The sentence, “…was recorded in front of a live studio audience in Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios Orlando, Florida” is one that is etched forever in the minds of millions, myself included.
’80s and ’90s Nickelodeon included so many great memories. Normally, you’ll browse the internet and see many lists of the best cartoons produced during the era, but this will not be one of those posts. In my opinion, the channel’s game shows deserve just as much, if not more, praise.
I was born in 1993 so I missed out on the original airing of many of these shows. However, thanks to the great sister network that was Nickelodeon Games and Sports and Sports for Kids (more popularly known as Nick GaS), I was able to live the memories that so many others got to experience at the time. The high levels of creativity, literal messiness, and necessary mental knowledge are all unrivaled to their competitors during the 1990s.
At this point some of you might ask “why today to do this feature?” Well, today’s date of February 6, 2018, marks the 25-year anniversary end of the original Double Dare franchise, which was no doubt one of the biggest staples in not just Nickelodeon game show history, but also certain aspects of the network’s pop culture heading into the future. Thus without further to do, I and a few other TYF writers share our list of the 10 best Nickelodeon game shows.
10. Slime Time Live (2000 – 2003)
Technically, I’m cheating a little bit as this show aired in-between blocks of Nick shows at its time, but it featured enough competitions to warrant legitimacy as a game show. Slime Time Live continued the Nickelodeon love affair with sliming people, which was spawned from several other shows that will be featured on this list. The set for the show was constructed on the outdoor lot of Nickelodeon Studios, where a live audience would get to watch kids get slimed, pied in the face, and cream blasted, most of which came from kids that would call in to the show and play a Tic-tac-Toe board with Nickelodeon characters. If they got two squares to match a single character, a contestant they previously chose to get placed in the Slime Chair would get drenched in slime. They also both won a prize, which was normally a new bike or sports package. If a match wasn’t made, the show’s host, Dave Aizer, would take a pie to the face. The mess factor evolved over time where they got more interactive with audience members for new games, but its ultimate legacy was being one of the last programs to be part of the old Nickelodeon model that valued strong interaction with its fans, fun challenges, and lots of messes that kids for once didn’t have to clean up.
9. Finders Keepers (1987 – 1989)
What kid doesn’t love ransacking a cluttered house to find hidden treasures? That was the thought process Nickelodeon tapped into when they created Finders Keepers, the short-lived scavenger hunt show that found contestants ripping apart the set in order to uncover objects that coincided with the riddles presented to them. On air from 1987 to 1989 and hosted by Wesley Eure (later Larry Toffler), the show alternated between finding hidden pictures in a intricate Highlights-style drawing based on limerick clues and frantically searching for items in a massive two-story house built on-stage. The excitement of the room-to-room finale was enough to make any viewer jealous. Like many of the Nickelodeon game shows it allowed kids to make a colossal mess without being scolded for it (and without having to do the painstaking work of cleaning it up). This twist on a classic childhood game rewarded contestants with an eye for detail, as well as those who could tear through a prize-packed house in under thirty seconds. With a delightful combination of mindless destruction and creative production design, Finders Keepers remained one of Nickelodeon’s most beloved game shows long into its syndication run. – Brian Thompson
8. Wild and Crazy Kids (1990 – 1992)
In some ways Wild and Crazy Kids seemed like the forgotten stepchild of Guts and the rest of the stations high octane programs. It was a little washed out and dated from the getgo but became increasingly so as other, more popular series, dwarfed the program. Regardless, it was enjoyable to watch as a child who too believed they could land themselves on television (a bust of a dream) and had just enough to keep those of us with a lack of focus engaged. – Ally Johnson
7. Get the Picture (1991)
Probably the most fun subversion of Connect the Dots to ever hit television, Get The Picture was the perfect blend of mental trivia and eye for detail. It also marked the first gig for its energetic, quick-witted host, Mike O’Malley, who became a household name at Nickelodeon as the years went on in the early 90s. In show, two teams of two (one boy and one girl) would compete in answering trivia questions for opportunities to guess a hidden picture on a 16 block board. There were also Power Surges, which were challenges for teams to gain extra points for their score and sometimes get a more in-depth look at the hidden picture. They tasks were mostly physical in the show’s first season, but switched to being entirely mental for season two. As for the pictures themselves, they ranged in all sorts of categories that included people, places, things, foods, celebrities, etc. The team with the highest score would move on to the bonus round called “Mega Memory,” which was no doubt one of the hardest bonus rounds out of most of these shows. If you didn’t have a quick memory when it came to where pictures were located in regard to the clues O’Malley read off, you were screwed the moment the limited countdown timer began. Regardless of the difficulty, Get The Picture consistently had the right amount of energy and visual appeal to deserve its recognition. Lastly, as much as I’m normally against reboots of classic properties, I feel that one of this show would be intriguing given how much more obsessed everyone is with looking at and taking pictures.
