Netflix’s latest original series, New World, draws many similarities to the renowned Squid Game, sans the killings, thankfully. As per its title, New World invites six celebrities (Eun Ji-won, Kim Hee-chul, Lee Seung-gi, Park Na-rae, Jo Bo-ah, and Exo’s Kai) onto an island of the same name for six days where they play games to win (or lose) nyang, the local cryptocurrency. 

The show gently begins with what seems like a utopian world, presenting the stars with their dream getaway houses. But soon after, New World quickly reveals its true nature of being a dystopian money-driven game where the players are ranked after each round. And at the end of it, the cryptocurrency earned can be exchanged for real-world money. 

Needless to say, money is the root of all evil. The premise of New World revolves around earning money and by extension, causing others to involuntarily lose money. There are three ways players can earn or lose money.

One, through the games that the cast has to play, including selling and buying land, working as a team to fill up a cylinder with water, and finding a meteorite at the crack of dawn in hopes of winning 800 million nyang that can change their rankings.

Two, players can redeem themselves through power-up cards that are available for purchase from the Shadow Store. This grants them advantages ranging from Heechul’s dice of fate which allows him to switch his entire bank account with someone else and Bo-ah’s tollbooth which charges residents a small fee every time they cross her tollbooth.

Three, players can do ‘side jobs’ like fishing, helping out in the kitchen, and taking yoga classes in exchange for money. At other times, the players get creative like Heechul, who won a golf cart, offers to chauffeur residents around the huge island for a small sum. And lastly, by winning a lottery that promises a handsome sum.

Naturally, betrayal is presupposed whenever money is involved. As the main driver of variety shows, it exposes human greed while also encouraging the players to turn their backs against one another and make irrational decisions. As part of the present and past lineup of New Journey to the West, Ji-won and Seung-gi, in particular, are variety show veterans who know how to plot a good betrayal. Unlike Hee-chul who isn’t active on game shows, Seung-gi takes advantage of his naivety to cheat him out of his money and climb the ranks. 

At other times, the players ruthlessly plot against one member. During the meteorite hunt which started at three in the morning, Na-rae slept through the entire game and staying true to the nature of reality shows, neither the cast nor staff bothered to wake her up. Instead, the other players take advantage of her inactivity.

However, games are never that simple on New World. The backstory of the meteorite hunt revolves around a meteorite that has fallen on the island. The residents are invited to find it and donate it to the research centre before daybreak. But, there is a catch: the meteorite has an energy level and it must be donated with its energy fully preserved before the monetary reward can be transferred to one winner. If its energy drops to zero after an hour, it becomes a useless rock.

With this, players realise that they have to charge the rock every few minutes. But, there is yet another twist: the charging stands are situated outside each of their houses and for every usage, ten million nyang gets deducted from their respective bank accounts. With the players knowing that Na-rae isn’t awake, they collectively take advantage of her charging stand, leaving a huge hole in her bank by the time she wakes up. While it makes for an entertaining watch, it also reveals how money breeds greediness and selfishness where they show no remorse over sacrificing Na-rae to increase their rankings. 

At the end of the show, thinking that their hard work will come to fruition, the players are given a choice to exchange their nyang for real-world cash. This last scene is easily one of the funniest scenes as once again, there is a twist. According to the order of their departure from the island, they get to decide the nyang to Korean won exchange rate of either 1/100, 1/1000, or 1/10000 for the next player who departs from the island. Needless to say, the first to depart, Seung-gi, chooses the lowest exchange rate for Hee-chul and this goes on and on until the last player, Kai, only manages to exchange his 1,268,400,000 nyang to a measly sum of 126,840 won.

In a near dystopian world, though New World is not trying to reflect on the bleakness of reality, it still demonstrates the inescapability of human greed through its fun games and missions. In actual fact, fictional or not, it is not uncommon to see this kind of reality play out when people are thrown into desperate situations. Even Kai, who was initially naive and gullible, admits that all he learnt from being in New World is the importance of betrayal. 

However, not all is ugly in New World. Viewers are treated to equally heartwarming sights with the cast’s seamless alliance. The players do pledge their loyalty to one another at times, such as when Kai, Ji-won, and Bo-ah teamed up to deliver the meteorite to the research centre, resulting in a three-way split of the hefty 800 million nyang reward. If there is one thing New World highlights is that no one can win alone as most games require a good strategy and as many hands each team can get on board. 

Another touching moment is when the players put aside competition to offer to pay for the poorest resident’s meals. Oftentimes, it’s Hee-chul as, despite his sheer determination, he has no luck and he ends up ranking last far too many times. For one dinner, in particular, he even resorted to only eating chips for dinner while the other players pig out. Unwilling to leave Hee-chul out as the residents always have their meals together, Bo-ah offers him some of her food while Ji-won, who was not rich himself, offers to buy him dinner for that night.

As a variety show set in a fictional world, there is less desperation to win, yet it still acts as a small-scale experiment that exposes the realities of humanity, where there are two sides to everyone. Thankfully, New World doesn’t only uphold the good and denounce the bad. Instead, it presents a rarer affirmation that man’s desire to be bad or greedy is more than natural and shouldn’t be condemned.

(YouTube: [1]. Images via Netflix.)