The Top 5 Kids’ Game Shows

July 18 marks the season premiere of Family BrainSurge on Nickelodeon. BrainSurge is the new Nickelodeon kids’ game show where a good memory could lead to some big prizes. In honor of the upcoming premiere of the third season of the show, I will be counting down the top five coolest and greatest kids’ game shows of all time! Creating this list was not an easy task; so if you have a list of your own, just type it into the “Comments” section below this article. Here we go! 

#5: Fun House 

I’m going to kick off this week’s countdown with the game show whose end game resembled Legends of the Hidden Temple’s, but instead of searching for hidden treasures, the player’s went on a rampage looking for big cash and cool prizes: Fun House.  This game show first aired in syndication for the show’s first two seasons from 1988-1990 and switched to FOX in their last season in 1990. JD Roth, future host of Masters of the Maze and the short-lived game show Opportunity Knocks, was the host of both versions and John “Tiny” Hurley was the announcer of the series (later changed to Michael “MC Mike” Chambers during the FOX version).  In the first round of the game, the two teams played a series of three physical challenges and answered three questions, with every challenge and question worth 25 points. In the second round, the teams raced two laps around a track in the “Fun House Grand Prix” in an effort to pick up extra point tokens worth 10 and 25 points and also had to complete a few small challenges along the way. The first team to finish the race won an additional 25 points. After all the points have been accounted for, the team with most points advanced to run through the Fun House. In the “Fun House” bonus round, each teammate on the winning team had to take turns running through Fun House collecting as many cash and prize tags as possible within two minutes. Additionally, one prize tag was designated as the “Power Prize” tag, which won the team a bonus trip if it was picked up. In the FOX version, the Glop Clock was introduced and gave a team an extra 15 seconds of time if it was found in the Fun House.

Even though this show was one of many Double Dare knockoffs, this was still a fun-filled kids’ game show. The Fun House end game also reminds me of the Temple run end game in Legends of the Hidden Temple, even though Fun House aired first. What really impressed me about this show was the amount of cash and prizes a team could win in one show. On average, I believe a team won over $5,000 in cash and prizes per show, which is an amazing total for a kids’ show. In fact, on a pilot episode of the series (shown below), a team won more than $27,000 in cash and prizes, including a 50’ projection TV and two computers (Whether they actually received those prizes because it was a pilot taping is a whole different issue).

Like the Temple in Legends, the Fun House contained multiple rooms filled prizes, surprises, and even slime and goop from time to time. What also kept this show interesting were the various theme episodes they had occasionally, such as Mexico Day, Chocolate Day, and New York Day. When the show moved to FOX, not only did they add more rooms to the Fun House, like as the mind-boggling Topsy-Turvy Kitchen, but there were also bigger prizes at stake.

This show was so popular it spawned a college edition of the show called College Mad House in 1989 hosted by Greg Kinnear. This version was slightly different from Fun House because the show now featured two four-player teams who represented their respective colleges like University of Minnesota, Purdue, and St. John’s University, the “Fun House Grand Prix” was replaced with the “Finals” round (a 90-second ’round robin’ question round where each correct answer was worth 25 points), and now each member of the winning team had only 30 seconds to run through the “Mad House” to collect as many prize tags as possible (collecting all 13 in under two minutes won the team a bonus trip). Needless to say, this show only lasted for one season. Greg Kinnear’s College Mad House didn’t have the same magic and excitement as JD Roth’s Fun House. On a quick end note, Fun House won two Daytime Emmys in 1989 and 1990 and a Young Artist Award in 1991 for “Best Youth Variety or Game Show”.

#4: Finders Keepers

The next kids’ game show on this week’s countdown is the only game where trashing a house can win you some cash: Finders Keepers. This early Nickelodeon game show debuted in 1987 with soap opera star Wesley Eure as the host. Larry Toffler took over as the host when the show switched to a syndicated series in 1988. In this game show, each game was played in two halves with each half featuring two rounds. In the first round, the teams had to find hidden objects in a picture to earn cash and rooms to search in the second round. When the teams enter the house in second round, they have 30 seconds to find a particular hidden object in each room. Finding the item won the team cash, while finding the incorrect item or running out of time transferred the cash to their opponents. As an added     bonus,  one room in the house in the second half was designated as the “Instant Prize Room”, which usually won the team a bonus trip to Space Camp if they found the item in that room. The team with the most cash won a team a trip to the bonus round to go on a Room-to-Room Romp. In the Room-to-Room Romp, the team had 90 seconds to search six rooms for clue cards, which were attached to the hidden objects in each room. Finding a hidden object in a room won the team a prize; finding all six objects in each room before time expired won the team all six prizes, including a grand prize, which was usually a trip.

