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Belfast Squid Game contestant risks all for disabled daughter on hit Netflix show

Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe wife Janine and children Bryson 16, Ollie 11, Scarlett 7, Brodie 4. PICTURE MAL MCCANN
Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe wife Janine and children Bryson 16, Ollie 11, Scarlett 7, Brodie 4. PICTURE MAL MCCANN Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe wife Janine and children Bryson 16, Ollie 11, Scarlett 7, Brodie 4. PICTURE MAL MCCANN

What makes someone want to put themselves through physical and emotional torture and live with 456 strangers from all across the world, all under the glare of television cameras?

For Belfast man Mikie Bowe the motivation for taking part in the Netflix reality show Squid Game: The Challenge, with its massive $4.56 million prize pot, was the chance to transform the lives of his family, in particular his youngest daughter Scarlett, who has multiple disabilities.

"It's nice to be on Netflix, but the real anchor was to win a comfortable life for my family," the 35-year-old tells me.

"More importantly, Scarlett's going to need assistance for life, and I want to make sure she has that every day when her parents aren't here anymore."

Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

The seven-year-old has a number of special needs, including severe global development delay, autism and pica, a condition where she eats non-edible items, and requires round-the-clock care.

"Scarlett got dealt a pretty poor hand in life. On occasions, she has to use a wheelchair for her safety. It can be a real struggle, but she's got really great support from her family, and her school, Hill Croft in Newtownabbey."

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​​​​As well as being a full-time carer, Mikie, under his handle imMikieb is among the top 1% of Twitch live-streamers in the world. Streaming live every evening after getting his kids to bed, Mikie enters the world of horror gaming.

"I'm a baby, I'm so afraid – but it makes for great reactions apparently," laughs Mikie, whose favourite game is Final Fantasy.

Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN Squid Game: The Challenge contestant Mikie Bowe. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

He describes Squid Game as "the ultimate horror game". Based upon the hugely popular South Korean horror series in which a batch of strangers is pitted against a series of simple yet deadly challenges, Mikie was proud to be chosen from over 100,000 applicants to be a part of its less violent 'The Challenge' spin-off show.

The show was filmed in January 2023 in a former airship hangar in Bedford, and Netflix spared no expense with a totally immersive experience.

Challenges included tension-filled editions of childhood games Red Light Green Light, The Bridge, Warships, Marbles and Ppopgi, where contestants have to carve a perfectly-shaped cookie from a fragile honeycomb using only a needle.


"They weren't games – they were emotional battles," screams Mikie when I ask him what his favourite game was.

"I have a saying now: how much do you know about yourself if you haven't played Red Light Green Light?"

In the first challenge, the 456 competitors were challenged with crossing a space, roughly the size of a football field, in under five minutes, pausing at various intervals.

To save being caught in motion by a giant robot doll, players implement a variety of strategies including hands in pockets, crawling and falling to the ground.

"For some reason, during the second red light I was doing a weird squat position and I had to hold it. I nearly gave up right there," recalls Mikie, revealing the challenge took hours to film.

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Another endurance test of tension and stress was Warships, which Mikie narrowly survived.

"Viewers only saw a snippet of what went on. There was a bomb right in front of me and right beside me. It was crazy, because there was nothing we could do, only sit in our boat," recalls 6ft-tall Mikie, who admits that playing Warships is now banned in his house.

His overall game plan was "to make friends and then sabotage them one by one". However, he soon realised this wasn't possible.

"As soon as we got through some of the games together, we bonded ferociously. The friendships that we made were so intense, and I couldn't do what I planned to do."

These include Florida contestants Kyle and Chad, whom he promised on the show to "buy him a pint" in Belfast one day as a thank you for saving him for elimination.

Squid Game: The Challenge
Squid Game: The Challenge Squid Game: The Challenge

Mikie, who describes himself as "a male feminist", also tried his best to stand up for the women in Squid Games, including even legal investigator Ashley from Atlanta, who wasn't among the most popular of the contestants.

"Earlier this year I wore a period and labour simulator for five days. I wanted to know about it because soon enough, my little girl's going to be going through that, and I have to help and teach her," says a passionate Mikie, whose pro-women 'rant' on TikTok amassed 6.5 million views.


@imadimeadozen Reply to @cowgirl2390 The worst thing ive ever felt..how do u do this ??#fyp #foryou #foryoupage #women#men #viral #trending #endometriosis #period ♬ GROUND ZERO - MikieB

While some contestants have complained about the lack of food and sleep during the programme, Mikie has no complaints and says his Irish roots and love of oatmeal helped him stay nourished.

Sleeping in the same dormitory as a few hundred strangers on bunk beds stacked to the ceiling may upset some sleep patterns. Mikie says he had "some of the best night's sleep" in his life at Squid Game.

Even being told by fellow contestants, Aussie Jordan and American Chad, that there was "a ghostly dark shadow beside his bed that looked like a priest", didn't prevent the Irish man, who has a fear of ghosts, sleeping.

Born in Kilcock, Co Kildare, love brought Mikie north, after initially linking up with his wife, Janine, through the social networking website Bebo.

The contestants of Squid Game: The Challenge (Pete Dadds/Netflix)
The contestants of Squid Game: The Challenge (Pete Dadds/Netflix) The contestants of Squid Game: The Challenge (Pete Dadds/Netflix)

Borrowing the train fare from his Nan to visit her in Belfast, he "never went home" and lives in Newtownabbey with his step-children Shania (18) and Bryson (16) and children Ollie (11), Scarlett (7) and Brodie (4).

Life hasn't been easy for the family with four of the children having special needs. "ADHD and autism runs rampant in this family," laughs Mikie, who, through his parenting journey, discovered that he too has ADHD.

"Now I've survived Red Light Green Light, I can do anything," adds Mikie, who says competing in the high-pressure series has made him stronger and gave him a newfound sense of determination to succeed in life.


@imadimeadozen Adhd in a Saw trial #fyp #adhd #saw #funny ♬ HES A REAL PROBLEM - MikieB

"After the show I went, 'Right, what do I like to do?' I like to make TikTok videos and I like gaming. I've always been a gamer but had to put that on hold whilst bringing up a family with additional needs."

So, in a tiny corner in his living room, Mikie has set up his live-streaming 'studio' and in the past 11 months has built an online community of thousands.

"It's been a blast and I would like to do it on TV one day. I'm going to try everything to get to that end goal for my family and my little girl."

The first eight episodes of Squid Game: The Challenge is available to watch now on Netflix, with the finale dropping on December 6. Netflix.com/SquidGameTheChallenge