Our friends at The AV Club just published an insanely awesome oral history of the obstacle course from Nickelodeon’s classic game show Double Dare. Australia had it’s own version, but this behind-the-scenes look is focused on the US show, and it’s chock-full of icky, messy fun.
The obstacle course, of course, was the best part of Double Dare. At the end of each episode, the winning team would have 60 seconds to go through eight various, sloppy obstacles. Prizes were awarded for each obstacle passed, but if you completed the whole course, you walked away with a big prize. Nevertheless, each obstacle was a kid’s silly dream that included things like walking through a gigantic ear (full of stuff that looked like earwax), a human hamster wheel and swimming through vats of baked beans.
The author, Marah Eakin, interviewed all the major players involved with Double Dare, including the creators, the production staff and, of course host Marc Summers himself. You should definitely read the entire piece, but here are some highlights.
The Sundae Slide was created out of cheapness
According to executive producer and co-creator Geoffrey Darby, the famous Sundae Slide obstacle was chosen because it was cheap to make:
We could go buy a slide — seriously, you go and buy a slide. It doesn’t cost that much, like $500. Paint it funky colours, and make the kid climb up it and slide down. Grab the flag on a pad — because you needed to have a pad — and put muck on it.
And the stuff inside the Sundae Slide? It wasn’t whipped cream, which couldn’t last under the hot lights on the studio. Instead, the crew would use Baker’s Cream and add food colouring to give it other colours. Set designer Byron Taylor says that Double Dare would buy “hundreds of gallons” at a time.
There were accidents, but not as many as you would think
After reading about how slippery the floors could be (and how much they smelled from all the crap spilled on them for each taping), I fully expected there to be plenty of horror stories from accidents on the set of the obstacle course. I mean, the idea is to slip around and get messy, of course, someone is going to get hurt.
But according to host Marc Summers, only two injuries ever occurred on the obstacle course. The first incident wasn’t really the show’s fault because the kid lied on his doctor’s form and said he didn’t have any broken bones. Turns out, he did. Marc Summers explains:
The kid said no, he had no broken bones. We went from obstacle one to obstacle two, he slipped and fell, and the bone went right through his arm. I left the studio, because I thought I was going to throw up. Robin [Russo] was like a nurse and amazing. Ends up that the kid had glass bones, and he had broken 17 bones in his body. He couldn’t go up a staircase without breaking a bone. So there was that.
Another incident was much scarier. Again, Marc Summers:
But here was the other one. We had an obstacle called the Sewer Chute, which was, you’d go up a ladder and then go down a ladder in a very narrow sort of Plexiglass box, and the kid coming down fell backwards, and it looked like he snapped his neck. I thought he was dead. If you see me on the course, all I say over and over again is, “Are you OK? Are you OK? Are you sure you’re OK?”
We go into the control room after the fact, and this kid should not be alive. His neck snapped like I couldn’t believe. [Geoffrey] Darby used to say, when they’re that young, they bounce, but this one was scary as hell.
The kicker is that this kid’s dad was an attorney. According to Summers, he basically blackmailed the show for a big screen TV (a prize his son was unable to win), in exchange for agreeing not to sue.
That crap was rank and foul
The heavy stage lights from the set, coupled with the food ingredients used in many of the obstacles as well as the time that all this stuff sat out meant that the set reeked.
The floor, which had to be continuously squeegeed throughout production, was described by announcer John Harvey as smelling “like death”. And then there was the tank of baked beans. The tank on the show was frequently filled with stuff like balloons, or rubber balls. Then someone got the smart idea to fill the tank with baked beans. The results were super gross, but also super good TV:
Dana Calderwood, director: By the end of the third day under the hot lights, it was aromatic, to say the least. It was just disgusting. Ultimately, the stagehands didn’t even want to clean it up with buckets.
John Harvey, announcer: [Steve Pannepacker] called the honey wagon. You know, the guy who brings the big sucker truck that sucks out septic tanks. He’s parked outside on 7th and Arch in Philadelphia, and he runs a big, long hose into the baked bean tank that’s been there all week under the lights and sucks it out.
Byron Taylor, set designer: Our real mistake was, to make it look like there were pieces of pork in there, we put chunks of square foam rubber in the tank. You couldn’t see through the beans, so [the septic tank man] would suck up these hunks of foam into his hose, and they’d shut everything down. It took him hours eventually to get all the beans and avoid the foam.
John Harvey, announcer: He came back in and said, “You guys know what I do for a living? This is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”