For example, this musical motif can be heard at appropriate points in films such as, ‘The Shining’, ‘Friday the Thirteenth’, ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ to name just a few.

Fear is the undercurrent of the philosophy of Squid Game. Fear is generated by money: who deserves to have enough of it and who is willing to compete for it. I guess this is capitalism and the underlying message of the Squid Game." 

* Father Lee's hotel room overlooking the bright lights of London.

* Father Lee (left) with some of the other contestants. 

* The toothbrush and comb handed out to players.

* Contestant number 123. Picture: Andrei Daniel.

No comments:

Post a Comment