Entertainment

What It Was Really Like to Be on ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’

“Give her credit though, she composed herself while the crew cleaned [the vomit] out of the pit.”
June 2, 2021, 2:55pm
olmec from legends of the hidden temple
Image via Paramount Plus

If you were a kid in 1993, you probably mumbled through everything but the ‘A licky boom boom down’ parts of Snow’s inescapable “Informer,” you talked about the poop scene in Jurassic Park for a full week, and you spent a tremendous amount of time watching Nickelodeon shows like GUTS, Double Dare, and anything else that came on before Nick News

That year, Nickelodeon premiered a new show that it hoped would be a mouthguard-wearing mashup of Jeopardy! and the Indiana Jones movies. Legends of the Hidden Temple was the Orlando-based network’s fourth game show, and each episode was based around historic legends that probably weren’t fact-checked and an associated artefact (The Electrified Key of Benjamin Franklin, the Enormous Nose Ring of Babe the Ox) that had to be recovered from one of the title temple’s 12 rooms. The show also involved a talking stone head named Olmec, chambray-and-khaki-clad host Kirk Fogg, and the kind of obstacle course that required both elbow pads and mesh water shoes. 

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Nickelodeon produced 120 episodes of Legends of the Hidden Temple during its original run, and it feels like the reruns have never not been on the air. (The entire series is currently available on Paramount Plus.) A not-for-kids version of the show was supposed to happen on Quibi, but the streaming platform had a shorter lifespan than your 4th grade class pet. That idea has recently been resurrected by The CW though, and it’s currently casting for an all-adult Hidden Temple reboot.  

“The audience asked for it,” Scott Stone, who co-created and executive produced the OG show, told VICE. “Of all the shows I have done, Legends is THE show I get asked about the most, particularly with millennials.” 

Stone, whose company is also behind the reboot, was politely evasive when asked whether Fogg or Dee Bradley Baker, the voice behind Olmec’s oversized head, would be coming back for the new version. He also didn’t give too much away about the show’s new format or what kind of challenges the next-gen Silver Snakes and Blue Barracudas—yes, the teams will still be the same—would have to face. 

Twelve-Year-Old Me would’ve ruined her Limited Too shorts if she’d gotten a chance to do the Temple Run, but I had to live vicariously through the kids who were able to compete on the show. And now 20-ish years later—please don’t do the math, I swear I’m still young—I’m still doing that. I recently reached out to Fogg and three former contestants, to find out what happened during their auditions, what playing (and hosting) the game was like, and what kind of prizes they shoved in their suitcases before they left Orlando. 

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“I sometimes think I blacked out the entire audition. I was really excited to be in a studio and I was just hyped up the whole time with excitement,” writer and comedian Ely Kreimendahl told me. “There was a bunch of academic testing, because there’s that weird reading-comprehension segment, where you hear the Legend for like one second and then you have to answer questions about it. There were some language comprehension tests that felt very much like school, and then there was physical testing like obstacle courses similar to what they do on the show.” 

Kreimendahl said that she left the audition feeling...not-great about her chances of being cast in the show. “I was kind of an awkward kid, and if you saw my episode, my braces—it was at the height of before I got cuter,” she said. “I was very hormonal and weird looking, and I do remember seeing those blessed adorable 12-year-old girls running around and thinking ‘Oh, they probably want those girls with the shiny ponytails.’” 

When the contestants were called back to Nickelodeon Studios to actually film the show, they spent most of their time waiting in a room filled with other nervous tweens, because multiple episodes were filmed in a single day. “We all got there in the morning, and they just called people’s names off and paired us up with our partners,” Derrick Kujak, a Season Two contestant said. “They sat everyone in a huge room and said ‘Some of you will be here for an hour or two, and some of you will be here all day long.’” 

