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Points, Puzzles, Prizes, and PTSD: Kids' Game Shows

Watching Paramount Plus makes me realize just how good Nickelodeon was in the early 1990s. It wasn't just the fresh creator-driven approach to animation, or the live-action shows that spoke to kids without talking down to them, or even a nightly line-up of old sitcoms that could comfortably be defined as "classic television" (sorry, George Lopez), it was the game shows. Nick started out with Double Dare in the late 1980s, then built on its success with a trio of game shows that challenged young contestants' minds, muscles, and their hand-eye coordination. They were strung together with tight budgets and they weren't always fair, but were these kid-focused game shows entertaining? To quote the rock-headed idol Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple, "Oooh yeah."

Let's look at these three series, in order of personal preference.

LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE: I didn't have cable when this first debuted and never got to see it during its original run, but I'm watching it now thanks to the magic of streaming, and I'm lovin' every minute of it. Possibly based on the short-lived French series En Route Pour L'Adventure, Legends of the Hidden Temple takes elements of Double Dare and trivia shows and binds them together with a Central American setting. The host, the largely inoffensive if slightly nagging Kirk Fogg, is paired with a massive stone bust called Olmec, with glowing red eyes, flapping lips, and the booming voice of Dee Bradley Baker.

The show starts out with six two player teams, each given a color and named after Meso-American wildlife. One is the Red Jaguars, another is the Silver Snakes, and so forth. The game kicks off with a physical challenge over a swimming pool, and the first four teams to complete it advance to a trivia game set on a flight of stairs. The first two teams to reach the foot of these stairs (by stomping on amusingly unresponsive target squares, then answering questions about a historical event) compete against each other in a set of three physical challenges. Teams who win a challenge get fragments of pendants, and the teams with the most wins at the end get to go onto the last and most entertaining contest, the temple run.

This is where the game really leans into its inspiration from Indiana Jones. One player dashes into the temple, a deviously designed set built from interconnected rooms. Each room contains its own simple puzzle, and the doors inside don't open until it's finished. The problem is, it's not clear WHICH door will open after you've hit the right gong, or pieced together a monkey idol, or set a torch inside the right holder. Like Dracula's castle, the Hidden Temple is a creature of chaos, and not only will the paths through it change from episode to episode, but the rooms themselves will change as well. A room filled with tangled ropes in one episode could become a python's maze filled with circular holes in the next.

Adding to the frustration is that three Mayan temple guards are hidden in trap doors throughout the temple. They can be warded off by giving them pendants- and the team is guaranteed at least one- but if a player runs into a guard without a pendant, they're dragged into a nearby trap door and play switches to their teammate. Just reaching the temple gets you a prize, better than the sneakers or Nestle Quik savings bonds that came before it. If either team member snatches the target item hidden inside the temple, they get another prize; some bit of consumer electronics like a karaoke machine or an electric guitar that's sure to bug the hell out of their parents. Get the target item and escape and the team wins something really cool; typically a trip to the Bahamas or a dude ranch or Universal Studios Florida, which must be cost-effective for the producers, as the team is already there.

Legends of the Hidden Temple didn't age without a few wrinkles. The game doesn't always seem fair- kids will wait forever for the well to drop down to the bottom floor of the temple, leaving them desperately grasping for a MacGuffin they don't have time to reach- and the historical events that are the focal points for each episode are sometimes questionably depicted. Who knew Ghengis Khan was white? The way kids are dragged away by the temple guards is most alarming, with former contestants even complaining of phobias well after the show was cancelled, but with all that said, I still enjoy this series. It's fast-paced and frantic from the moment it starts, and it's even borderline educational, with historical events being the foundation for the trivia section. Hidden Temple was hugely popular, even inspiring a recent made-for-TV movie and an episode of at least one Nicktoon, and it's not hard to understand the love for this series, even a quarter of a century later.

