Basketball fans may recognize a familiar face on Netflix‘s Squid Game reality TV spin-off, Squid Game: The Challenge. Who’s TJ Stukes from Squid Game Challenge? Keep reading to learn more about player 182’s background.
Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge features 456 players who are trying to win the streamer’s largest cash prize in reality TV history: a whopping $4.56 million. The reality show is based on 2021’s Squid Game, the South Korean series featuring a group of 456 cash-strapped citizens who are lured into a deadly competition in hopes of winning a massive prize of 45.6 billion won (or 38.7 million US dollars.)
Released on Nov. 22, The Squid Game Challenge recreated almost everything from the viral survival drama, from the recognizable green tracksuits to the child-like games including red-light, green-light. But unlike the 2021 series which kills competitors when they lose a game, there are (thankfully) no deaths in the real-life reality version.
Squid Game: The Challenge executive producers John Hay, Toni Ireland, and Stephen Yemoh spoke with Entertainment Tonight on Nov. 22 about the massive undertaking to cast the show. They revealed that there were three casting directors, including two in the U.S. and a team in the U.K. who were in charge of casting U.K. and global contestants.
“We had over 80,000 people apply. Huge. We were looking for the same things you would in any casting, but just the whole thing was supersized to a extraordinary degree,” explained Hay. “The game is a test of human nature, so you want the widest possible variety of humans to play it and reveal themselves through the process.”
Ireland continued, “That’s something that was a real north star for us, that we had to have an inclusive cast representing people from lots of different backgrounds. And we also had no idea who was going to get through each round, so we had no idea which stories we would get to tell at any point.”
However, there is currently one competitor who was a professional athlete, which could give him a huge advantage in the competition thus far. Learn more below.
Who’s TJ Stukes from Squid Game Challenge?
Who’s TJ Stukes from Squid Game Challenge? Stukes, one of the 456 contestants on Squid Game: The Challenge, is a retired professional basketball player and an actor.
In The Challenge, Stukes (aka player 182) was introduced during the “Warships” game in episode three. He is the captain of one of the teams and instructs his players where to place their ships and where to find the enemy ships to eliminate them.
Stukes was born and raised in the Bronx and Mount Vernon and was in the foster care system. At 6 foot 18 inches, Stukes began his basketball career at Independence Community College and Kansas’ Pittsburg State University, according to his July 2023 interview with Beatrice Magazine. During this time, he met his now-wife Samantha, and the couple now share two children: Amare and Alana Aofia-Stukes.
After college, TJ signed with the Harlem Wizards as “Tomahawk” Stukes in 2009. Stukes retired in March of 2023 after two decades in basketball and has been an assistant basketball coach for Northern New Mexico College since then.
“One of the biggest challenges as a coach is the transition from a player to a coach. At one point I was extremely vivid that I was not ready to coach because I expected my effort from other people and that’s not fair at all,” he explained in the interview. “I am not them and they are not me so I am learning to adjust and adapt as I always do. I’ve had a mentor to look up to and that’s my wife. She is one of the best coaches I’ve witnessed, so I often observe and pick her brain.”
As for his career in the arts, Stukes has appeared in various acting projects, including a reality show on MTV2, an Adidas commercial and a role alongside Adam Sandler in the Netflix film, Hustle. He told Beatrice that he hopes to become a full-time actor one day.
“My experience as an actor was an unconventional one! I was part of a huge reality show on MTV2 way back in 2005. The show was called Nike Battlegrounds and it was hosted by Lebron James. That was when I became enamored by the industry,” he added. “I really wanted to act and not play basketball for a long time, just because of the stress I put my body through, however I got rejected for MANY roles and that discouraged me heavily. So I stuck to basketball and watched as opportunities passed me by until I put my head down and told myself I will get something!”
Additionally, Stukes and his wife competed and won $50,000 on TBS’ 2021 game show, The Cube, hosted by former NBA player Dwyane Wade, according to KTSM. The article also noted at the time that the couple owned a gym in Northeast El Paso called Southwest Desert Hoops which “trains adults as well as at-risk youth athletes in their community and help them get into college.”
Watch Squid Game: The Challenge on Netflix.