14 Wild Facts About Double Dare
By Jake Rossen
Some game shows will reward you with cars and cash prizes for being smart and intuitive. Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, which ran from 1986 to 1993 and taped more than 500 episodes, gave its kid contestants bicycles or boom boxes in exchange for fetching giant balls of snot from oversized noses.
To celebrate Double Dare's return (it will make its triumphant return to Nickelodeon tonight), we thought we’d drop some facts on the show’s history, the comedian originally set to host, and how one kid wound up snapping a bone in half on the perpetually hazardous course.
1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY MOUSE TRAP.
While kicking around ideas for a kid-oriented game show, Nickelodeon executive—and Double Dare co-creator—Geoffrey Darby recalled that a staffer brought up the classic board game Mouse Trap, which invited players to lure a (fake) mouse into a custom-built holding pen. Darby picked up on the thread, pitching the series as a Rube Goldberg machine that used people instead of balls.
2. DANA CARVEY WAS OFFERED THE HOSTING GIG.
Before settling on onetime magician Marc Summers, Double Dare looked at hundreds of host candidates. Soupy Sales, a comedian who had a popular kids’ show in the 1950s, was considered; so was Dana Carvey, who was reportedly offered the job on the same day he was invited to join Saturday Night Live. He opted for the sketch show, leaving the slot open for Summers.
3. THE VERY FIRST OBSTACLE COURSE WAS A DISASTER.
For the uninitiated, Double Dare typically pitted two teams against one another in a series of increasingly difficult—and disgusting—challenges, culminating with a run through a slime- and cream-covered obstacle course. When the show taped its first episode in September 1986, producers directed the contestants to find a flag hidden in a giant bag of feathers. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to hide the flag. On take two, the contestant was so rough with the feathers they didn’t see the flag had been gently placed within easy view. On the third take, a cameraman fell into the frame. They got it on the fourth try.
4. THE SET HAD ITS OWN SEWAGE SYSTEM.
Although Double Dare began on a studio set at a Philadelphia television station, it eventually moved to Nickelodeon’s home base in Orlando, Florida. The stage—which was usually filled with tourists visiting Universal Studios Orlando—was built specifically to accommodate the overflow of disgusting waste material created by the production. A sewage system allowed crew members to mop the glop off the floor and directly into grates. The “clean team” went through between 600 and 1000 towels per taping to erase any residual signs of slime.
5. THE STAGE WAS A TOTAL SLIPPING HAZARD.
No matter how much the crew steam-cleaned, vacuumed, or mopped, the bathroom-like tile of the stage floor maintained its essential sheen of foot-slipping gloss. The crew eventually grew accustomed to sliding across the set in tiny shuffle steps, similar to how you’d navigate a frozen-over driveway.
6. THERE WAS ONE GRUESOME INJURY.
Despite a space that would never pass OSHA standards, surprisingly few participants were ever actually harmed during taping of Double Dare—with one exception. During one obstacle, a child running across the floor slipped, braced himself, and snapped his arm so severely the bone poked through the skin. Summers would later recall that the kid had lied on his application and may have had a preexisting health condition that made his bones more brittle. Because he wanted to appear on the show so badly, he didn’t mention it.
7. “GAK” WAS A SLANG TERM FOR HEROIN—AND SLIME.
It was inevitable that Double Dare would spawn a series of tie-in products, including board games and apparel. The show also helped licensees create GAK, a rubbery, goopy substance meant to mimic the slime seen on the series. The name came from crew members who worked on the show as a kind of homage to the street term for heroin, a factoid that went over most parents' heads.
8. THEY USED A THREE-TRIES RULE FOR NEW CHALLENGES.
After designing a new obstacle, producers would invite kids from the Philadelphia area on non-shoot days to give it a shot. If a child couldn’t get through it in three tries, the idea would be scrapped.
9. IT USED TONS OF FOOD.
In 1987, The New York Times convinced a show staffer to tabulate the gross amount of food material used during a typical taping of the show. Their tally: 50 gallons of whipped cream, 30 gallons of slime, dozens of eggs, and 100 cubic feet of popcorn. To offset concerns over food waste, the production used as much past-dated canned material or other past-due goods as they could.
10. PEOPLE WENT BONKERS OVER THE SHOW.
While kids were delighted to have a game show that rewarded sloppiness, they weren’t the only ones watching. After just nine months on the air, Double Dare fan clubs popped up at Cornell and Ohio State University; the production received more than 10,000 letters every month, with a portion coming from parents griping that they had to postpone dinner because their kids insisted on viewing the messy show precisely at 5:30 p.m.
11. SUMMERS HAS HOSTED BOOTLEG VERSIONS.
With Nickelodeon wary of producing a full-blown revival of the series—the Summers-less Double Dare 2000 was not fondly received—the host has taken to emceeing unlicensed versions of the show for locally organized events. Every year, Summers hosts Dunkel Dare, a beer-themed challenge attraction that takes place during Philadelphia’s Beer Week.
12. SUMMERS WAS BELOVED BY SOME MOMS.
For years, Summers and Double Dare toured the country, doing live shows for crowds who were eager to try out the obstacles but couldn’t get to Orlando. After the live show, Summers would typically meet with fans to sign autographs. “There were all the mothers who would hand me their telephone numbers during the meet-and-greet after the show and tell me to call them when their husbands weren’t home,” he told People. “There was all sorts of nutty stuff going on.”
13. THEY DIDN’T ENDORSE JUST ANYTHING.
As alien a concept as it may seem today, Nickelodeon didn’t want to slap the Double Dare brand on anything that came along. The show turned down $1 million offered by watchmaker Casio to be the “official” time clock of the series; according to Summers, the network also refused another $1 million to license a Double Dare cereal.
14. THEY DID OFFER A CAR—ONCE.
With a tight budget, the original Double Dare generally kept the threshold for prizes low. In 1987, producers awarded a miniature automobile to a winning team strictly for their own amusement. Said executive producer Geoffrey Darby: “We wanted to be able to hear a kid scream, ‘It’s a new car!’”