NICK ARCADE: Borne of the late 1980s resurgence of video games that also gave us Video Power and GamePro TV, Nick Arcade is probably the most innovative of the three shows I'll mention here. It's a bit like the early 1980s game show Starcade, with kids attempting to beat set scores in popular video games of the time, but the big draw is the final challenge, where players are drawn into a video game to fight a "video wizard." This is mostly just green screen sleight of hand, with an Amiga computer digitizing each player on the fly and superimposing them into an environment where they have to touch some onscreen objects while avoiding others. The contestants see the action from a first person point of view (if they can see much of anything) while the viewers see it from a more intuitive overhead or side view perspective, so it probably goes without saying that very few teams ever beat the video wizard and claim the grand prize. Still, despite the inevitability of their defeat, some of the kids give it their all, bounding around the playfield and smacking onscreen targets as if they really were video game characters.

The meat of the show is a trivia contest, with the boundlessly energetic Phil Moore (who one imagines has his morning coffee with cream and a half cup of hummingbird water) as the master of ceremonies. Teams of two guide noseless everyboy Mikey through a grid of squares, with such themes as the "Specific Ocean" (ugh), "We Got 'Em Mall" (also ugh), or "Deep Space" (...oh, that's not so bad). Some squares contain prizes, sweet nothings like skateboards which the players get to keep. Others contain multiple choice questions, or altered video footage which the players must buzz in to identify. Others still have an enemy which dispatches Mikey in an amusing way (my favorite is the Hammerhead Shark which hammers Mikey into a coin, complete with George Washington-era clothing), and of course, there are the Video Challenges, where the host ushers the players over to a row of video games to beat pre-determined scores. You'd think these would be dumbed down for the sake of the young players' egos, but nope, these are legitimately tough, generally resulting in the team forfeiting whatever points the other member wagered in the challenge. Particularly brutal are Kabuki Quantum Fighter, Magician Lord, and Gaiares. Sometimes the show will throw you a curve ball and have one of the kids beat the crow-filled tunnel in Battletoads with little difficulty, only to blow it in a gimme like Joe and Mac, because he just can't get the timing down.

Nick Arcade is hobbled by the limited technology of the time, and it wears its age on its sleeve. The kids have towering fades and tidal waves of blonde hair sweeping over their heads, and there are references galore to persons, places, and things that simply don't exist in 2021. One of the games that pits the teams against each other is dressed up Pong with Amiga graphics, controlled with an Atari paddle, and even the podiums they stand behind are designed to look like classic DMG Game Boy systems. Still, it's hard to complain about this show. Nick Arcade is charmingly nostalgic, and even the excesses of the time and its bounce-off-the-wall host speak of a more optimistic era of American life. Plus, it's fun to watch contestants fumble through video games they've never played and collide with objects in the wizard levels they couldn't possible see.

GUTS: This... was probably the dud of the bunch for me. Envisioned by its creator Albie Hecht as a way for even ordinary schlubs like himself to perform superhuman athletic feats, Guts is a series of kid-friendly Olympic events, each with a twist. The archery segment, for instance, puts kids on a bungee cord, letting them leap twenty feet in the air to target bullseyes with Nerf crossbows. The fifty meter dash is performed with trampoline shoes, sometimes letting the kids effortlessly bound to the goal like kangaroos but just as often leaving them tumbling painfully to the floor. The final challenge is the Aggro-Crag, a massive plastic mountain that blasts confetti at the players while they scramble to slap actuators (always actuators with these shows! Why not just call them buttons?) scattered around the jagged peak. The player who hits all the... actuators and reaches the top of the mountain first wins that challenge, and the player who gets the highest number of points across all the challenges gets the gold, along with a chunk of the mountain they just climbed. Sure, just what I needed in my trophy case... a big hunk of semi-translucent plastic.

The events are presided over by Mike O'Malley, the most famous of the three Nick game show hosts but also the most obnoxious. He's what I would call abrasively New York, pushy and provincial and insistent on giving everyone around him irritating nicknames. He calls his co-host Moira Quirk "Mo." He refers to the hapless ten year old competing against two teen contestants "Little Tony," as if he needed another reminder that he was three years younger than and grossly outmatched by the other players. Robert Toro is deemed "The Bull," making it sound less like he's a contestant in American Gladiators Jr. and more like a recent initiate in the Manhattan mafia. I've got a few cute nicknames for O'Malley, but none of them are repeatable in public.

