LeAnn Wilcox Plutnicki tells PEOPLE she and her son Trey "knew right away what was happening" when they were supposedly getting a treat — only to learn one would be required to eliminate the other
Warning: This post contains spoilers from the first nine episodes of Netflix's Squid Game: The Challenge.
The pair chatted with PEOPLE about the experience of being pitted against each other in a surprise game of Marbles. “I think we knew right away what was happening,” LeAnn says of Trey's immediate instinct to search their picnic basket when the remaining players partnered up for a supposed treat.
As a reality TV superfan, Trey was hoping to find a clue or hidden advantage. “My reality competition background is based pretty heavily in Survivor,” he explains. “So [I had] seen two advantages fly by the wayside [during Squid Game], and in Survivor, if the advantage is gone, it's re-hidden. And I was like, ‘There's got to be something in here, man. There surely is something.’”
LeAnn confirms she was also constantly “looking for clues" during her time on the game, riffling through her meal tins and scouring canisters and cabinets in the communal kitchen. But because she was always looking for something that might help her advance in the game, she couldn't have imagined the stakes of succeeding in her search. "We didn't know what kind of game we were playing," she says of the unpredictable sequences of games leading up to Marbles. "We didn't know what it was until it hit us.”
Instead of getting a boost, the duo were faced with the dire realization one of them would be responsible for the other's demise.
"Before we even took a bite of food, I found the marbles," Trey recalls. "And when we found it I was just like, ‘Let's just let everyone have a really nice meal together,’ and we didn't talk about it.”
With their competitors none the wiser, mother and son tried to make the most of the minutes they had left with each other in what had otherwise been a surprisingly smooth game.
For her part, LeAnn was struggling to come to terms with her and Trey's inevitable separation. “I didn't want to [play the game] with him," says LeAnn, "but then he gave me his perspective in the moment.” So, the former college basketball player summoned her athletic skills and her competitive drive to take out her son — just as he prepared to do the same to her.
The ultimate irony is that they might have been the only ones who actually could have gotten the other out of the competition. Up to that point, they'd face almost no resistance from the other players, even though targeting a mother-son alliance seems like it would have been an obvious and easy choice.
Though LeAnn reveals they'd "intended to play a good portion of the game with [the fact we are mother and son] as our secret," Trey's palpable relief after his mom narrowly avoided elimination in the first game of Red Light, Green Light quickly gave their closeness away.
“And for better or for worse, we were associated in that way,” he says.
“I think part of our strategy was we divided and conquered. So I would take one half of the dorm, she'd take the other half," he explains. "And ultimately I think it worked out in our favor. I think people looked at us and said, ‘That's a strong duo that we need to break up.’ But I don't think anybody in there had the heart to do that because we were close with so many people.”
So it was really a master stroke of fate — not to mention great TV — that the show's only two family members had to feud in order to stay in the running for the show's record-breaking $4.56 million prize.
Ultimately, Trey was eliminated shortly thereafter in the Glass Bridge challenge.
With LeAnn scheduled to fly back home to New Jersey the following morning, she was getting anxious she might not get another chance to see her son, who lives in Chicago. Finally she heard a "soft knock" on her door at what "must've been like 2:30 in the morning."
She says, "It was not only Trey with one of our great welfare people from the studios, but also James [Player 269]. And I was prepared, if Trey knocked, to console him because I knew he was going to be devastated."
Instead, she shares, "I was so surprised at how almost jubilant both of them were. And I think I realized right away they were both just really so happy to have played, but also happy to have played the way they played, becauseJames was one of the kindest people I've ever met. And he was truly that person in the game. So it was just so great to talk to them in the room. And I don't know, it was like the beginning of the great post-experience of all this. That moment was such a good moment."
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Squid Game: The Challenge's season 1 finale drops Wednesday on Netflix.
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