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How 'Squid Game: the Challenge' mother-son duo played with, and against, each other

Trey Plutnicki could choose anyone to bring to "Squid Game: The Challenge." Why the 25-year-old picked his mom.
Squid Game
Leanne Wilcox Plutnicki and her son Trey PlutnickiNetflix

Mother-son bonding can take any form. Some might go hiking together. Others might paint.

But Leanne Wilcox Plutnicki and her son Trey Plutnicki chose to spend quality time while filming an intense Netflix competition reality show.

“Squid Games: The Challenge" is an abridged version of the lethal game from the 2021 South Korean drama "Squid Game." Like in the original, 456 people complete for cash prize of $4.56 million dollars by playing exaggerated forms of children's games.

The only difference? In the reality TV show, contestants are eliminated and sent home; in the original, losers are killed on the spot.

64-year old Leanne and 25-year old Trey held their own as players 302 and 301, respectively. Speaking with TODAY, they describe their experience as a positive one.

"It was cool playing with my mom," the New Jersey native says. "Not many people not only get the opportunity to be on a reality show, but also experience it with someone that you're really close to."

Leanne says it was "great" to be with her son, but that she was concerned how her presence might affect his gameplay.

"I will say I was often worried that I would be a detriment to his game for alliances and doing challenges that might require strength," she says.

Trey saw his mom as an asset, not a hindrance, he made clear in the show.

“My mom, she was like a superstar athlete, I just feel like she’s going to outlast me and embarrass me in front of all of my family and friends. But if that happens, then guess what, I have the coolest mom,” he said in an on-camera interview. He called his mom an “extra person” in the game, “somebody I know I can trust.”

A former editor at the New York Times, Leanne is now retired and coaches girls basketball. She was the first woman to receive a full basketball scholarship in Kansas State University's history.

Trey is an aspiring actor and works as a delivery driver and podcast host.

Squid Game
Squid Game: The Challenge. Episode 101 of Squid Game: The Challenge. / Netflix

So, how did this mother-son "Squid Games" duo come to be?

"This journey starts in August of 2020," Trey says, when he started playing games online. At one point he asked his mom if she wanted to join in.

"She wasn’t doing anything. We just had the evenings free," he says.

Turns out they made a great team. "We had a lot of fun," Leanne says. "And there was good chemistry."

"I really enjoyed playing with her," Trey echoes.

Trey applied for "Squid Games: The Challenge." After doing so, he got an email asking if he wanted to play with another person. He sent back a list including childhood friends and colleagues.

"And then I find out about it," Leanne says. "I immediately texted him. I said, 'Why didn’t you ask me?'"

"She said, 'I'm retired. I have nothing better to do," Trey recalls.

Their 'Squid Game' strategy

Although they had a strong bond within the game, Trey and Leanne say their strategy was still to play a somewhat solo game.

"Individual, but together," Leanne says.

"We were really playing an individual game," Trey says. "And I think that helped us collectively."

Still, they "checked in" on each other regularly.

"It's pretty long days in there," Trey says. "I checked in three times a day. In the morning and then at night. We tried to eat meals with different people."

Leanne says they would have a lot of conversations within the game.

"I would tell him to cover his mic so nobody could hear what I was saying. But he is like Mr. Rule Follower. He's like, 'No, I'm not covering my mic. Now they're listening to you,'" she laughs.

"Yeah, now they are absolutely going to listen to this," he laughs in response.

Squid Game
Squid Game: The Challenge. Episode 106 of Squid Game: The Challenge. Netflix

How it all ended

Despite being prominent players within the game, Leanne and Trey were both eliminated before a winner was crowned. Leanne got out first after a heartbreaking game of marbles.

Leanne and Trey were enjoying a picnic in Episode Six, when a bag of marbles was found in the basket. They then had to play a game against each other, during which one would be eliminated.

The two shared tears and a hug as Leanne lost. "You have to go on," she said tearfully while hugging her son. "You're stronger than I am."

Unfortunately, Trey was not far behind her in returning home. At the beginning of Episode Eight, Trey lost his chance for the prize during the glass bridge challenge.

Squid Game
Squid Game: The Challenge. Episode 106 of Squid Game: The Challenge. Netflix
Squid Game
Squid Game: The Challenge. Episode 106 of Squid Game: The Challenge. Netflix