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Kenilworth native competes in “Squid Games: The Challenge”

Growing up in Kenilworth, Allie Hartman loved watching various reality television shows with her mother.

“That was definitely our guilty pleasure,” Hartman recalled. “I never thought I would be on a show. I’ve always been a fan.

That all changed last year, when Hartman, 26, who now lives in New York, was cast in the popular Netflix reality series “Squid Game: The Challenge,” based on the South Korean drama.

Hartman, a member of New Trier High School’s Class of 2016, applied to join the cast in summer 2022 after the Squid Game casting director noticed the social media video.

He soon received a series of initial questions asking what he would do with the $4.56 million cash prize if he won, as well as questions about his interests and background. A video interview was conducted in November 2022, and around Christmas, Hartman was informed that he would be part of the cast.

“I was very surprised,” he said.

In mid-January of this year, Hartman flew to London where she studied abroad for a while, joining a cast of 456 contestants and eyeing millions of dollars for the 10-episode series.

It was a happy moment for his mother Karen, who currently lives in Kenilworth.

“I was so proud to be able to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

After initially being placed in a hotel, Hartman moved into a dormitory-like set and became close to the other contestants.

“That was something that made the experience so much better,” he said. “I met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

The first requirement for Squid Game contestants is to play the children’s Red Light, Green Light game while wearing tracksuits bearing the contestant numbers. Hartman’s number was 335.

In the aircraft hangar, designed to resemble the Red Light, Green Light competition in the original program, the contestants, with 456 people, wait for the commands of a giant doll. If the doll detects movement in a situation where it is not allowed, they are eliminated. If they are caught, the ink pack under their clothes will explode, symbolizing their death in the game.

Hartman was one of almost 200 contestants who made it through the first round.

“It was difficult and challenging,” he said. “You definitely had to keep your mind in the game. But once we crossed the line it was a very rewarding finish. It was one of the greatest achievements of my life. “It sounds dramatic, but it was an amazing physical feat that I was able to accomplish.”

However, Hartman’s run on the show ended in the second episode, in which she played Dalgona; Here the contestants had to use a needle to cut out a shape on the Dalgona, which resembled a cookie.

There were four possible shapes that could be drawn with circle, triangle, star and umbrella.

“I was on the umbrella line, which is known to be the hardest shape to complete,” Hartman said. “I got the short end of the stick when I had to make the umbrella shape, but it was still an exciting experience and I made a lot of friends.”

Now back home, Hartman works as an art director for a Manhattan-based advertising agency and believes his participation in the show will help his career.

“Immersing myself in this experience was incredible,” he said. “I work in experiential advertising, where we strive to create positive, yet immersive and impactful experiences for people every day.”

The program was taped almost a year ago but she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about her involvement until after the final episode aired.

“It was hard to keep secrets,” he said.

Hartman isn’t sure if he’ll do another reality show.

“I have to think about it,” he said. “It’s a commitment.”

The winner took home more than $4.5 million, but Hartman isn’t upset and happily talks about her venture into the world of reality television.

“We don’t get any money,” he said. “But the experience was payment enough.”

Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.

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