For Nickelodeon viewers whose tastes leaned more toward the cerebral than the booger-infested obstacle courses of Double Dare, the network had a solution: Legends of the Hidden Temple, the 1993-95 game show for history buffs that still had enough action to fill a Spielberg movie. Through four rounds of physical and intellectual challenges, two-member teams tried to navigate a massive Universal Studios set that looked like a Mayan minefield. Check out some facts on the show’s origins, why it made kids cry, and how it didn’t have the budget to let too many of its youthful contestants win.
1. THE GUARDS TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN.
If a team was able to successfully pass the show’s first three rounds—which included answering trivia on the Steps of Knowledge and crossing a giant moat—they were “rewarded” with an obstacle course inside the Temple that was a confusing mass of puzzles, rooms, and Temple Guards that would pop out to terrify the tired children. One contestant named Keeli told SBNation.com in 2013 that the sight of a Guard bursting from a hidden compartment on set reduced her to tears. “I'm 31 and I can't go to haunted houses,” she said. “I'm deathly afraid of things popping out of closets and doors.” Another contestant got so upset that she puked in the Pit of Despair.
2. PRODUCERS PICKED THE HOST ALMOST AT RANDOM.
Being a game show host takes a very unique skillset—though Nickelodeon and producers didn’t seem to care much about that one way or another. Host Kirk Fogg told Buzzfeed that he was more or less picked at random out of a headshot catalog and asked to audition by reading some play-by-play from a teleprompter. It was his first-ever hosting gig.
3. THERE WAS A MAN INSIDE OLMEC.
One of Temple’s most memorable elements was the giant head of Olmec, a faux-stone carving that would narrate the proceedings and offer underwhelming advice to the contestants. (The head's name was probably a nod to the Olmec, a civilization that predated the Maya and made giant stone heads.) According to Fogg, Dee Bradley Baker, the voice of Olmec, was actually inside of the 6-foot-tall head with a microphone and a script. As he spoke, he’d control the movement of the statue’s mouth with a lever. When he wasn’t talking, Baker would kick back in the head and read a book or jump out and watch the stunts.
4. THE FIRST EPISODE TOOK 18 HOURS TO SHOOT.
In addition to the expected production hang-ups typical of any inaugural episode, Temple had the added stresses of an elaborate set and physical challenges that were difficult to coordinate. Fogg told Albany’s WCDB Radio that their first contest took over 18 hours to shoot. By the time of the Temple Run, the exhausted contestants were sobbing. The show eventually worked out the kinks, getting a shooting day down to a far more manageable 12 hours. (They also had a nurse on set in case any kids keeled over. By all accounts, no children were seriously harmed.)
5. THE DARK FOREST SMELLED TERRIBLE.
Temple Guard and stunt supervisor Michael Lupia told a Legends fan site that his least-favorite room in the Temple was the Dark Forest. In addition to having to wait inside of a fake tree, the limbs cut into his arms and the entire room smelled like “three years’ worth of B.O.” (Foam rubber is not friendly to cast sweat.)
6. THE SILVER MONKEY WAS DECEPTIVELY DIFFICULT.
Many a viewer has screamed at their television watching incompetent adolescents try to assemble the seemingly simple Silver Monkey: There are only three parts. But according to Fogg, the reason contestants had so much trouble with it is because they were trying to do it with the monkey facing away from them, a clock running out, and the threat of Guards always looming. Easier said than done.
7. PRODUCERS COULDN'T LET TOO MANY KIDS WIN.
Fogg told Great Big Story in 2016 there was a good reason only 30-odd teams wound up finishing the final obstacle course out of the show’s 120 episodes: Producers didn’t have the budget to award a grand prize to too many kids. The Temple Run was designed to be incredibly difficult so they wouldn’t exceed their maximum allotment of eight prizes per season. (All of the kids got a pair of sneakers for competing, though.)
8. THE GRAND PRIZE WAS KIND OF MISLEADING.
Out of the limited prizes producers were allowed to give out, a trip to Universal Studios was often featured during the broadcast episode. This made little sense, as the contestants were often from the Orlando area where the show was taped on the Universal Studios lot. The “real” prize, according to one contestant, was a trip to Busch Gardens. Another contestant won a bike, a CD player, and a trip for two to Vermont.
9. THE KIDS WERE PAIRED AT RANDOM.
According to a former contestant named Anthony, the two-person teams were usually the result of kids being herded into a staging area and paired together at random by a production assistant. They’d have a few minutes to strap on their gear and get to know one another before falling into the moat. Not all of them got along, either: Keeli said she feared she'd be bounced from the show during the trivia portion because her partner was "an abject idiot."
10. IT WON A CABLEACE AWARD.
In 1995, the National Academy of Cable Programming honored Temple with their CableACE award for Best Game Show Special or Series. (Owing to the Emmys increasingly recognizing cable programs, the ceremony was discontinued in 1998.)
11. THERE WAS A TV MOVIE.
Since Legends was inspired by the action-adventure film genre—producer David Greenfield once said he wanted kids to feel like they were in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie—it was only fitting for it to eventually morph into one. Nickelodeon announced in 2016 that the show would be adapted into a live-action television movie about three kids faced with solving the puzzles of Olmec.
12. OLMEC WAS SOLD OFF TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER.
In 2002, Nickelodeon unloaded many of its props and set from their 1990s heyday to clear out their Universal Studios location. One ex-staffer told author Mathew Klickstein (Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon) that Olmec’s foam rubber head was up for sale. “I wanted to buy it,” he said, “but my wife would’ve killed me.”