Anyway. Some of the kids perform admirably well, like Robert Toro, who dominates the other two contestants and utterly trivializes the obstacle course in the second round, racing over the suspended rope in a couple of seconds. He claimed in the episode that he wanted to become a stuntman when he grows up, and with those mad skillz, it would be hard to imagine any other trajectory for his life. Unfortunately, the contestants for each episode don't seem to be selected with any parity in mind, so you'll get a disciplined and practiced athlete pitted against two ordinary kids. Gosh, I can't imagine how this will end. It's like Godzilla vs. King Dong, the Hostess mascot made of chocolate cake and cream filling.

Guts isn't terrible. It's just not as well rounded as the other two shows on this list, concentrating primarily on athletic challenges, and because of the immensely punchable host and the lopsided match-ups, it's not as entertaining.
 
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jpfriction

A most radical pontiff
There was (is still? ) a cable channel called Nick Gas that played all these old shows on a loop back when I was in college, perfect age for that nostalgia hit.

Hidden temple was always my favorite but the success rate in actually clearing the temple felt so low. Even if you had pendants, the time lost from one of the kids getting nabbed seemed like a game ender.

Guts has the common problem of “final event is worth so many points the first few rounds are pointless” but some of those challenges looked so fun. Always wanted to shoot a nerf bow and arrow while bounding around on bungee cords.
 

ThornGhost

lofi posts to relax/study to
(he/him)
Hidden Temple was great at the time, but definitely suffers from some degree of cultural appropriation upon reconsideration.

One of my favorite parts of the game is how tribal kids would get over their favorite teams. Not that there was any connective tissue apart from the team name between episodes, but even that thin excuse gave you someone to root for (or against!) with each new show. Silver Snakes all the way over here.

I know no one likes a personal podcast plug, but we did watch a temple run on loop on Video Death Loop a couple of years back. I seem to remember it being a pretty fun episode, and I think I even recount my own embarrassing story being in a small-time Nickelodeon production.

Here's a clip:


Here's the full ep.
 

nosimpleway

(he/him)
And if you win, you get a trip to visit Universal Studios in sunny Orlando, Florida!

...which is where you are right now, filming the show. Y'all come back now, y'hear?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Nick Arcade is the only of the major game shows to air in Canada (to my knowledge). I like it but it was weird that both it and quasi-gameshow Video and Arcade Top 10 aired on YTV. If this wasn't limited to Nick, there would be two more game shows I would love to talk about. Should I start a general kids game show thread?
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Guts definitely aired; the Radical Rock that is the AGGRO CRAG has been in my brain-hole since small time.

I would definitely welcome a companion thread for YTVs game shows, though
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I mean, one I want to talk about is a British children's game show that I only learned about at age 30 but IT. IS. AMAZING.

I never saw Guts. I know there was another game show I don't know the name of it. It aired at lunch time when I was in grade one and was in the Nick vein but I don't know if it was actually Nick. I suspect it was a syndicated show. I wasn't Double Dare but it was a Nick-ish game show that was "sloppy" and the last round involved a big obstacle course where people look for 3 keys or something.
 

Ghost from Spelunker

BAG
(They/Him)
Re: Nick Arcade

The Video Challenges were a huge draw to me, since this was before the age of YouTube and Let's Plays. And I saw the kids pick Magician Lord and Hyperzone SO. MANY. TIMES.
One odd thing, there were no first-party Nintendo games in the Video Challenge room. I bet Sonic Gained a lot of Ground (heh) on that show.

I have met Phil Moore in person at a few conventions, he went to many of them in SoCal before Covid, and he's an awesome guy. And he's just as hyperactive as ever.
 

Ixo

"This is not my beautiful forum!" - David Byrne
(Hi Guy)
Did you guys ever watch Figure It Out? Some of those kids' talents / things they did....sure were something.

I loved watching Wild & Crazy Kids too, but I dunno if it counts as a game show. Kinda?
 
I mean, one I want to talk about is a British children's game show that I only learned about at age 30 but IT. IS. AMAZING.