The contestants met their partners on the day of filming, and that was just as uncomfortable as you’d imagine for a bunch of pre-teens. “It wasn’t like ‘Hey I’m coming with my friend, and we want to be on the show together,’” Matt Resnick explained. “You were just given your shirt, told ‘This is your teammate,’ and then you went on the show. I was 12 or 13 and she was a girl I didn’t know, so I was super shy about it. There was no lasting friendship [after the show].” 

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The filming of the show went slowly. “They were long and challenging days,” Fogg said. “The first season was particularly challenging, as we were a new show, and we were scrambling to get it up on its feet. We typically did four shows a day and shot it out of order, so all of the moat crossings were first, then the Steps of Knowledge, the Temple Games, and finally the Temple Run. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted. I’d never hosted a show, and this being a very complicated production, I was completely overwhelmed.” 

Sometimes the contestants got overwhelmed too, in the worst possible way. Fogg confirmed that the well-circulated internet rumor about a female contestant puking all over the Pit of Despair wasn’t just a rumor. “She had gotten to the Pit—which comes early in the run—and I believe she got caught on the bottom with all of the pit balls,” he said. “She wasn’t tall so she was just kind of swimming in them...I could see she was distraught, then she suddenly threw up. We were all kind of stunned, and the show was stopped. She broke down in tears, and we ran over to help. Give her credit though, she composed herself while the crew cleaned the pit.” 

When it came to actually playing the game, Kreimendahl and Kujak both had better days than Resnick. “We were eliminated in the first round,” he sighed. “If you got eliminated in the first round, they let you go on again, or something like that. This sounds terrible, but my partner wasn’t the best, so I was like ‘Alright, if we’re going back on, I need to try to elevate us a little bit.’ On the next show, the first round was something like jumping on a raft and going across a pool, and I remember really getting a running start, jumping on the raft...and just completely sliding off. Two shows, first round, both times. My extra bravado just ruined us.” 

Kujak and his partner made it to the Temple Run, where they had to try to find The Lost Love Letter of Captain John Smith. Before filming, they were given time to look over a map of the temple complex, which means they didn’t have to rely on Olmec’s completely unhelpful directions, which were always like “You could run into the Room of the Three Gargoyles, press the last silenced tongue, and then choose your next path up the hidden staircase into the Tomb of the Ancient Kings, or down the fire escape into the Sweltering Parking Lot of Despair.” 

Kujak was taken out by a Temple Guard, so the Red Jaguars’ chances rested on his partner’s slim shoulders. “She made it past where I did, but she struggled [to put the snakes in] Medusa’s head,” he said. “She just could not get it to work, and it was super frustrating because it just wasted all of the time that we had left.” She was ultimately caught by another Temple Guard—you can hear her scream when she sees him—and instead of a grand prize trip to the Krystal Cancun resort, they each got a remote control car. 

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“I wanted [all of the contestants] to win,” Fogg said. “I found myself really rooting for someone a little extra if I’d learned a heartfelt backstory, challenge in their lives, or if they’d really gone through the wringer during their day of competing.” (He added that the freaking Silver Monkey puzzle was “sneaky hard” for the contestants to put together.) 

Kreimendahl was eventually knocked out of the game by two Temple Guards, which she said were “so much more terrifying” in real life than they looked on screen. And when she recently re-watched a clip of her episode, she was surprised by how culturally insensitive they looked. 

“They’re dressed in weirdly indigenous or native costuming,” she said. “It seems so inappropriate and harmful looking at it now, but there was obviously no conversation about that in the 1990s.” (Scott Stone suggested that the production team was already aware of that. “We are dedicated to equity, diversity and inclusion both on- and off-screen and are sensitive and attuned to the cultural changes that have taken place since the 90s,” he said.) 

Despite his disappointing run on Hidden Temple 1.0, Resnick said he’d probably be willing to give the new show a try. “I really regret not winning,” he said, sighing deeply. “I’m totally kidding. But it was a great experience, and I’d 100 percent audition to go back on as an adult.”