Nickelodeon’s Legends of the Hidden Temple was one of the most entertaining kids’ shows of the 1990s. But while it may have been a joy to watch, it was an absolute nightmare to take part in. Here’s a look at why the action-adventure game show caused its contestants such despair.
Created by Scott A. Stone, Stephen Brown and David G. Stanley, Legends of the Hidden Temple first aired on Nickelodeon in 1993. The action-adventure game show focused on a lost treasure-filled temple protected by Mayan temple guards. It was hosted by Kirk Fogg, who also helped to guide the teams around the temple.
The main objective of the show was to discover a particular reminder of the past hidden in the temple. The six teams (each consisting of one girl and one boy) had to use their knowledge of mythology, history and geography in their quest. They also had to partake in various physical pursuits.
Alongside host Fogg, Legends of the Hidden Temple’s other regular was a talking and very wise Olmec, a boulder head voiced by Dee Bradley Baker. The show was filmed at Universal Studios’ Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. It aired for two years before being taken off air in 1995.
Aged between 11 and 14, most of the show’s contestants hailed from the surrounding Orlando area. Auditioners had to undergo numerous physical challenges such as running and rope climbing to make it on to the show. They also had to prove they were good with words by taking a written test.
Legends of the Hidden Temple’s elaborate set design was inspired by the Indiana Jones franchise. It consisted of several different areas including the Steps of Knowledge and the vertical multi-floor labyrinth named The Hidden Temple. Each episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple was themed around a story that was all about an artifact that could be discovered in the temple.
Artifacts included the Broken Wing of Icarus, the Jewel-Encrusted Egg of Catherine the Great and the Electrified Key of Benjamin Franklin. While some of these were based on real history, others were entirely fictional. Each Legends of the Temple team was nicknamed after a particular colorful animal. These included the Green Monkeys, Blue Barracudas, Red Jaguars, Purple Parrots, Silver Snakes and Orange Iguanas.
In the show’s first round, each of the six teams had to undergo a physical challenge to cross The Moat. Rope swinging, climbing and swimming were just some of the methods used. The four fastest teams made it through to the next round while the slowest two were eliminated.
The second round required a bit more brainpower. Each team had to listen to Olmec giving a history lesson about a particular legend and its related artifact. After finishing, the talking head asked numerous questions about the lesson, which tested the contestants’ memory. The first team to hit a signal on their particular Step of Knowledge and correctly answer could then step down to the next level.
The first two pairs to make it to the bottom level after getting three questions right made it through to round three. The Temple Games saw both teams attempt to win Pendants of Life by taking on three different physical tasks. The team with the most pendants at the end of the round earned the honor of entering the temple.
The Nickelodeon show’s exciting finale saw the remaining team attempt to track down and leave with the relevant artifact hidden in the temple within three minutes. One contestant would first wander into the temple with a full pendant. The other would be on standby to enter should their teammate be thwarted by a temple guard.
There were 12 theme-specific rooms in the temple including the King’s Storeroom, the Shrine of the Silver Monkey and the Throne Room. Contestants could enter these adjacent rooms through doorways but were sometimes blocked with one that was locked. However, these could be unlocked if they surmounted a particular challenge.
The remaining team could also be thwarted by the temple guards who stood outside three of the 12 rooms. Dressed in full Mayan sentinel clothing, these guards would confiscate a full pendant whenever they came across a contestant. If there wasn’t a full pendant left to confiscate, then the contestant would be removed from the temple. Their teammate would then enter to try their luck.
This contestant’s quest was made easier by the fact that the guard who caught out their teammate would also be removed from the temple. All the doors previously unopened or unlocked would remain so too. However, if they were caught by a second guard without a full pendant, then their team’s journey would finish on the spot.
Once a contestant discovered the artifact hidden in one of the 12 rooms, then each and every door would unlock. All remaining temple guards would also disappear. The contestant then had to leave the temple with the artefact before the three-minute time limit ran out.
The remaining team were guaranteed a prize just for making it to the final round. However, they would pick up a better one if they discovered the artifact. And if they left the temple with it in the allotted time, then they would win both the grand prize and the two that they had already earned.
In 2016 the game show inspired a feature-length TV movie, which aired on Nickelodeon. Directed by Joe Menendez, Legends of the Hidden Temple starred Isabela Moner, Colin Critchley and Jet Jurgensmeyer as three siblings who visit a Hidden Temple theme park during a jungle tour. Named, Sadie, Noah and Dudley, the kids then ditch the tour to explore the temple’s wonders.
Once inside, the youngsters must undertake a series of challenges to help the temple’s civilization come back to life. However, if they prove to be unsuccessful, they risk being forced to spend the rest of their lives in the temple. Dee Bradley Baker returned to reprise her original game show role as Olmec, while former host Kirk Hogg played a tour guide.
The TV movie version of Legends of the Hidden Temple pulled in an impressive 1.6 million viewers on its 2016 premiere. A year later Pressman capitalized on the renewed interest in the franchise by producing a board game tie-in through Target. But not everyone was happy to jump on the nostalgia bandwagon.
Indeed, after a rather scathing retrospective of the show published on SB Nation, a former contestant contacted the site to relive her experiences as a contestant. Keeli competed on the “Stone Marker of Leif Erikson” episode at the age of 12 as a member of the Red Jaguars team. And her whole day of filming took no less than an exhausting 12 hours to complete.
