The Challenge’ plans to use the $4.56 million

This contains spoilers for “Squid Game: The Challenge.”

What does it take to win “Squid Game: The Challenge”? We just found out, thanks to winner Mai Whelan.

The Netflix competition series is based on the South Korean original series “Squid Game,” which caused a sensation when it came out in 2021. In the competition series, contestants go through similar challenges that the fictional characters do in the show (minus the fatalities).

The one winner, out of 456 contestants, was crowned on Dec. 6.

Speaking to at a press event ahead of the finale, Mai Whelan explained what kept her going through the intense filming process — and no, it wasn’t the prize money of $4.56 million.

“I didn’t have any high expectations. I just wanted to move forward to see the set. That was my whole thing. The whole set that they did was amazing. To see the dormitory and set after set. That drove me: I have to stay in to see another set,” she said.

She said she hadn’t seen “Squid Game” when the reality show was announced. Rather than scare her away, the show made her want to try out for the competition.

“I binge-watched “Squid Game” in two days. I was like, ‘OK, I want to be on the game,’” she said.

Who is Mai Whelan?

Mai Whelan is a 55-year-old immigration adjudicator and U.S. Navy veteran from Fairfax, Virginia, per Netflix.

She opened up her life as a Vietnam refugee, and how it prepared her for this unique position, on “Squid Game: The Challenge.”

Mai, in Episode Seven, explained that she was born in Vietnam and left in 1975 at 8 years old. Her life changed in a split second, she said, when a soldier placed a gun to her head.

“The refugees were laying down on the airfield. I was curious, trying to see where the bombs were coming from. For a split second I lifted my head up. A soldier, automatically, put a gun to my temple. He was about to shoot me because he thought I was a threat. My mother yanked me so hard to the ground. In that split second my life was almost over. That is a moment I would never forget. That moment was a driving moment for me to be strong,” she said.

Mai’s intelligence and strength led to her being a frontrunner among other contestants, with her friend Chad calling her his best bet back in Episode Six: “She is so mentally tough.”

“Of all the things life throws at you, I’ve been down at the bottom of the pit. My family does not trust me in my decision of being in the military or being a single parent at 19,” she told fellow contestant Jada during the marbles challenge. “I didn’t have anyone.”

Whelan elaborated to The Sunday Times. She said after becoming pregnant at 19, her family “cut her off.”

“It was very hard,” she said.

Where is Mai Whelan now?

Mai has returned to Fairfax, Virginia, where she lives with her family, including her husband, two daughters, and 9-year-old granddaughter, per The Sunday Times.

She told Netflix’s Tudum that leaving the show was a “relief.”

“It was a relief to go back to normal life and not worry about getting eliminated. I needed that after two and a half weeks of intense go, go, go, and emotional ups and downs,” she said. “But the person that came into (the competition) is me. I’m still Mai, and she hasn’t changed — except that I came out stronger.”

What is she doing with the prize money?

Mai has a plan for the prize money — once she gets it, at least. She told The Sunday Times that she hasn’t received the prize money.

But she has splurged a bit. She told The Sunday Times that she purchased a few upgrades for the show’s premiere: A new haircut, a black Ralph Lauren dress and Jimmy Choo shoes.

Otherwise, she plans to look into a “retirement home,” she told The Sunday Times. She also mentioned a new boat dock to Netflix’s Tudum. In both interviews, she said she will donate to charities around wealth disparity, animal care and climate change.