The Reality Game Show Hoax That Sounds A Lot Like Squid Game

When watching the Netflix series "Squid Game," you might find yourself wondering whether or not you'd be willing to participate in such a contest. How much debt would have to exist, and how much money would there have to be to compel someone to eschew the humanity of everyone around them? While it's easy to hope that such games don't actually exist outside of fiction, for a few months in 2017, it seemed as though one of the most brutal survival games imaginable was about to become a reality.

Everyone freaked out when they heard about "Game2: Winter." It seemed to fit into everyone's worst fantasies about a reality show that pitted people against one another for money. But then, all the potential participants had the rug pulled out from under them when it was suddenly announced that no such game was going to be occurring.

What was really going on with "Game2: Winter"? And why were all the potential participants essentially forced to walk away empty-handed? This is the reality game show hoax that sounds a lot like "Squid Game."

Who is Yevgeny Pyatkovsky?

"Game2: Winter" was created by Yevgeny Pyatkovsky, a Russian entrepreneur from Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia. According to Empty Lighthouse Magazine, Pyatkovsky is known for his app called "Anticollector," which is used to block phone calls from debt collectors. Pyatkovsky created the app in 2014, collecting the numbers of over 6,000 debt collectors and storing them in a database. Users can also add to the database, and Pyatkovsky double-checks all new additions to make sure that "ordinary people are not affected."

The Daily Star reports that this app came out in response to the debt collectors in Russia who frequently harass people and threaten them with violence. Notably, when a 69-year-old Russian pensioner fell behind on her credit card payments, she received phone calls that said, "If you don't die by yourself, we'll help you." On January 27, 2015, the app briefly disappeared from Google Play "due to the violation of conditions of applications for Google or the terms of service for a particular product." However, it was never specified exactly what conditions had been violated, and the application reappeared in the app store two days later.

Game2: Winter isn't the first of Pyatkovsky's strange ventures. In 2016, he opened a "kindergarten for adults" in Novosibirsk, where visitors can take classes, play games, and even get an hour of naptime. Russia Beyond writes that one day in kindergarten costs $48 per person, and some of the first visitors to the kindergarten were reportedly "management staff from several banks."

What was Game2: Winter?

"Game2: Winter" was purportedly going to be a reality TV program broadcast worldwide in July 2017. According to The Siberian Times, the game involved taking between 20 to 30 contestants to an island in the Ob River in the Tomsk region and leaving them there for nine months, where they'd have to survive in order to win the $1.7 million prize split amongst the survivors. Starting off in the summertime, where temperatures in Siberia can get as high as 35 degrees Fahrenheit, participants would have to survive through the Siberian winter, with temperatures dropping to -50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

"Game2: Winter" would've involved 2,000 cameras set up on the island, and participants would've been on their own for the entire nine months. Each participant would also have their own portable camera. According to the BBC, participation wasn't necessarily open to everyone. Participants could either be voted in online or compete by paying around 10 million roubles, which is about $140,000 USD. They also had to be "sane" and over the age of 18. Participants were also going to be given survival training beforehand by former GRU Spetsnaz operatives, who were part of the special operations forces in Russia's military intelligence service.

Yevgeny Pyatkovsky, the organizer, claimed that all the participants would have to sign a release of liability as well as a death waiver and stated that "We will refuse any claim of participants even if they were to be killed or raped."

Everything is allowed

In "Game2: Winter," Yevgeny Pyatkovsky claimed that there were essentially no rules and that everything was going to be allowed in the reality show. Participants would only be able to bring a little over 200 pounds of equipment with them, and The Siberian Times reports that although guns weren't going to be permitted, knives were going to be allowed on the island. Every week, participants would have the option to request an item from viewers, and viewers would have the option to donate money for the item to be purchased.

Participants could choose whether or not to team up with each other or try to survive alone, but Pyatkovsky underlined the fact that they were going to be alone out there and claimed that staff wouldn't intervene if murder or rape occurred. "I am pretty sure there will be fights and more. We are not scared of negative reaction (sic) if that happens either."

Bears were also expected in the game, especially since the number of bears in Siberia had recently doubled. Filming would reportedly start at the end of the brown bear's mating season and just days before the biting gnats arrived.