6. What Would You Do? (1991 – 1993)
Marc Summers had already cemented himself as a Nickelodeon legend as the host of Double Dare, so as if that show’s success wasn’t enough, he took another hosting gig for What Would You Do?, which carried over the physical challenges and messiness of Double Dare but was completely driven through both interaction and participation from the live audience. The show’s contestants, who were picked on the fly by Summers, would compete against one another in crazy challenges (some of which were voted by the audiences), and the winner(s) of each contest got to put a pie in the face of the loser(s). Oh my goodness the pies. Although the use of cream pies was quite popular on Slime Time Live, What Would You Do? used them much more often and in the far more extravagant ways. Whether it was the Pie Pod, Pie Slide, or even the Pie Coaster, this show made you crave wanting to get hit by a pie more than actually eating one. Of course there were times where the pies were optional for contestants (mainly during the Medley segment throughout the first season), but it was so evident the audiences wanted them to take the pie more than anything else. Although the concept was essentially Double Dare without the trivia, What Would You Do? was still a complete blast and also provided another great showcase for Marc Summers as one of the most entertaining game show hosts of all-time.
5. Nick Arcade (1992)
Back in 1991, the premise for a game show where a live audience watches pre-teens and teens play video games against one another sounded completely ridiculous. However when you look at today and see the oversaturation of let’s play videos on the internet, Nick Arcade was way ahead of its time (except for the outdated but very catchy music). The show had two teams of two face off against one another in playing various video game challenges while also answering occasional trivia questions for additional points. The main round of each game centered on the teams controlling Mikey, the Video Adventurer, as they navigate him (up, down, right, or left) on a lavish game board. Each square they decide to move him to would reveal either one of The Four Ps (Points, Puzzles, Pop Quiz, Prize) or the game bully where control of Mikey goes to the other team. The most fun in-game though was the Video Challenge, where one of contestants chose to play one of five video games on stage and had 30 seconds to achieve a specific high score. The most famous aspect though was the bonus round, a.k.a. The Video Zone, where the winning team jumped into a series of live-action video games and had 60 seconds to beat three levels to win additional cash and prizes. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to experience that? Lastly, the show also produced another legendary Nick game show host in Phil Moore, who brought an infectious enthusiasm and wit that was just as entertaining as the competition itself. The show’s cult popularity was so strong that it was revived 25 years later at the 2016 SUPER! BitCon, with Moore present to host. Too bad most of the audience there wasn’t aware of both the show and Moore’s significance.
4. Figure It Out (1997 – 1999)
Figure it Out was all about the who’s who of the Nickelodeon casts and crews. We were excited to watch as kids because characters who we had seen in other popular kids series would be showing up and would be “real people”. Essentially the closest Nick came to having a late night game show but for kids, Figure it Out was never the most inventive or ridiculous show that the channel ever had, but it certainly gave younger us much to be proud of when we’d get a question right. – Ally Johnson
3. Nickelodeon GUTS ( 1992 – 1996)
As a child I was determined to conquer the Aggro Crag. I was 100% that I could succeed in this venture and that I, a mere tween, would be seen as victorious. Was it a small dream for a child to have when most dream of being pop stars or astronauts? Perhaps, but that was the level of excitement that Nickelodeon Guts inspired in me (along with countless other kids). The challengers weren’t so insane that they were undoable (at least for the athletic kids) and presented MIke O’Malley was just enthusiastic enough that we weren’t instantly bored by the time the camera turned away from the crazy hijinks. More than just about any other game show of the era, this is the one with its gaudy details, expressive hosts and fashion sense (lack there of?) that screamed WE ARE THE 90’s the most. – Ally Johnson
2. Double Dare (1986 – 1993)
This is where it all started for Nick’s storied game show history. Hosted by lovable stand-up comedian, Marc Summers, Double Dare, which later developed into Super Sloppy Double Dare and Family Double Dare, was a bonafide display of chaotic stunts and trivia knowledge for the whole family to enjoy. Furthermore it evolved the use of slime and cream pies, previously seen on You Can’t Do That on Television, to the point that they both became vital staples of the mainstream Nickelodeon brand for several decades. On the show, two teams competed in rounds of trivia to earn cash, however if they didn’t know the answer, they could dare and double dare them for higher money at stake. If the team that got double dared still didn’t have an answer, they could take a physical challenge. The challenges were often over-the-top and gloriously messy, and Summers’ on-the-fly commentary was just at catchy. The bonus round obstacle course was the best though, where the winning team would have to tackle 8 crazy obstacles in 60 seconds to win additional prizes (including the grand prize). Some of them included sliding down a big, gak-filled mouth (Down the Hatch), climbing up a slippery chocolate slide and then going down another into a ice cream sundae (Sundae Slide), and going down a giant gumball machine (Gum Drop).
