floor is lava

I’m Obsessed With This Extremely Low-Stakes Game Show

Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

By 8 p.m. every day, I am so tired. In the pre-pandemic days, this would have been around the time I started dinner. But now, I need about two hours of Savasana-like activities so that by the time I lie down, my brain is like a squeegee, wrung out and ready to dry.

That means I need something fun to watch, but not so much that my brain gets flooded with too much dopamine. I want the streaming version of beans: something satiating and satisfying and completely unsexy. Tiger King is too chaotic. Crash Landing on You puts me into a K-hole of Googling photos of Hyun Bin’s jawline. As it turns out, the perfect show for right now is a cheesy game show called Floor Is Lava.

Floor Is Lava is the silliest show of summer. It’s a mix of all the Nickelodeon game shows you watched as a kid: Guts meets Total Wipeout. The objective is to lily-pad from one side of an obstacle-filled room to the other, without touching the floor, which is lava. The décor of the show is campy hellscape, with room themes like “space” and “pizzeria,” and the lava — the most important character in the show, gurgles and churns moodily below all of the obstacles, looking like hot, sticky, red Kool-Aid. (The actual recipe for the lava is a trade secret, but Lava producers jokingly told Fast Company that the lava most closely resembles Panda Express orange sauce). Contestants have to hop onto spinning beds, couches, stools, and tables. In more dramatic cases, they need to take a running leap to cling onto props like a dangling 12-feet mozzarella stick or a canoe with monkey bars. Sometimes, as a contestant is gearing up to make a big leap or an aggressive lunge, the lava will swell on cue, and nab them in the butt. When someone misjudges a jump, the lava engulfs them head-to-toe, and the camera zooms in on the whirlpool they leave behind.

Unlike the jacked-up superstars of American Ninja Warrior, who drink blended chicken breast for breakfast, Floor Is Lava contestants all seem like people of average athletic prowess. They’re trios of schoolteachers, flight attendants, Little League dads, female gamers, or self-proclaimed “Mama’s Boys.” No one is trying to show off by wearing only a sports bra. I’m not even sure if any of them have abs.

There is no blood, no tears, and very little sweat. The contestants aren’t seeking fame or glory. They’re seeking to be able to split $10,000 three-ways, after tax. “I’m going to use it to get Boyz II Men to come to my wedding,” one contestant says confidently. Although too many of the contestants do make the odd choice to jump face-first, no one appears terribly hurt. And the only vigorous debate that this show will ignite in your group chats is over how far everyone thinks they can jump. Some nights I think I could jump four feet, but other times I fall asleep thinking I could probably do five.

I’m Obsessed With This Extremely Low-Stakes Game Show