News & Politics

Meet the Winner of Netflix’s Real-Life ‘Squid Game’

Spoiler alert: it's a local.

Photograph courtesy of Netflix.

Mai Whelan—also known as Player 287 on Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge—is one of the DMV’s newest multimillionaires. Last night, she took home the top $4.56 million prize in the game show’s finale, beating out 455 other contestants, including Falls Church native Shelby Hoefling. The game show, which is based on Netflix’s South Korean hit series from 2021, features a series of challenges that included a fierce game of ‘Red Light, Green Light,’ moderated by a 14-foot robot doll, and a glass bridge riddled with faulty tiles. But unlike the fictional original, elimination from a challenge did not result in certain death.

In the final episode, Whelan bested the two other finalists in a complicated game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. After months of secrecy–the show was filmed in London back in January (and many participants have taken to TikTok to talk about the process)–we can finally get to know the victor from Virginia.

Mai Whelan lives in Fairfax County.

Mai Whelan. Photograph courtesy of Netflix.

Though there isn’t much to be found about Whelan online–she created the first Instagram post we could find just before the final episode aired–we know that she lives in Fairfax County with her husband and two dogs. According to her Netflix profile, the 55-year-old enjoys gardening, traveling, and spending time with her family, which includes a 12 year-old granddaughter.


She’s a veteran.

Whelan joined the US Navy after turning 18. In episode six, she describes her difficult early career in the military, during which she was bullied. Whelan had a child at age 19, then went on to serve in the Navy for 20 years as a single mom.


She was born in Vietnam.

Whelan came to the US in 1975, after the fall of Saigon, when she was eight years old. In the penultimate Squid Game episode, she recalls the trauma of a soldier pointing a gun to her head as she and her parents escaped:  “That is a moment where I would never, never forget. And that moment is like, you know, a driving moment for me to be strong.” She now works as an immigration adjudicator for the Department of Homeland Security.


She plans to put the money towards her house.

With the majority of her $4.56 million winnings (which will actually be more like $2.87 million, after taxes), Whelan plans to renovate her Virginia home and add a small dock for a boat. She also wants to use the money for good: “My heart is with people, animals, and climate change,” she says.



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Brooke Spach
Editorial Fellow