"It's like a dream," 'Squid Game' star Anupam Tripathi tells PEOPLE about walking onto the set of the new Netflix reality show
The first thing you learn playing Squid Game: The Challenge is that it’s unbelievably surreal to come face to face with the giant, creepy doll Young-hee. The second is that surviving the game (metaphorically) is way harder than you ever imagined.
While you have five minutes to cross the finish line playing the "Red Light, Green Light" game, the truth is you’re terrified of getting "shot" from the moment you enter the arena — which is an exact replica of the one featured on the record-breaking 2021 Netflix drama.
Yes, you know you won’t actually die, but you’re still conscious you're wearing the famous green-and-white Squid Game tracksuit and have a Hollywood-style blood "squib" strapped to your torso that could explode at any second to replicate a gunshot.
Out of the corner of your eye — and hidden from the TV cameras — you’re also constantly aware that you're being closely monitored by a team of spotters with binoculars. And that every out-of-place movement they see will be sent to a verification team hidden far out of sight, who get to make the final call on your fate in the game.
Stepping into the game is like being a kid again, only with a huge scary doll, the world's most amazing playground and the knowledge that you could meet a very messy end at any second. Which in my case, happened around the three-minute mark when my "squib" suddenly exploded and covered my white T-shirt in black ink.
The sensation was a mix of shock and surprise followed by a huge sense of failure that I hadn't followed in the footsteps of Squid Game's fictional winner Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae). Like everyone else playing "Red Light, Green Light," I had a plan — start slowly and ease myself into the game before sprinting toward the end. Turns out, I was completely wrong.
To survive "Red Light, Green Light," you need to start fast and keep going, and ignore the fact that you might have to suddenly stand like a statue mid-sprint when Young-hee stops singing — no matter how awkward the position you find yourself in.
“My tactic was to look into the eyes of Young-hee," Anupam Tripathi, who played Ali Abdul in the series, tells PEOPLE. "But it will make you dizzy also, so you have to concentrate when you have to not look at it too. You almost have to look but not look. And maintain the balance of your body too.”
Related: Get to Know the Cast of 'Squid Game'
Sadly, this advice came too late for me and many of the 456 players who were eliminated via "Red Light, Green Light" as they vied for a record-breaking prize of $4.56 million on Squid Game: The Challenge.
Along the way, the contestants live in a single dorm and sleep on huge, five-tiered bunk beds to replicate the conditions of the original series. They'll also get to test themselves in a range of other iconic Squid Game challenges, such as carving shapes out of honeycomb, risking the drop on high-wire hopscotch, throwing marbles and — if they make it to the final pair — the squid game itself.
“It’s so good to be back,” says Tripathi, 34, who survived his second encounter with Young-hee just as expertly as Abdul did in the series. “The sets are exactly the same. It’s huge. It’s like a dream.”
“The only difference is that there’s a roof here,” he continues. “When we were filming the show, it was in the summer and very hot in May, and something like 456 people were there. So in the hot weather, we shot that scene and everything was real. People were sweating in the show, and that was real sweat from the weather.”
Adds Tripathi, “The sets are so unique. Whoever is competing in Squid Game: The Challenge, they will feel mesmerized.”
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Squid Game: The Challenge premieres its first several episodes Nov. 22 on Netflix.
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