ATLANTA — What would you do to win $4.56 million?
One Atlanta woman would take on a series of “deadly” games and battle 455 other people in a quest for what is believed to be the single-biggest cash prize in game show history.
In 2021, Netflix’s “Squid Game” took the world by storm. In its first 28 days on the platform, Netflix said people worldwide spent 1.65 billion hours watching fictional contestants risk their lives for big money.
The South Korean drama series was met with such a response that the streaming giant has launched a reality competition version, seeing 456 real people playing games, some familiar to the show and some new favorites, to win millions of dollars.
As a disclaimer, “Squid Game: The Challenge” featured one major change from the flagship show: none of the contestants were actually killed when they lost one of the games.
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Channel 2 Action News got to sit down with Player 278, better known as Ashley Tolbert, a 30-year-old civil rights investigator from Atlanta, to discuss her time on the show.
Tolbert said that, like the rest of us, she was swept up by “Squid Game” when it came out, so when she saw an ad for the reality version of the show, she decided to give it a shot.
But she didn’t expect much else, especially with 456 contestants competing for the prize and air time.
“I just was, you know, grateful for like a free, cool trip to London. That’s where the show was shot. So, you know, I was excited. Oh, free chips in London, maybe I’ll be on camera a little bit,” she joked.
As the episodes progress and others are eliminated, Tolbert is featured more than “a little bit.” With screen time comes the fans who love and the fans who love to hate, both of which Tolbert says she’s gotten her fair share of.
“You know, I’m blind to all that,” she said. “Of course, the trolls will be upset, but the love is way bigger.”
She even wears her Atlanta heritage proudly.
“I represent Atlanta, that A,” she laughed. “My city has been repping me heavy, okay?... I love my city and I’m so grateful.”
“Squid Game: The Challenge” featured diverse contestants from all walks of life from different races to sexual orientations to people with disabilities and more. For Tolbert, being able to represent her community was an important part of the process.
“It felt good representing my city, you know. I am a Georgia girl through and through...[it felt good] holding it down for women that look like me, and just women in general.”
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So, how did she do in the game? Well, here’s your spoiler warning. If you’re not caught up on the series, stop reading here.
Out of 456 people, Player 278 got so close she could almost taste the money: the final five.
“Getting to the top five and then not touching the money? Yeah, that hurts,” she described.
Tolbert caused quite a controversy in the game and on social media during the “Glass Bridge” game, when she went against a “group decision” and got a fan-favorite player eliminated.
In the game, players would choose one of two glass doors to step onto. Choose wrong and the glass would fall away, eliminating the player but showing those behind you which one not to step on.
After being given an order, the players seemingly came to a group decision to have each person guess just once rather than force the lower numbers to try and cross the whole bridge. But when it came to Tolbert, who was fifth in line, she refused to jump ahead, causing another player, fan-favorite Player 301, to continue jumping to his elimination.
After she made a correct guess, the other players began passing her and she was able to complete the bridge, surviving the game.
“I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to get the $4.56 million. It’s a huge bag...I did what I had to do,” she said.
Ultimately, Tolbert and eight others make it to the “Circle of Trust” game where they were tasked with secretly giving another player a box. If the player who received the box couldn’t identify who gave it to them, they’d be eliminated. If they could, then the player who gave it to them would be the next out.
With just five players remaining in the game, Tolbert chose to give the box to Player 451, Phill, in the hopes he would think it to someone else. But he didn’t.
“I thought I could get him, but he was so good. He was so good,” she said. “He looked past my poker face and he immediately knew it was me.”
With that, she was eliminated from the game and sent home without $4.56 million.
Still, she’s glad for the experience.
“Yes, it stung, but I’m grateful. And I feel extremely, extremely blessed to have made it to the top,” she said.
The final episode of “Squid Game: The Challenge” drops on Netflix on Wednesday.
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