‘Floor Is Lava’ bubbles to top of silly shows

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Bill Keveney

Re­mem­ber that child­hood game where you jumped from chair to couch to ot­toman to avoid a floor of imag­i­nary molten lava – and, hope­fully, • parental scold­ing? h Pro­duc­ers of Net­flix’s wild new re­al­ity TV com­pe­ti­tion, “Floor Is Lava” (now stream­ing), took that lit­er­ally, save for the ac­tual magma.

In “Lava,” teams of friends and fam­ily mem­bers try to get from one side of a room to the other, jump­ing on beds, ta­bles and chairs, inch­ing along walls and lit­er­ally swing­ing from chan­de­liers to avoid dis­ap­pear­ing into a steam­ing sea of red­dish-orange liq­uid.

Rooms range from kitchen and bed­room to a plan­e­tar­ium with an Apollo cap­sule, all fea­tur­ing odd and out­size ar­ti­facts. The goal: Get as many team­mates to to the exit as quickly as pos­si­ble with­out fall­ing into the liq­uid, which spells in­stant elim­i­na­tion for any con­tes­tant.

“Lava,” hosted by Rut­ledge Wood (“Top Gear”), isn’t alone in TV’s sum­mer of silli­ness, an es­capist al­ter­na­tive to the re­al­ity of COVID-19 and so­cial and po­lit­i­cal un­rest. ABC has “Don’t” and mini-golf-themed “Ho­ley Mo­ley”; CBS has “Game On,” and Fox plays “Ul­ti­mate Tag.”

For now, “Lava” ap­pears to be the stand­out en­try, top­ping Net­flix’s list of the Top 10 U.S. ti­tles the week­end of its re­lease on June 19, and this week. Each win­ning three-per­son team gets $10,000 and a $29 lava lamp, or “vol­cano of vic­tory,” as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Irad Eyal calls it. “We wanted it to feel like an ac­tion-ad­ven­ture movie, like ‘Night at the Mu­seum’ or ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (and) give ev­ery­body the op­por­tu­nity to do all of the things that you were for­bid­den by your par­ents to do when you played at home,” Eyal says. Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Me­gan McGrath says “Lava” strikes a chord and makes for fun fam­ily view­ing: “We al­ways thought it was a good idea, but right now it’s sort of the per­fect storm of ter­ri­ble­ness in the world, and peo­ple re­ally need a laugh. … We’re get­ting so many videos and pic­tures of kids play­ing it at home while they’re watch­ing. It’s a won­der­ful thing to see.” Eyal and McGrath ex­plain what goes into stag­ing “Lava.” Ques­tion: Where did the idea for this show, which was filmed last sum­mer, come from? Me­gan McGrath: At Christ­mas a cou­ple of years ago, I was vis­it­ing my par­ents in Penn­syl­va­nia. I went into the base­ment. It hadn’t

changed at all since I was a kid, and it all came flood­ing back to me. I re­mem­bered play­ing for hours with my brother, jump­ing from the couch to the cof­fee ta­ble and throw­ing the cush­ions on the ground to act like lily pads to get away from the lava. And I re­al­ized we could make it into a pretty epic game show.

Q: Where did you shoot a show that re­quired an elab­o­rate set with a huge tank to hold a vol­cano’s worth of liq­uid?

Irad Eyal: A lot of Hol­ly­wood stu­dios turned us down be­cause they did not want 100,000 gal­lons of lava on their sets. We ended up film­ing it in an old IKEA in Bur­bank, which was a per­fect space be­cause it was enor­mous and struc­turally sound enough to sup­port all of the lava.

Q: What is the lava made of?

Eyal: We can’t give away our for­mula, mostly be­cause we spent months fig­ur­ing it out. We had a com­pany set up a lab­o­ra­tory where we tested all dif­fer­ent for­mu­la­tions. We wanted it to be the right color, the right vis­cos­ity, the right slip­per­i­ness. It has slimy prop­er­ties (and) a cer­tain glow. … They were also in­vent­ing dif­fer­ent ways to make the lava bub­ble, smoke and ex­plode. … They had things called belch­ers, bub­blers, smok­ers and blow­ers that got the lava to re­act the way we wanted it to.

Q: How deep is the lava?

Eyal: That’s an­other thing that’s un­der wraps, but the goal was safety. We wanted to make sure that they could fall from 10 feet up and not get hurt. (No con­tes­tants were in­jured, he said.)

Q: How did you design the rooms and the var­i­ous es­cape routes?

McGrath: We wanted it to be an open course where there there’s no one answer. We want the teams to solve it cre­atively, so we had to make sure there were tons of dif­fer­ent routes that peo­ple could take. … Spoiler alert: In Episode 8, there is a girl named Ari and she goes a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way that we had never seen be­fore. No­body on our team had thought it was pos­si­ble. It was amaz­ing.

Q: How much do con­tes­tants know in ad­vance about the course, es­pe­cially se­cret tools such as the staff on the wall or the key in the pizza oven?

Eyal: We didn’t tell them any­thing about it dur­ing cast­ing. They didn’t even know the name of the show. They would come to the set and see it and fig­ure it out for the first time. They knew there were ob­jects that could trans­form the play­ing field, things they could ma­nip­u­late. We let them know ev­ery­thing is in play, feel free to move stuff, grab stuff, jump and lean on things – just so they would know that they were free to go nuts.

Q: When con­tes­tants fall into the lava, they dis­ap­pear. Do you stop film­ing when they emerge?

Eyal: The goal of the show was the game you played as a kid has come to life. So we don’t want to do any­thing to break the il­lu­sion of it. What I can tell you is ev­ery­body on the show worked hard to fig­ure out ways to have them plunge into the lava with­out get­ting singed, burned, drowned, in­jured. All those con­tes­tants want to come back and play again. They all sur­vived.


“Floor Is Lava” host Rut­ledge Wood watches a spurt­ing molten foun­tain of red on the show’s jaw-drop­ping set.

A con­tes­tant watches his team­mate fall to his molten demise in Net­flix’s pop­u­lar new re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tion, “Floor Is Lava.”


A triplet trio eval­u­ates an es­cape route on “Floor Is Lava.”

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