Keeli told SB Nation that she hadn’t been particularly happy with the Red Jaguars teammate she had been lumbered with. She said, “To be honest, I thought we were pretty much dead in the water on the Steps of Knowledge because my partner was an abject idiot.” And things didn’t get any better when she progressed to The Temple Run after correctly answering every question on her own.
Indeed, Keeli went on to discuss both the impracticality and impossibility of the show’s final round. She said, “If I recall correctly, we were the first day of filming for the first season of this show. So I don’t think the showrunners had really any idea that this game was practically impossible for a kid between the ages of 12 and 14 to complete.”
Keeli first realized how difficult the challenge would be when she and her teammate were given a Temple Run tour, which took in the 12 rooms and its overwhelming array of puzzles, switches and ladders. And their task wasn’t made any clearer by the confusing and very brief instructions given by Olmec. In fact, the talking head’s words only made things worse.
Keeli said, “Imagine being 12, being tired, and then you have to listen really closely to a talking rock that may or may not be telling you how to get the item you’re looking for. I tried my best. But after a while, it just sounded a lot like the teacher from Charlie Brown.”
The Red Jaguars also weren’t helped by the sheer number of on-set problems that occurred during the filming of their episode. A vital bucket lift was entirely absent from one particular room, and doors failed to open. Faulty equipment also meant that Keeli had to begin her Temple Run on three separate occasions.
But Keeli revealed that the worst part of the whole experience was bumping into one of the imposing temple guards. She told SB Nation that the guards “are the scariest thing imaginable. Nothing is scarier and I will stand by that statement until the day I die. In looking back, there were a lot of red flags that I should’ve caught on to.”
Keeli continued, “I was a marked gal from the moment we did our temple walk-through. I asked if temple guards could pop out of the peanuts in the Bamboo Forest. And what happened? Yup. You guessed it. I was SO deathly afraid of going into that room, and I obviously had reason to be.”
Keeli admits that the experience still affects her to this day. She said, “I can’t go to haunted houses. I’m deathly afraid of things popping out of closets and doors, etc., at me. I can’t watch scary movies where things jump out and scare people. Can I say that this is directly related to that? No, not 100 percent, but …”
The Red Jaguars didn’t emerge victorious that day, but Keeli claims that the Grand Prize still wouldn’t have made the whole ordeal worthwhile. She and her teammate would have won a trip to theme park Busch Gardens had they exited the temple with the artifact. But Keeli asked SB Nation, “Have you ever been to Busch Gardens? It’s a s***show.”
In 2018 another former contestant named Nicole opened up to Cracked about her experience on the show, beginning with the ruthless audition process. She said, “They were looking for certain kids. Half were boys, half were girls, but to me they picked it almost like a jury. Really hyper kids were knocked out… crabby kids were gone. Kids who didn’t know Nick were gone.”
Nicole then discussed the hardships of filming The Moat challenge. “I was waiting backstage, and you saw half the people wet and crying and half the people less wet and ecstatic. There was a girl backstage from the orange team from another group, and she was spitting up water and gasping when she sat down.”
Nicole also claimed that the show’s team didn’t do much to calm the contestants’ fears. She said, “My partner, and most of the other kids, looked scared. The person at the beginning lane told us what to do before Kirk Fogg, the host, could. I remember asking him, ‘What if we drown?’ and he just laughed and didn’t answer my question.”
And like fellow contestant Keeli, Nicole wasn’t too happy about whom she had been teamed up with. She told Cracked, “My partner was an idiot. He didn’t know who Montezuma was, despite the talking head explaining that and a producer telling us before we went on. Seriously. I’ve already been divorced once now, and I’m more angry about my partner messing that up in 1993.”
Nicole also revealed how her illusions of the TV-making process had been shattered. She added, “On the other side of those sets, like the Temple Run, it was bare plywood… they didn’t bother painting the side not on camera. Look, we knew it wasn’t an actual temple or anything, but you’d think they’d put out some trivial effort to make it less sad for the contestants.”
Nicole also spoke about how many of her fellow contestants, just like Keeli, had been left traumatized by the temple guards. One told her, “My grandpa told me what a heart attack felt like, and I think I had one when he [a guard] popped out.” Another admitted to Nicole that she had suffered nightmares for years after bumping into one.
And although host Fogg largely enjoyed his experience on the show, he also recalled an incident that may have scarred one particular contestant for life. In a 2016 interview with The A.V. Club, he said, “We only had one girl who threw up. But it was in the middle of the Pit Of Despair, which I thought was apropos.”
“And then we had to cut,” Fogg continued. “Everything shut down, and we had to clean the balls. And we had to set her back in there and wipe her tears because she was crying hysterically, and put her back in there and set the clock back up and go again.
And in a 2007 interview with College Humor, Fogg admitted that each episode’s lengthy shoot did end up taking its toll on most contestants. He said, “I think the toughest thing was that we shot four shows a day doing all the moat crossings first. Then the steps, then the games, then, finally, after 12 hours – the Temple Run.”
And the behind-the-scenes team didn’t exactly help matters when it came to the on-set catering. Hogg added, “Kids were generally wiped out, so keeping their energy levels up was difficult, especially after lunch where they were always given pizza. I believe that slowed them down.”
In fact, in 120 episodes of Legends of the Hidden Temple, only 30 kids managed to walk away with the Grand Prize. And in a chat with Great Big Story, Hogg revealed why that was the case. He said, “The producers were only allowed to give out eight championships a year. There was a budget, and that’s the truth of that.”