However as much fun it was to watch, there were two facts that could not be ignored. One was the playing surface being beyond slippery to the point that Summers would sometimes feel the need to help the contestants reach their objective. Lastly and most shocking, Summers had obsessive compulsive disorder, which he hid from the public until almost half a decade after the show concluded. The fact that he allowed himself to occasionally get covered in slime and gooze despite his condition, is a true testament to him being the champion of not just Nick game show hosts, but game show hosts in general. Seven years after the original series’ conclusion, it was briefly revived as Double Dare 2000, which Summers didn’t host, but his replacement, Jason Harris, did a commendable job in the position. The sloppiness of the challenges and courses were also boosted to steroid levels. Regardless, no one can deny the legacy of Double Dare, which both kicked a golden era of great Nick game shows, and provided many thrills and spills that are still rewatched to this day.
1. Legends of the Hidden Temple (1993 – 1995)
Although Double Dare opened the doors for great game shows to come, there is no other that can top the brisk vision, physical/mental difficulty, and all-around fun of Legends of the Hidden Temple. With famous descriptions like “American Gladiators meets Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” and “a combination of Jeopardy and Raiders of the Lost Ark,” LOTHT was built on a premise that was clearly out of this world. Six teams of two (one boy and one girl), all creatively named competed in physical stunts and mental trivia until one remained to enter a temple “filled with lost treasures protected by mysterious Mayan temple guards.” The temple itself belonged to Olmec, a giant, talking stone head (voiced by renowned voice actor Dee Bradley Baker). Each episode centered on a real or fictional artifact (ex. The Broken Wing of Icarus) that the winning team would race to retrieve from one specific room from Olmec’s temple. To get there, the six teams, through guidance by Olmec and the host, Kirk Fogg, would have to successfully come out on top in three knockout elimination rounds. The first one was “The Moat,” where the teams would have to cross a swimming by distinct methods that included net-climbing, rope-swinging, and building a footbridge to the end.
The first four teams to cross without falling in the water and hit the button on their gong pedestal would make to round two known as “The Steps of Knowledge.” This round would begin with Olmec telling the “legend” behind each artifact and also the room in the artifact where the artifact is located. Afterwards, the teams stood on the top level of “The Steps of Knowledge,” and Olmec would ask them trivia questions from the legend. The first two teams to reach the bottom stair by correctly answering three questions would then move onto “The Temple Games.” In the games, the two remaining teams competed for Pendants of Life, which would “protect” them from the temple guards and exchange (full ones) for an extra life if caught by them in the temple run.There were three physical challenges and the team with the most pendants would go to the famous Temple Run. If the kids thought all the previous rounds were difficult, they got nothing on Temple Run. One at a time until out of lives, the duo had 3 minutes to run through as many as 12 rooms (most of them with physical tasks in order to move onto the next), and retrieve the artifact in time without being captured by the temple guards once their pendants are completely gone. In return, they would be rewarded with numerous prizes, one for just entering the temple, one for reaching the artifact, and a grand prize trip for making it out before time expired.
Whew, that was a real lot to explain. Even from that overload of exposition, it’s enough to suffice the unbelievable creativity and attention-to-detail the show continuously displayed. Like most Nick game shows, It was equally entertaining as it was frustrating to see a team play so well and then fall apart in the temple (I’m looking at you, Shrine of the Silver Monkey). Out of the show’s 120 temple runs, only 32 of them were successful. Thus it was normal for viewers at home to share the contestants’ feelings of elation from winning, disappointment from coming up short, and of course, the startling jumpscare appearances of the temple guards. Kirk Fogg would also share their emotions and did his best to pep up their spirits at end of not just the temple run, but also the previous rounds too. His hosting doesn’t rank alongside the likes of Summers, O’Malley, and Moore, but he was still a good leader and always had sympathy for everyone who competed. Over the last few years, he has also shared some great tell-alls in regard to the show’s lengthy daily production, most of which would amuse or dismay long-time fans. Overall though, Legends of the Hidden Temple left a great legacy for both aspiring artists wanting to bring their imaginative concepts to limelight, and had kids come the closest to experiencing their own Indiana Jones-esque adventures.
By the way, just throwing it out in the open, I was always Team Silver Snakes.