How I Ended up in the Top 3 on “Squid Game: The Challenge” – My Fitness Routine, Game Strategy and those Unflattering Green Track Suits – By Sam Lantz
As a reality television watcher, I became deliriously happy when “Squid Game: The Challenge” picked me to appear on the show’s first season on Netflix.
But after whooping it up with my husband, I got down to work.
Reality shows are usually physical, requiring people to push their bodies to the limit. As an avid gym rat, I wasn’t worried. Working out is about positive mental health for me, which is why I hit the gym seven days a week. I’m tall — a towering 6’7” — so my focus is on “putting roots into the ground,” meaning making my tall frame as still as possible, so I’m not only focusing on whatever muscles I’m working on, but I’m also firming up my core to get a secondary workout as well.
I have three different abdominal/core routines that I like. I choose one to finish with every day: either 2 sets of 25 reps of leg lifts, or 2 sets of 25 reps of side and flat planks, or 2 sets of 25 reps on whatever ab machines are available. Finishing with a different ab workout every day keeps the muscles from becoming too complacent. Working out didn’t come natural to me. In my early life I was a super skinny kid who hated his body. My confidence in the gym came from figuring out that the gym wasn’t a scary place but instead was a space to simply make myself feel better; almost my therapy. Everyone needs that, but especially young people like me who didn’t have the family support to survive life, no less reality television.
So how did the lessons I learned from my workout regimen help me survive all 10 episodes of “Squid Game” where I ended up as one of three finalists out of 456 players?
First, I had watched the original scripted “Squid Game” series that preceded the reality version. Through three separate viewings I knew I would need to prepare to survive games like “Red Light Green Light” that required fast sprints and frozen posing. So, before the January 2023 taping, I prepared by running a quarter of a mile every day on a treadmill. I typically don’t like running, but after that regimen my body assimilated to jumping into sudden action.
Secondly, I knew that the real physical pain from “Squid Game” would be mental. Like most reality shows, the players are confined from the outside world. We were completely infantilized. We lived together in a dorm for 17 long days, only saw sunlight a limited amount every day, didn’t know the time, watch the news, or have a cell phone, and we ate every meal together. It’s no surprise, then, that our emotions hung from a thread — which makes for great television, but oftentimes not great decision-making.
For this I prepared by learning meditation to calm myself every morning, or whenever it was needed. It especially came in handy in the “white room of doom” where we were staged before each challenge. I also came to peace with giving up control. My “Squid Game” life existed in an artificial world created by the show’s producers. I knew to expect nothing, which helped give me the balance needed to survive sudden upsets or player drama. There was a flow to those 17 days, so I did my best to not fear it or fight it, but to flow along wherever it took me.
Finally, I hid my strengths. Luckily, the wardrobe design on “Squid Game” required players in shapeless green tracksuits. Mine was sized double extra-large, which meant it was easy to hide my physique. As a reality show watcher, I am aware of the universal rule that says the players who are the most in shape tend to have a target on their back because our reptilian brains tell us that they are threats.
I downplayed physical strength which helped me focus more on the social and mental rigor the game required. I became friends with everyone. I hugged people when they needed hugs, I shook hands and high-fived when others achieved victory. I made a specific choice to be everyone’s favorite number three — Not their best friend and not their worst enemy.
Instead, I just wanted to be the low-key guy who would never be considered a threat, and in a situation designed around identifying those who would be a threat to your game, this social interaction was key. In the end, the competition was less about physical challenges and more about social relationships, mental fortitude, and chance.
“Squid Game” gave me the gift of understanding that I can withstand anything. Growing up gay in a household that didn’t want me, I was often told I would never amount to anything. That gave me the strength I knew I had before “Squid Game.” But by pushing me to new extremes, I realized just how strong I had become.
The game of life is not unlike the game of television. My time on “Squid Game: The Challenge” didn’t result in millions in prize money, but I learned it had an unexpected payoff: an awareness of how strong I really am, outside and in.
Sam Lantz is an artist living in Fort Lauderdale. He was among the top three finalist in “Squid Game: The Challenge” on Netflix.