The Chicagoan was one of 456 competitors on Netflix’s buzzy reality TV show based on the South Korean drama.
If anyone fits the personality profile of an ideal Squid Game contestant, it’s Kevin Byrne. The Ravenswood Manor resident once lived for a month in the Museum of Science and Industry; trains at a ninja gym and competes in obstacle course races; and flexes his creative muscles by creating dynamic props and installations via his Funtitled Workshop. Byrne is a senior vice president of analytics at media advertising agency Spark Foundry, but these days he’s getting more notoriety as player 454 in Squid Game: The Challenge, the Netflix show that has taken the world by storm. Here, Byrne gives us the inside scoop on what it was like competing in the winner-take-all survival competition.
What made you want to be on the show?
I’m always looking for an adventure and a challenge and this seemed like it would be both. I don’t mind suffering a bit if I come out with a good story on the other side. The $4.56 million prize was an exciting incentive, but, honestly, even if there was no money involved, I would have wanted to do it.
Why do you think you were selected to be among the 456?
I’d like to think the producers appreciated my balance of creativity, analytical thinking, physical ability and social skills. And I know how to turn on the energy and charm in an interview. But, in reality, I almost didn’t get cast. I was on standby until two days before flying to London to start the show. But whatever the reason, I’m proud to have been selected from over 80,000 applicants from around the world.
If you’d been allowed to smuggle in three items without being caught, what would they have been?
1) LIP BALM! I would have paid a fortune for a tube of Chapstick. After seven-plus hours of playing Red Light Green Light with no water breaks in very cold temperatures, my lips were a cracked mess.
2) Shower shoes. There were hundreds of players sharing 12 showers, and fellow players were responsible for cleaning the bathrooms. Their cleanliness was, let’s say, questionable. I would shower while standing on a pair of socks.
3) Deodorant that was not secured to the wall with a too-short cable. It was so awkward! You needed a buddy to help you spray it on. And it’s all being captured on camera.
What’s one thing that surprised you about the experience?
I was surprised at how perfectly the sets and games were recreated. Stepping into the dorm for the first time was a trippy experience; it was impossible not to feel like you’d stepped into the TV and been transported into the original Squid Game drama. I never imagined we’d really be sleeping on five-high bunk beds like in the original; or get to climb those Escher-like stairwells. Every day was full of surprises.
What was the craziest thing you saw happen?
The whole experience was so crazy that it's hard to pick out one thing. One crazy thing is how quickly some of the eliminations happened. With so many players, the producers could afford to thin the field without much warning. Some eliminations happened so quickly that I was left thinking, "Wait, was that for real? Are they coming back?”. It underscored how tough the game could be.
Would you do it again?
Without a doubt: yes. It was a phenomenal experience. I made some great friends and came away with wonderful memories.
What adventures do you have your eye on next?
I’ve got some trips planned—Norway, for one—and I’d love to try to do another reality competition show, but I'm not sure what’s next. I think I need a big physical challenge; maybe a 24-hour obstacle course race? If it sounds tough and probably miserable, I’m in!