Squid Game: The Challenge Fans Divided Over Mai Winning

7 December 2023, 11:06 | Updated: 7 December 2023, 12:30

Mai Whelan won Squid Games: The Challenge
Mai Whelan won Squid Games: The Challenge. Picture: Netflix

By Abbie Reynolds

Mai Whelan won Squid Game: The Challenge but fans can't agree on whether she was a worthy winner or not.

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After making it to the Squid Game: The Challenge final with fellow players, Sam Lantz (016) and Phill Cain (451), Mai Whelan (287) took home that $4.56 million prize.

Once she was announced the winner, Mai expressed her gratitude: “Anything is possible, even when you feel down and afraid. You have to pick yourself up. Be a strong person and focus,” she said in her exit interview.

With her emotions high, she went on: “Whatever your fear is, fight it, with everything you’ve got. And you can accomplish anything… it’s proven tonight.”

In the end all it took was a simple game of rock, paper, scissors for Mai to win. After Sam became eliminated by pressing a button at random, Phill and Mai were left to end the show on a game of luck.

Mai played “scissors” to Phill’s “paper” - which left her as the first ever Squid Game: The Challenge winner. But the player's gameplay throughout the series was described by some as "cunning", so it's no wonder that the response to her winning has been so mixed.

Mai is the first ever winner of Squid Game: The Challenge
Mai is the first ever winner of Squid Game: The Challenge. Picture: Netflix

A lot of viewers have been quick to congratulate the "mastermind" that is player 287, saying they were rooting for her all along. However there are a whole lot of people on the other side of the coin fuming that she bagged that multi-million pound prize.

One happy fan took to X to say: "Mai deserved to win Squid Game: The Challenge!!!! she played all those guys, especially the men, with ease and she slept just fine doing it too !! i don’t wanna hear anything different, she WORKED for that money, get your bag Mai [sic]."

Another wrote: "Mai won Squid games. Well played, strategic throughout the challenges. No one more deserving, things you love to see."

Those who weren't so happy said "she didn't deserve the prize", with one post saying: "I don’t like the fact that Mai won Squid Game, like she’s very cunning". A second said: "I’m so mad Mai won Squid Game, like this is annoying."

But what's the beef? Some of the viewers' qualms with Mai can be explained by how she played in a particular dice game.

Phil and Mai went to head to head in a game of rock, paper, scissors for the $4.56 million prize
Phil and Mai went to head to head in a game of rock, paper, scissors for the $4.56 million prize. Picture: Netflix

In the dice game the players had to vote to eliminate someone and they collectively agreed to self-nominate as a way to try and the cheat the system. However, Mai saw this as an opportunity and instead voted for Ashley, who was player 278.

Although, Mai had to then roll a six on a dice to actually eliminate who she chose and she failed, which meant Ashley was still safe at that point in the game.

Mai explained her reason for voting Ashley was that she 'had not acted as a team player' during the glass bridge game. When it was her turn to step forward she had refused to budge, which meant the contestant behind her, player 301 Trey, had to jump again. When he did, he fell and was eliminated.

Lots of fans understood Mai's reasoning for nominating Ashley, one wrote: "Mai deserved to win Squid Game. She’s the only one who stood up for Trey and called out Ashley for messing him over during the bridge game."

Squid Game: The Challenge contestants spill on "gritty" conditions 😳

Throughout the show Mai opened up about her journey to the US, where she now lives. Originally born in Vietnam she escaped the country at just eight years old back in 1975.

During her time escaping a soldier held her at gunpoint. "And in that split second, my life was almost over," Mai explained.

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

A viewer of the show reacted to Mai's winning, saying: "as an southeast asian immigrant, it meant sm that Mai won my girl representing all of us & esp coming out of the trenches too i love her."

Mai opened up about falling pregnant at 19 years old
Mai opened up about falling pregnant at 19 years old. Picture: Netflix

Her story of living as a refugee and making it in the US inspired many, but it didn't stop there as in the season finale she revealed about her time working in the US Navy.

Mai explained that after leaving school she went into the Navy to be an "individual" as she led a very strict life at home.

The winner said: “Going to the navy, it’s like going to a pack of wolves where I was bullied. I got pregnant at 19 because I was a virgin up until I joined the navy and I didn’t know anything.

Mai Whelan at Netflix&squot;s "Squid Game: The Challenge" finale watch party
Mai Whelan at Netflix's "Squid Game: The Challenge" finale watch party. Picture: Getty

“To get pregnant at 19 was very hard because I had to tell my family that I got pregnant," she went on. "And then my family just cut me off and I had no one. It was very hard. I didn’t know anything about motherhood. I didn’t have anyone.”

After hearing her story of falling pregnant at 19 years old, many fans deemed Mai a worthy winner of the show. One fan wrote online: “Mai’s story was so sad. She deserved to win after everything she’s been through. That’s enough money for the rest of her life damn.”

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