What made this show one of the best kids’ game shows of all time? The kids could trash the Finders Keepers house without repercussions.  The Finders Keepers house was a two story house with four rooms on each floor. Not only did the house contain generic rooms (living room, kitchen, laundry room), there were also “fantasy” rooms inside such as Ali Baba’s and Buck Rogers’ bathroom, the Moon Room, the Pastry Shop, and the Toy Store. On a quick side note, the food items in the Pastry Shop were actually edible. Every room in the house was usually booby trapped in one way or another (i.e.: collapsing shelves in the laundry room, exploding confetti cannons hidden in the fireplaces, ping pong balls falling from the ceiling and cabinets and leaky pipes).  On this show, nothing was sacred and every item in the house was breakable and up for grabs (in terms of searching for the hidden objects). In fact, the hosts encouraged the kids to tear up the rooms in the house.  Also, because the rooms did contain falling objects, the kids were equipped with elbow pads, knee pads, and helmets for safety measures.

This show made every irresponsible kid’s dream of tearing up a room without cleaning it up or putting anything back and running in the house without being yelled at come true. In fact, this show gained international popularity in the U.K., airing from 1991-1996 and revived shortly in 2006. From tearing up the Dungeon to rummaging through Frankenstein’s Laboratory, Finders Keepers was an exciting show to watch and was equally exciting to play with the kid contestants running up and down stairs through every room trying to unveil hidden items in an effort to big cash and prizes.

#3: Nickelodeon GUTS

Coming in at number three on the countdown is the game show that asked the question “Do You Have It?”. That’s right! It’s Nickelodeon GUTS. For six seasons, GUTS had kids (and most recently, families) compete against each other in various sporting events in the Extreme Area in Universal Studios. Mike O’ Malley and referee Moira “Mo” Quick were the hosts of the show.  On a quick side note, Mike O’ Malley was also the host of another Nick game show called Get The Picture (another cool kids’ game show). Three contestants competed in four events before taking on the Aggro Crag. The events normally took place in the pool, on the field, or on the track.  The only time we would see an event played outside was during The Aggro Bowl on both seasons of My Family’s Got GUTS. Some of the events that were commonly played on the show were Slam Dunk, Basic Training, and Invisible Boat. Placing first in an event was worth 300 points, second place was worth 200 points, and third place was worth 100 points. In the final Aggro Crag event, the contestants had to scale the 28-foot mountain and hit eight actuators in the process, including the final one at the peak of the mountain.  First place in this event was worth 725 points, 550 points for second, and 375 for third. The contestant with the most points won a GUTS gold medal and a piece of the Aggro Crag, while second and third place contestants won a GUTS silver and bronze medal respectively.

On almost every episode when Mike O’ Malley claimed that GUTS was “the action sports show where kids could live out their greatest sports fantasies”, he wasn’t kidding around.  This show took sports like football, basketball, and hockey to the next level.

Not only were normal sports games played on the show, but there we also a few original games GUTS created like Zero G, Tornado Run, Mad Max, and White Water. The show also featured special guests such as Dominique Wilkins and Evander Holyfield during the first few seasons, “Mike and Mo’s Halftime Show”, which featured Mike and Mo recapping the highlights of the first two events during the third season, and the “Spill Your Guts” segments (called “Gut Check” on My Family’s Got GUTS), which featured a short bio of each contestant and what “having guts” means to them. GUTS quickly became a staple for Nickelodeon, especially with the unforgettable Aggro Crag.

The Aggro Crag was the main event of every episode as the points skyrocketed and ultimately decided the winner of each game.