Life on the island

Participants would have to survive on the Russian island on the Ob river for up to nine months, and although there were going to be as many as 2,000 cameras on the island, they wouldn't be able to track the participants' every move. Yevgeny Pyatkovsky claimed that "We will not intervene into relations between participants nor monitor their sexual life either, and our cameras will not be able to follow every move in every corner of the island."

There were also no rules regarding sexual activity. And per The Siberian Times, Pyatkovsky insisted that "If a woman falls pregnant — and manages to carry the baby — that's fine with us." However, no one was technically forced to stay on the island. There would be a "panic button" with a satellite connection, and those who wanted to leave the game could reportedly be "quickly rescued." However, Pyatkovsky promised that the show was going to be "absolutely extreme, there are no exceptions." There would be no doctors on-site, and only in extreme cases would a helicopter come to take someone to the doctor — if they were willing to forfeit the game.

Clickbait headlines

Once it was heard that murder and rape wouldn't necessarily be stopped during the game, news organizations from around the world latched onto the concept and began reporting about the Russian "Hunger Games." However, the waiver that the participants were going to sign was a little more explicit in terms of what was actually permissible.

According to Snopes, the waiver signed by participants did allow them to give consent to be "maimed, even killed," but it didn't state that they would be free from prosecution. The waiver acknowledged that the laws of the Russian Federation would still be in effect and that anyone who commits a crime would be arrested. And it wasn't as though there were absolutely no safety precautions in place. But Deadline reports that it would still take helicopters about 30 minutes to reach the participants in the event of an emergency. And a lot can happen in those 30 minutes.

By December 2016, roughly half a year before the show was meant to start filming, Pyatkovsky claimed that up to 60 people from around the world had already applied to be a participant on the show, per The Guardian.

Similarity to Squid Game

Viewers of the Korean Netflix series Squid Game (오징어 게임) may note that "Game2: Winter" sounds disconcertingly similar. In "Squid Game," contestants sign a contract where they agree that they will not stop playing, that if they refuse to play they will be eliminated, and that the games may be terminated by a majority vote.

With the signed waiver and the lack of rules prohibiting violence, it's easy to see the resemblance between the two games. "Game2: Winter" is also reminiscent of Battle Royale, a Japanese novel, manga, and film where school students are taken to an island and told they have to murder one another to see who will survive. "Squid Game" had yet to come out at the time, and while many compared "Game2: Winter" to "The Hunger Games," Pyatkovsky had a different comparison in mind, likening his contest to the television show "Lost," The Siberian Times reports.

But in "Squid Game," the stakes are a little higher. Rather than playing for just under $2 million, which would be shared amongst the survivors, the participants in "Squid Game" are playing for roughly $38 million, according to Slate. And in "Squid Game," it doesn't appear as though there's room for more than one winner.

A hoax for market research

After garnering worldwide attention with his reality TV show and getting nearly two million visitors to the show's website, Yevgeny Pyatkovsky revealed in July 2017 that the entire reality TV show was a hoax. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he announced in a video address on the project's website that the entire project was created for the purpose of market research, although he said nothing about the nature of the market research itself.

Pyatkovsky also claimed that while he didn't "invest a single kopek" in the project, it had the benefit of working as free advertising. He also said that he used "a wave of Russophobia" to get peoples' attention,  The Siberian Times reports. Insisting that the belief in his project proved he was a "marketing genius," Pyatkovsky maintained that he would've had to spend millions for the amount of free advertising that the project received.

What happened to the participants?

Unsurprisingly, many of the participants who signed up to compete in "Game2: Winter were less than thrilled to find out that the whole project was a fake. The Siberian Times writes that Yana Ivanova, one potential participant, suggested that "the project continues with just one participant — Yevgeny. Let's drop him somewhere in the taiga, stick a GoPro [camera] on his head, and put a tracker in his a** to find his body later. It will be a great selling video."

Many felt like they had been cheated. Mats Goldberg, a potential participant from Sweden, said that they were "made to look like a fool in such an arrogant way by Russian millionaire Yevgeny Pyatkovsky." They also called upon Pyatkovsky to reveal what the market research was for, but Pyatkovsky has yet to offer any information.

Although Pyatkovsky promised to refund everyone who paid to participate in the game, it's not clear if those refunds were ever actually issued, writes The Hollywood Reporter.