Squid Game: The Challenge began with 456 contestants — the most of any reality game show series in TV history — and over 10 episodes, the competition was whittled down to a single survivor, Mai Whelan, who walked away with the massive $4.5 million grand prize.
Whelan spoke with ET’s Ash Crossan after the season finale debuted on Wednesday and explained how great it felt to finally be able to talk about the experience.
“I feel great. I am so relieved that it’s over now. I can talk freely with my friends and family on my experience on the show without having to say that I’d gotten eliminated,” she joked.
The only person Whelan was allowed to tell about her victory was her husband, and she admitted that, at first, “He didn’t believe me.”
To be fair, Whelan said she hardly could believe it when she actually won, adding that “it took a while” to set in.
“It took a few seconds to click in that, you know, ‘The game is over, I’m the winner,’ and stuff like that,” she shared. “But at the same time [I had] very mixed emotion of seeing Phill standing there so disappointed.”
“I felt so guilty at the same time, because, Phill, I love Phill to death,” Whelan shared. “He’s a great person. He’s grounded, and for me to win in that final game, I felt a little guilty about that.”
After a grueling 16 days of filming, the challenging and often stressful competition all came down to Whelan and scuba-diving instructor Phill Cain, who faced off in a surprisingly subdued yet tense game of high-stakes rock, paper, scissors.
While some fans expressed disappointment over the final game being less complex and difficult than many expected, Whelan exclaimed, “I was so happy!”
“I’m glad that they picked that easiest game for the final,” she shared. “It’s just a breath of fresh air for us. And it’s not so intense, you know?”
In the final game, Whelan and Cain played a game of rock, paper, and scissors, and the winner got the chance to retrieve one of many keys that may or may not open a safe, and secure their win. Eventually, Whelan emerged victorious and won one of the largest grand prizes in TV history.
When asked if she knows what she’s going to spend the money on, Whelan admitted, “I already started, but I haven’t received the money. But I bought a dress and a pair of shoes.”
However, when it comes to the bulk of her winnings, Whelan said she hopes to put a lot of it into improving the world.
“I have charitable causes I wanna contribute more to,” she explained. These philanthropic endeavors include “sponsoring kids receiving education and helping the elderly with their basic needs and health care. And also the wildlife and the climate.”
“I think those are very important to how we see the world so that way we can live in it and enjoy it for everybody, not just us at the present moment,” Whelan added.
Squid Game: The Challenge is streaming now on Netflix.