'It sucked': Legends of the Hidden Temple, as remembered by a former contestant

The Temple Run, the final round of Legends of the Hidden Temple, was among the greatest spectacles in 1990s children's television. Unless you were the one doing the running -- in which case, a one-time contestant recalls, it was terrible.

When I wrote my retrospective on Nickelodeon's Legends of the Hidden Temple, I imagined that I was embellishing a bit.

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Surely it wasn't that awful. Surely the Temple Guards weren't that scary. Well, as luck would have it, a former contestant on the show saw the piece and offered to talk about her time on Hidden Temple.

Keeli, then 12 years old, appeared on the "Stone Marker of Leif Erikson" episode. By the time their Temple Run began, Keeli and her Red Jaguars teammate had spent the last 12 hours advancing through various rounds of competition, including the Steps of Knowledge, in which they were given a brief history lesson and answered a series of trivia questions accordingly.

"To be honest," Keeli says, "I thought we were pretty much dead in the water on the Steps of Knowledge because my partner was an abject idiot." Keeli did all her team's work on her own, correctly answering all three of her questions to send the Red Jaguars forward in the tournament.

The Temple Run was held in a maze of over a dozen rooms, full of ladders, switches, puzzles and Temple Guards. Over the 120-episode run of the show, only 32 teams would ever win the Temple Run round. Of course, neither Keeli nor anyone else knew that. "If I recall correctly, we were the first day of filming for the first season of this show, so I don't think the show-runners had really any idea that this game was practically impossible for a kid between the ages of 12 and 14 to complete."

Keeli and her teammate were allowed a guided tour of the Temple, during which they were shown the locations of various doors and switches. When I watched this show as a kid, I always wondered whether this was so, because there is no way Olmec's set of instructions would have sufficed:

That's 163 words of instructions from Olmec, during which he mentioned 14 rooms to enter and six different puzzles to solve. To boot, Olmec spoke in uncertainties: You might want to go into this room. You could solve this puzzle. Keeli did not find this particularly helpful. "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 Temple was quite an ambitious set for a game show, and on the first day of shooting, glitches abounded. A bucket lift in one room seems to have been completely missing. Several doors didn't open properly. Keeli actually had to start the Temple Run three times, as the first two were halted due to faulty equipment.

She benefited from this, since it afforded her some practice navigating since the first few rooms. Indeed, in the opening seconds of the run, Keeli's flying.

"But then we get to the Bamboo Forest, and the wheels completely came off."

The Temple Guards are a completely unfair element of the Temple Run. If the player doesn't have a pendant to spare, he or she is immediately kicked out of the Temple. And since the Guards are hiding in completely random places, there's no means of avoiding them.

Competition, generally speaking, offers plenty of unknown variables of its own. There's no reason to throw elements of pure luck into the works, especially if they make the difference between a win and a loss. You wouldn't put up with that in a video game, much less a contest with actual prizes at stake. So what are the Temple Guards there for?

Scaring the Hell out of kids, apparently. The Temple Guards, Keeli says, "are the scariest thing imaginable. Nothing is scarier and I will stand by that statement until the day I die.

"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. 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."

Since Keeli was carrying a pendant, she was allowed to escape the Temple Guard and move forward.

Where she ran into another Temple Guard.

"When the second Guard got me and ushered me through that little door to the back of the set, I just burst into tears. I was scared. I was tired.

"I'm 31 and 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 ..."

"Have you ever been to Busch Gardens? It's a shitshow."

Legends of the Hidden Temple was re-run for several years. Each time her episode aired, she said, a different grand prize was featured than the one that was actually at stake. One was a trip to Universal Studios -- which is where the show was being filmed in the first place.

The actual grand prize, which she wasn't made aware of until the episode aired, was a trip to Busch Gardens. I asked her whether it hurt to fall just short.

"Have you ever been to Busch Gardens? It's a shitshow."

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