The mountain has evolved several times during the show’s run and has grown larger and more challenging with every new season. In 1992 and 1993, the treacherous mountain was first called the Aggro Crag. The large 28-foot mountain (30-feet on Global GUTS and 22-feet on My Family’s Got GUTS) was split into three sections; each section lit a different color to represent the player’s side of the mountain. Not only did the contestants have to activate the six actuators (seven in the second season, eight in the third season, and four in My Family’s Got Guts) that were hidden on their side of the mountain, they also had to overcome falling boulders, snowstorms, trap doors, and slime floods, which made the contestants’ ascent up the mountain a little more difficult. The simulated thunderstorm sounds and fog made the Aggro Crag more intimidating and life-like to the contestants.  As the show’s popularity grew, so did the Crag. In 1994, the Aggro Crag transformed into the Mega Crag. The Mega Crag took on a new molten color and was bigger, sharper, and more challenging. Some of the newer obstacles included nuclear flying crystals, the Shard Zone and Stone Ledge, which was a vertical rock climbing wall near the peak of the mountain. The final transformation of the Crag in this series was the Super Aggro Crag introduced on Global Guts in 1995 (which grew two feet in length). On My Family’s Got Guts, the menacing mountain returned under the original name “Aggro Crag”. This time, the mountain was divided into two sections for each family. Although the Aggro Crag shrank in size, it was still challenging to overcome and featured new obstacles such as the Crag Caverns inside the mountain and the Vertical Freeze. In both Aggro Bowls, each member of both families had to take on a different part of the Aggro Crag.

GUTS had various special episodes including The 1993 GUTS All-Star Special, which invited three contestants who achieved a perfect score of 1925 points back on the show to compete in this one hour special, and episodes featuring U.K. contestants competing with the U.S. contestants. In the show’s final season in 1995, GUTS was renamed Global GUTS, which featured contestants not only from the U.S., but also from the U.K., Israel, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (included Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine). At the end of the series, the U.K. won the most Gold Medals (8), while Mexico placed second in Gold Medals (7), and the U.S. placed third (6). Click here for the full medal count. In 2008, the show was revived for a final time with My Family’s Got Guts. The show featured hosts Ben Lyons and referee Asha Kurten, new events, a new scoring system and an equally new Aggro Crag. Twelve families competed in each season in a single-elimination tournament. The remaining three families played in The Aggro Bowl, with the winning family winning a miniature replica of Aggro Crag as a trophy and a Nickelodeon Family Cruise. On a quick side note, only the first season of My Family’s Got GUTS was shown in the U.S., while both seasons of the show were shown in Australia.

GUTS was a fun and exciting game show while it lasted, especially with Mike O’ Malley’s enthusiastic commentary during the various events. I even enjoyed the revival in 2008 and was equally impressed with the selection of the host and co-host to match Mike and Mo’s enthusiasm.

#2: Legends of the Hidden Temple

The next kids’ game show listed on this countdown took their contestants from a world filled with modern technology and amenities to a world of swamps and giant talking stone heads; it’s Legends of the Hidden Temple.  Kirk Fogg was the host for the show’s entire run from 1993-1995. This game show not only tested the contestants’ physical ability, but also tested their knowledge of historical events. The show started with six teams competing. They were (in this order), the Red Jaguars, Blue Barracudas, Green Monkeys, Orange Iguanas, Purple Parrots, and the Silver Snakes. In the first qualifying round, the six teams played a physical challenge which required both members of each team to cross the moat, whether it was by a raft, an inner tube, or by rope. The first four teams to get both of their teams across the moat advanced to “The Steps of Knowledge”.  On The Steps of Knowledge, Olmec, the giant talking stone head, would tell the remaining teams the back story and legend of the subject of the day’s episode. The artifact hidden in the temple was also revealed after the back-story was told. Olmec would then ask the teams questions based on the story they were just told. The first two teams to answer four questions correctly, advanced to the Temple Games. The two teams then competed in a series of three temple games that were based on the day’s legend. The teams also competed for “Pendants of Life”, which could be used to save a player from a temple guard in their Temple Run. The first two games were worth one-half of a pendant and the third game was worth a full pendant. The team with the most pendants advanced to the Temple. In the Temple Run, the team had three minutes to retrieve the artifact inside and bring it back outside the temple. Inside the temple were three temple guards hidden inside three of the rooms. If a player was caught by a temple guard and if they didn’t have a pendant to save them, they were captured and their teammate had to go inside the temple and retrieve the item.  The team wins a prize for just entering the Temple; retrieving the artifact in the temple won the team two prizes; retrieving the artifact and bringing it back out before time expired won the team three prizes, including the grand prize.