I never saw Guts. I know there was another game show I don't know the name of it. It aired at lunch time when I was in grade one and was in the Nick vein but I don't know if it was actually Nick. I suspect it was a syndicated show. I wasn't Double Dare but it was a Nick-ish game show that was "sloppy" and the last round involved a big obstacle course where people look for 3 keys or something.
It sounds like you're describing Fun House with J.D. Roth. They even made a video game of that, by Hi-Tech Expressions of all people.
 

Mr. Sensible

Pitch and Putt Duffer
I loved watching Wild & Crazy Kids too, but I dunno if it counts as a game show. Kinda?
Wild & Crazy Kids totally counts. It was definitely a game show; they just didn't award any prizes.

I remember Make the Grade being a weird classroom-themed hybrid of Jeopardy! and Double Dare, but not really as entertaining as either of those.
 

muteKi

Women want fish fear meme
Wild & Crazy Kids totally counts. It was definitely a game show; they just didn't award any prizes.

The prize was getting 5-or-however-many minutes of riding a power wheels like a mud hopper. Skateboards? as if. A CD-ROM drive? nerd shit. Cash? ok fine, that's a good prize if you can spend it on a mud-capable power wheels

EDIT: wait, am I remembering a different show? I thought W&CC was the one with lots of muddy vehicle races and stuff. Hm
 

Mr. Sensible

Pitch and Putt Duffer
The prize was getting 5-or-however-many minutes of riding a power wheels like a mud hopper. Skateboards? as if. A CD-ROM drive? nerd shit. Cash? ok fine, that's a good prize if you can spend it on a mud-capable power wheels

EDIT: wait, am I remembering a different show? I thought W&CC was the one with lots of muddy vehicle races and stuff. Hm
My memories of W&CC are pretty fuzzy, but the things I remember about it are A) the very first episode involved two teams of kids trying to keep colored water in plastic mugs while riding a roller-coaster, B) there were multiple episodes featuring a game of Battleship where someone on a high perch dropped water balloons onto people positioned on a basketball court-sized grid, and C) one of the episodes is set entirely at a Medieval Times.
 
Hey, let's watch this Wild and Crazy Kids show everyone remembers so fondly!
...oh. Paramount Plus doesn't have Wild and Crazy Kids. It's kind of surprising what this service DOESN'T have.
 

Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
(He)
I liked all three of these back in the day, though I think Guts is/was my favorite. Something about the visual design and the contests just appealed to me, even the aggro crag (even though I always wondered which part of the aggro crag they took the piece out of, and why it didn't get smaller). Something about Moira Quirk* also definitely appealed to a young me. It...must have been the accent... we'll go with that.

But even without Mo, Legends of the Hidden Temple was always fun, albeit a little bumpier. For instance, how fucking hard could it really have been to put that monkey statue together?! And yet, AND YET, every single time these kids are fumbling it around like they're on an infomercial. As a fellow kid, it was shameful, just shameful to watch.

I always liked Video Arcade when I was able to catch it, but that happened weirdly infrequently. It must have been on at weird times or something.

*Moira Quirk came roaring back into my life recently as the narrator for the audiobooks of Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, and she does a really good job; highly recommended listens.
I loved watching Wild & Crazy Kids too, but I dunno if it counts as a game show. Kinda?
Totally counts! I feel like it predated the others by a bit (but was still after Double Dare, naturally). I liked the summer camp feel to it, just a bunch of kids playing massive games out in a field. Dunno why it stuck with me.

Also, I know it was mentioned, but I feel like we're unfairly brushing over Double Dare. It's like, the classic and kicked off this whole mini-boom, plus it carried the torch for Nick's iconic green slime (even though that was introduced and popularized much earlier on You Can't Do That On Television). It had fun/weird/wacky/messy games, and it had its Family Double Dare version too. Everyone loves Marc Summers, I think; and let's face it, the success(?) of his Unwrapped show on Food Network probably rested 50-75% on Double Dare nostalgia, at least at first.
 
I heard rumors that they used carnival tricks to slow down the players' progress through the temple. The shaft that connects the head to the rest of the monkey statue is not all it seems... it's segmented and, if some former contestants are to be believed, slightly crooked.

If you guys want to talk about Double Dare or any of the Nick game shows, feel free!
 
The messes were worse than you could possibly imagine. Here's an interview with the staff who made Double Dare possible.


