Queer players make it to Squid Game: The Challenge finale

Sam on Squid Game The Challenge
Image: Netflix

A mind-blowing 456 players entered Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge, and two queer players made it to the final three.

And in the show’s nailbiting finale this week, one person emerged victorious from the global competition show. They won the Netflix show’s jaw-dropping $4.56 million prize.

Squid Game: The Challenge’s final three players were Sam Lantz (Player 016), Mai Whelan (Player 287), and Phill Cain (Player 451).

Across ten episodes, the trio managed to escape elimination as they and hundreds of others competed in real-life versions of the Korean Netflix drama’s challenges.

Sam, Phill and Mai traded in their tracksuits for formalwear in the final episode. Their last two tests of The Challenge were games of chance.

Spoiler alert!

Sam, an artist from Florida, said he was “pretty confident in my ability to hold my cards close to my chest” due to the way he was raised in an anti-gay environment.

“I grew up a little gay boy in a very religious family,” he said in a confessional.

“It felt like I couldn’t be myself because, if I was myself, I was at risk.

“Because the talk was constantly about how people like me were going to hell or they were going to die because of their decisions.”

As he grew up, Sam said he gained a chosen family who’ve loved him in a “better way” than a “blood or relation ever has”. The gay man is married to US TV producer Doug Lantz.


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Phill Cain made it to final three

Phill Cain, who uses he/she/they pronouns, is a 27-year-old musician and scuba instructor.

They were born in Brazil and explained they were bullied “pretty viciously” after moving to the US as a teenager.

But Phill said studying psychology at college helped them better understand and avoid conflict with competitors on The Challenge.

The 27-year-old said the experience put them into “a small shell” but created their “introverted extrovert” energy they shared on the show.

“It also helped me become more comfortable with being myself, and so my motto is pretty much always avoid conflict and confrontation,” Phill said.


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Mai wins $4.56m prize in Squid Game: The Challenge

In the nailbiting Squid Game: The Challenge finale, Sam was eliminated first in a simple button-pressing game.

That left Phill and Mai the last two standing, and everything came down to Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Mai, a 55-year-old immigration adjudicator living in Virginia, used a mental strategy to outwit Phill.

She won round after round of the game. Eventually, Mai won the key to unlock the Squid Game piggy bank filled with the $4.56 million prize.

Mai was born in Vietnam but immigrated when she was 8, after the capture of Saigon in 1975 by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

On episode nine, Mai said a traumatic memory from her past informed her self-preservation-style of gameplay.

At the airfield Mai and her family escaped to, she recalled hearing gunfire and looked up to see a soldier with a gun to her temple.

“And in that split second, my life was almost over,” Mai said in a confessional.

“That is a moment I would never, never forget. And that moment is a driving moment for me to be strong.”

Mai (below, with Sam and Phill) later served in the US Navy. She wants to use the prize money to buy a home for retirement and contribute to causes close to her.


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Squid Game: The Challenge is streaming on Netflix.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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