There is one reason why Legends of the Hidden Temple is number two on this list: the awesome set. From head to toe, the set was designed in the style of a Mayan temple. Also, you can’t mention Legends without thinking about Kirk Fogg’s co-host Olmec, the giant talking Olmec head who knew the secrets behind each of the treasures hidden inside the temple. The show‘s gameplay kind of reminds me of Fun House, but Fun House wasn’t nearly fun and adventurous as Legends of the Hidden Temple was. This show received multiple positive reviews  including feminist author Susan Douglas who praised the show for being a “nonsexist and nonviolent” show (1). In fact, Legends won a CableACE award in January 1995 for “best game show” and was nominated in December 1995 and October 1996, but didn’t win either times. This was also an educational game show as the contestants learned a lot of historical and geographical facts, myths, and legends, like on Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? But the most exciting part of every episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple is undoubtedly the Temple Run. On a quick side note, the design of the temple was based on the Indiana Jones movies (2). The Temple featured 12 rooms, including the Observatory, The Dark Forest room, and the always frustrating to watch Shrine of the Silver Monkey (true Legends fans would know what I’m talking about). Here’s a clip of a winning team running through the Temple:

Legends of the Hidden Temple was one of the most creative game shows Nickelodeon has ever created and will forever be remembered for Olmec and the Temple Guards that scared the living daylights out of the contestants and sometimes the home viewers.

#1: Double Dare

On Your Mark, Get Set, GO!!” is how Marc Summers opened every episode, followed by a clever opening spiel about the toss-up game announced by “Harvey” (Doc Holliday in 1992) while the two teams were playing the opening game on the sloppiest and messiest game show on television and the number one game show on this week’s countdown: Double Dare. If you have never seen the show before, here’s how the game was according to Marc Summers, “I’m going to ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, or think the other team hasn’t got a clue, you can dare them to answer it for double the dollars. But be careful, because they can always double dare you back for four times the amount, and then you’ll either have to answer the question or take the physical challenge.” Two rounds were played in each game with the dollar values doubling in the second round. The team with the most cash in the game won a trip to the Obstacle Course. In the Obstacle Course bonus round, if the winning team ran through all eight obstacles in a minute or less, they won eight prizes including the grand prize, which was usually a trip to Universal Studios in Florida.

Double Dare was the most popular and longest running show on Nickelodeon. This was the show that made Nickelodeon popular during the late 80s and 90s and had everything for a kids’ game show; it had crazy stunts, creative obstacles, cool prizes, an equally cool host, and on top of it all, the kids could get slimed and messy from head to toe. Speaking of cool hosts (weird segue), Marc Summers is the best host for a kids’ game show I have ever seen. He not only had fun with the contestants, staff members, and audience members on the show, he was willing to put his own problems aside to make the show fun, exciting, and entertaining for everyone who was involved with Double Dare, including the home viewers. On a quick side note, it was later revealed by Summers himself on his talk show, Biggers and Summers, he admitted to guest psychiatrist Dr. Eric Hollander that he was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. While Summers was hosting Double Dare, it never bothered him in the moment that he constantly had to deal with all the slime and goop that occasionally covered the set, and sometimes on Summers himself. But as soon as the cameras switched off, Summers couldn’t wait to get out of his gak-filled clothes (3).

