Only Indian among the top 30 participants of the reality game show based on Netflix’s Squid Game recounts his journey of being part of the coveted show
A still from Squid Game: The Challenge
"I am not sure what they’ve shown in today’s episode, but we did have an alliance. At least, that’s what we thought,” says Dr Ankur Khajuria as we connect with him on the day the latest set of episodes of Squid Game: The Challenge releases. The Indian-born and UK-based plastic surgeon was among the 456 contestants who participated in Netflix’s reality game show inspired by one of its most-streamed series, Squid Game. He tells us, more than five lakh aspirants applied for the game that rewards the winner $4.56 million.
Navigating a gritty battle, Khajuria emerged to be among the top 30 players. “Before the show began, I prepared for the games. For the game, Red Light Green Light [that has players run and stop at the cues of a life-size doll] I played the Korean song that the doll sings in the show and had one of my friends tell me to randomly start and stop running. Similarly, for Dalgona, I ordered the cakes, and practiced sketching out the shapes.” He admits that his surgical skills and athleticism played key roles in helping him navigate his way to the top. Khajuria, however, was eliminated when his friends failed to choose him to progress to the next round.
A still from Squid Game
Considering that the merciless deaths the participants encountered upon their elimination were responsible for making the series as engaging as it was, questions were raised on how successful the platform would be in replicating the game show for reality TV, where eliminated players could simply step out and head home. Anyone who watched the real-life spin-off would agree that the platform, indeed, hit the nail on the head. “Of course, the money was great. And, a lot of people wanted the cameras on them, but I just wanted to win. I wanted the recognition of being the person who beat 455 players, and won. There were two ways of playing the game—You could either risk elimination by putting yourself out there. Or you could keep your head down, and focus on the game. I wouldn’t care if I got zero screen time as long as I won.”
The toughest game, says Khajuria, was the one that has put the streaming platform at risk of being sued. Red Light, Green Light—it unfolds as a five-minute long game, but was shot over eight hours. “We had to hold postures for about 40 minutes between each round. The reason behind that is that the technology had to gather every person’s data points [and see if a participant was moving or not] to make sure that they were being fair. Also, it was freezing in the room. If you watch the show, you’ll notice that all the players had their hands in their pockets. Some of them couldn’t take it,” shares Khajuria of the game that other participants claim has left them with nerve damage. They’ve accused the OTT giant of not taking appropriate safety measures. “But, we know this isn’t Love Island. We knew this would be a tough challenge, both physically and mentally,” he says in support of the platform.
Dr Ankur Khajuria
While his unexpected elimination had him contemplating his mistakes till 5 am, Khajuria, 32, looks back at his journey with joy. “I absolutely loved the experience. We didn’t have access to too much food and were on perhaps less than 1,000 calories a day. We were hungry, sleep-deprived, and had no concept of time throughout the filming process. We were on high alert all the time. It was like being in a prison. You never knew when you could be eliminated.”