From Marc Summers himself:

At the end of season one, we’d done 65 episodes or something, and you figure, “Well, hell. We’ll never do this again. We’ll get canceled.” Well, we got picked up, but they didn’t clean that blue, shiny floor particularly well. So when they unrolled it, anybody who touched that floor broke out in the most disgusting blisters. It was like everybody had leprosy. It was the most bizarre thing in the world. Anybody who touched anything on that floor who then touched their face would break out in horrible stuff.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Also, I know it was mentioned, but I feel like we're unfairly brushing over Double Dare. It's like, the classic and kicked off this whole mini-boom, plus it carried the torch for Nick's iconic green slime (even though that was introduced and popularized much earlier on You Can't Do That On Television).

I think I'm a little too old and most of the shows mentioned in this thread were after my prime TV-watching youth, but I did watch the hell out of some You Can't Do That On Television. I think it actually came up on another forum thread recently but man, some of the stuff they got away with on that show is just very "holy shit" when you go back and look at it today. Firing squads! The slime was great though.
 

zonetrope

(he/him)
I loved Fun House when I was around 5 or 6, and managed to get my parents to take me to a scaled-down live version of it at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Apparently the host (J.D. Roth) was one of the actors considered to play Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: TNG.

I was never super into Guts, but I've enjoyed Mike O'Malley's resurgence as a character actor. He played a hit man on Justified and the afterlife doorman who was obsessed with frogs on The Good Place.
 
Gee, they punched up the budget a little in the second season of Hidden Temple, didn't they? In some ways it's a good thing... props don't get ruthlessly repurposed for the temple games, and temple guards have been supplanted with temple spirits, props like haunted trees which hold contestants in place rather than dragging them away. On the other hand, the fancier temple is more confusing to the viewer and there's too much dry ice used on the set. I get it, the smoke adds to the ambiance, but it lowers the visibility too.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
So this isn't Nick but its probably the coolest kids game show you've never seen... KNIGHTMARE!


Basically one kid wears a helmet that blinds him while three other players try to guide them through a series of rooms with fantasy themed puzzles and challenges and LOTS of community theater-style actors. EVERYONE NEEDS TO WATCH THIS.
 
I guess I didn't need to sleep tonight after all. This is fucking scary, man. People were creeped out by the temple guards in Legends of the Hidden Temple, but this is next level game show trauma. The timeline is represented as a decaying face. The host is as threatening as he is British, and he's super, super British.

Nevertheless, I can see how people would be into this. Even without the cheesy green screen effects, the show illustrates itself just by its purple prose and the kids' desperate descriptions of each room. ("You're in a crystal cavern with a serpent in the middle and a woman on the left. Don't move, don't move! There's a chasm in the middle! Don't listen to her, stay there!")

(NOTE: I can see the trajectory of this thread and have changed the title accordingly.)
 

A parody of Knightmare. Occasionally crass, occasionally brilliant. One of my favorite jokes is when the team of observers is transported... five feet from where they were standing to play the game.
 
Speaking of Legends of the Hidden Temple, it sounds like the planned reboot that was being considered for the disastrous Quibi service now has a new home on the CW. Here's the relevant article on Variety.

Sounds like they'll be keeping some of the shows legacy around, like Olmec and the team names, but it'll also now be filmed in a jungle instead of a studio and feature “tougher challenges and much bigger prizes on the line." Oh, and it'll also feature adult contestants instead of kids.

So... really just a themed up version of Wipeout, or Ninja Warrior, or one of the other half-dozen obstacle course shows that have come and gone.
 
The fact that it's by Stone Stanley (now "Stone and Company") gives me hope that it will retain the spirit of the original. It is a little annoying that the budget is so high; hopefully all that flash won't overshadow the core gameplay.

There's a Hidden Temple movie on Paramount Plus, by the way. It's a standard kids-centric action adventure flick with Legends references scattered throughout it. All the animals that represented the teams are included, including a "Red Jaguar" (which is obviously a red PUMA) as a minor enemy. There's also a purple parrot that flies into the temple's force field and explodes into feathers, which seems... fitting, considering the poor track record of the actual teams on the show.
 
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