Switching gears now, Double Dare lasted for seven years on Nickelodeon from 1986 to 1993. Special theme shows aired from time to time to keep the show interesting such as the “Marc vs. Harvey” Showdown episode with Jim J. Bullock as the host, a special 3-D “Double Double Dare” episode, and a one-hour Family Double Dare Tournament of Champions special held in 1993 that pit the smartest team against the strongest team. Several versions of the show were created during the series’ run including Super Sloppy Double Dare (syndicated version also made in 1988), Super Special Double Dare which featured special celebrity guest stars, FOX’s primetime version of Family Double Dare in 1988, Celebrity Double Dare (a 1987 pilot featuring all adult contestants with host Bruce Jenner), and Family Double Dare on Nickelodeon in 1990. In 2000, Nickelodeon decided to bring back the classic game show for the new millennium with Double Dare 2000. Double Dare 2000 was hosted by Jason Harris with Tiffany Phillips as the announcer. This version stayed true to its roots with the exceptions of the obstacle course renamed “The Slopstacle Course”, the new gak substance introduced called “Gooze”, and the “Triple Dare Challenge” was introduced in the second round, which made any physical challenge worth $300 and a special prize at the risk of making the challenge a little more difficult. This version lasted for only 11 months in 2000. Double Dare had even reached international popularity with seven other countries hosting versions of their own as Australia, Canada, and the U.K. have done. Also, as the show’s popularity grew, Nickelodeon sent Summers on the Double Dare Road Show and Double Dare Live Tour in shopping malls, theaters, and arenas all across America.

There were many shows that tried to copy Double Dare’s immense success, such as Slime TimeFun House, and Treasure Mall, but couldn’t quite get up to par with Double Dare. From Marc Summers horribly impersonating Ricky Ricardo’s laugh to watching contestants search for the ‘almost-impossible-to-find’ flag in the giant nose on the Obstacle Course, Double Dare is by far the greatest and most successful kids’ game show OF ALL TIME! 

Dishonorable Mentions

You’ve seen the best of the best in kids’ game shows. Now it’s time to show you some of the WORST kids’ game shows it has ever been my misfortune to come across.

You’re On!You’re On! was a 1998 Nickelodeon hidden camera game show hosted by Nick Arcade’s Phil Moore. This show featured kids running around shopping malls and other places trying to get complete strangers to perform three ridiculous tasks, such as barking like a poodle or hula-hooping while singing the Pledge of Allegiance, in ten minutes or less. Completing all three tasks won the kids three cool prizes. While the kids were outside performing the tasks, select members from the studio audience where chosen to guess how many tasks the kids could do in the time limit for a small prize. You’re On! was like a kids version candid camera that was boring to watch because a majority of the time we would just watch the contestants getting turned down time after time. This show was definitely not one of Nick’s greatest ideas as the show only lasted for one season.

Slime TimeSlime Time (not to be confused with Nickelodeon’s Slime Time Live) was one of the game shows that tried so hard to emulate Double Dare‘s success, but failed miserably in their attempt. From the hideous Mr. Slimehead to the knockoff Trivia Trap $1,000 “Trivia Race” end game, this show was a boring, a dull version Double Dare, and didn’t last for more than 13 weeks. F.Y.I: The only time we would see someone getting slimed on that show was at the end of the game when only one player on the losing team got slimed.

Think Fast: So why was this one of the worst kids’ game shows ever?: The first and second season with Michael Carrington. The first season of Think Fast was poorly produced with several gaps in between each stunt where the crew did not have the next stunt already prepared causing the host to constantly improvise. The set, game play, and even the Locker Room bonus game were horribly disorganized, leading to the host and contestants not knowing what to do most of the time. It also didn’t help that the host was boring, uninteresting, and just as clueless as the contestants were. Click here to watch a first season episode and judge for yourself.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article where I will be reviewing the new ABC game show, 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show.

(1) West, Kay (1996-02-28). “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”. Nashville Banner: p. A.1. “On cable television, Douglas believes Nickelodeon is doing the best job of producing programming that presents positive images to young girls, citing Rugrats, Secret World of Alex Mack, Clarissa Explains It All and Legends of the Hidden Temple as generally nonsexist and nonviolent.”
(2) Katz, Frances (1995-04-09). “Secrets of the `Temple’: Behind the scenes at Nickelodeon’s hit game show”. Boston Herald: pp. 12. “‘Kids love this show,’ says co-producer Brendan Huntington, citing the combination of athletic skill and brainpower and the Indiana Jones-type setting as being particularly popular with kids aged 11–14 . . . ‘We want the kids to feel like they really are right inside an “Indiana Jones” movie duking it out to the end,’ says co-producer David Greenfield.”
(3) Marc Summers, Part 2 (starts at 4:10)
**All screenshots have been taken from the actual episodes of Fun House, Finders Keepers, Nickelodeon GUTS, Global GUTS, My Family’s Got GUTS, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Super Sloppy Double Dare, and Family Double DareNo ownership is implied.**  

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