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How ‘Floor Is Lava’ became Netflix’s weapon in the new arms race of ridiculous game shows

The producers of the latest in extreme game-show competitions talk about how they’re bringing the childhood game to reality TV.

How ‘Floor Is Lava’ became Netflix’s weapon in the new arms race of ridiculous game shows

When Megan McGrath was little, she and her brother would play this game around the house. You had to navigate each room without touching the floor, so they would jump from couch to table to chair, tossing pillows on the ground as imaginary lily pads.

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The name of this game? Floor Is Lava.

Now, decades later, the Haymaker Media VP of development is bringing her childhood living room to Netflix.

“I loved to play Floor Is Lava as a kid,” says McGrath. “It was so much fun and seems to be a pretty universal childhood experience. The interesting thing about it is that everyone thinks they invented it . . . and they did! Every kid who’s played it came up with it on their own, without realizing that everyone else was playing it, too. That’s what’s great about it. I realized it could be a fun game show, but I knew we had to supersize it, so that’s what we did!”

Haymaker Media co-owner and show producer Irad Eyal says he thought he and his friends had invented the game, too. “There’s something really primal about it,” says Eyal, who called the game Hot Lava Monster while growing up in Southern California in the 1980s. “Cave people kids probably played a version of this jumping from rock to log. Or over real lava. And you can play it anywhere. Even in quarantine.”

Except you can’t play it in giant rooms filled with massive props such as spaceships and Easter Island statues, floating in (hot?) red liquid. That’s where the Netflix show comes in.

[Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix]
Contestants are in teams and compete by navigating insanely exaggerated household scenes like kitchens and living rooms, in what looks like a cross between Wipeout!, American Ninja Warrior, and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.

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The show is just one of a new breed of American game shows that combine reality TV, physical challenge, humiliation, and laughs. Joining Floor Is Lava for the summer 2020 TV season are Fox’s Ultimate Tag, ABC’s take on maximalizing miniature golf Holey Moley II, NBC’s Rock-ified Ninja Warrior competition Titan Games (NBC), and CBS’s Game On! and Tough As Nails.

For anyone worried that we’re veering ever closer to Idiocracy‘s Ow My Balls territory, take solace in the fact we’re still light-years behind Japan when it comes to absolutely bonkers game shows.

Still, it’s a crowded market, and many of these shows are designed to double as meme machines. You don’t have to fit a 30-minute TV show into your schedule to enjoy a fully grown adult getting destroyed or humiliated in hilarious fashion.

Given its hundreds of millions of users, the advantage of primo placement on our home screens, and its recent viral successes in reality TV such as Love Is Blind and Too Hot To Handle, Netflix is certainly positioned to get Floor Is Lava more attention than most. And let’s face it, it’s also got lava . . . sort of.

[Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix]
“We tasked Hollywood’s number-one slime manufacturing lab with coming up with the proprietary blend and then ordered more slime than any show had ever produced—close to 100,000 gallons,” says Eyal. “I can’t tell you what’s in it, but our showrunner Anthony Carbone always joked that the closest thing to it is Panda Express orange sauce. So if you can get 100,000 gallons of orange sauce, you actually can try this at home.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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