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Wretches of the Hidden Temple: Cruelest game show, played by worst children

In the mid-1990s, hundreds of kids attempted the Temple Run in Nickelodeon's Legends of the Hidden Temple. Most of them failed, and miserably. Roll the tape.

Legends of the Hidden Temple was not a particularly good show, but it was notable for its "Temple Run" segment, in which emotionally fragile children were prodded through a disorienting maze in which they were expected to fulfill not-specific-enough instructions and complete a ridiculous array of trial-and-error puzzles within three minutes, a time constraint so overbearing that roughly 75 percent of the contestants failed.

Also, adults in costumes would jump out and scare them at random, putting a sudden, and completely unfair, end to a strange, televised day of answering trivia questions and completing Double-Dare-ish puzzles that suddenly unfolded into this ... this labyrinthine, frustrating, humiliating nightmare, in front of us all.


You're likely familiar with it if you grew up with cable television in the mid-1990s. I watched it, since Nickelodeon aired it quite often, but man did I not like it. In the Temple Run, the game show's final round, an 11-to-14-year-old kid was to find a prize by navigating through a series of rooms, many of which required him or her to complete a "puzzle" to unlock the door to the next area.

The majority of these weren't actually puzzles so much as an exercise in flipping switches until one of them worked. The contestant might have to sit in a series of thrones, or grab a torch and stick it into whichever pedestal happened to unlock the door. The show's producers often failed to clearly mark these things, and the result was an embarrassed, hopeless preteen meandering around a room on national television.

See, this is what I'm talking about.


The fretful coaching you hear is the voice of the show's host, Kirk Fogg. It really makes for some fantastic free verse poetry:

She's gonna have to go find a door
Gonna have to hit the door, the --
Gonna just have to hit the --
She gonna have to get a torch
Gonna have to get a torch and put it into one of the holes
One of the holes in the front, it's the room with the three torches
Right in front of you
The very front
You have to put it, the torch in the hole in the front
No! The other hole in the front
In the very front

I am 30 years old. If you sent me into that room with those instructions, and I was exhausted after a day of competing for prizes on television, that might be me up there. "The very front?" I would think. "What very front? In relation to how I entered, or the camera, or what? What is very front? ARE YOU VERY FRONT? AM I VERY FRONT? WHAT ARE DIRECTIONS? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF WORDS?" And then I would start blubbering and collapse on the floor. The fire department would have to remove my listless, sobbing person from the arena with an industrial cherry-picker.

I've always wondered whether the kids were given a tour of the temple off-camera before they actually played. If they were, that girl's confusion could easily be understood, since there are a lot of rooms and a lot of things to remember. And if they weren't -- and my hunch is that, no, they weren't -- God, that's cruel.


This poor kid drops into the room, then tries in vain to find the button that will open the next door. She begins to climb the ladder to return to where she came, but stops when Fogg warns her against it, and spends some more time wandering around the room, hitting things, trying to figure out what the Hell is supposed to be going on in that room.

She climbs up the ladder again. Fogg warns her again. She does not care. She is bailing, y'all.

It's important to note that this is from the first-ever episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple. If you've set up a children's game show, and the very first run through the final round overwhelms the kid so much that she just gives up and tries to leave, that should perhaps signal that you need to significantly reconsider what you've got going here. LOL NOPE DOIN' THIS FOR 120 EPISODES THOUGH.


I've watched a lot of Temple Runs during the last few days, and I'll tell you this: you see that resigned look quite often in this show. It's one of the things about the show that frustrated me as a kid. "If I were them," I reasoned, "I'd run through the whole thing."

Something clearly happens on the other side of that screen, though.


Under a time limit and with an audience of a million people, a simple three-piece puzzle basically turns into a search for the Higgs boson. The Shrine of the Silver Monkey is one of the only "puzzles" in the entire Temple Run that's actually a puzzle, albeit a simple one: you put the feet on the base, then the belly on the feet, then the head on top. As long as the pieces are turned around the right way, you're all set.

Two things about that: first, the room is designed for people of adult height. The monkey pieces are placed on shelves so high that shorter kids have to jump up and knock them down, and the puzzle base is certainly taller than it needs to be. You're playing head games, Nickelodeon. WITH CHILDREN. WHO HAVE SHOWN UP TO PLAY YOUR GAME BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT IT WOULD BE FUN.

Sigh. Second, the Silver Monkey is one of the final rooms, and by the time a contestent gets there, he or she is running out of time. So this kid is tired, flustered, hurried along, deafened by the roars of friends and family and Kirk Fogg's fret-coaching, and that is why this girl thinks it prudent to solve the puzzle by holding all three pieces at the same time and kind of just knocking them together.

That room ruined these kids, man. So many Temple Runs ended in the Shrine of the Silver Monkey, with the puzzle half-assembled. When I mentioned earlier that three-quarters of the final round's contestants failed to win, I wasn't joking. From TV Tropes:

Over the series' 120-episode run, just 32 Temple runs were completed successfully, for a win rate of 26.7%.

Now, please also consider that each episode started with 12 kids, who were eventually whittled down to two Temple Run contestants, which means that 4.4 percent of Legends of the Hidden Temple contestants actually won. As the show's host, Kirk Fogg did what he could to soften the blow.

Which wasn't much.


WELL DONE, set designers. You managed to engineer the Temple Run perfectly, such that it ended with a kid reaching in agony for the prize, mere inches away when the clock ran out. And Kirk Fogg is so sorry for you.

Fogg was in interesting territory: constantly having to deliver bad news ("you lost," "you're going the wrong way," "you're running out of time") while simultaneously trying to boost the kid's ego. His go-to phrase was always, "you did a great job! You did such a great job!" with the lauding, shirt-tucked-in-his-khakis timbre of a youth group pastor after a trust fall.


And, lastly ... we must visit this.


The full play-by-play:

Player 1 enters the Cave of Sighs.
Player 1 enters the Pit of Despair.
Player 1 enters the Throne Room (encounters Temple Guard, gives up pendant).
Player 1 re-enters the Pit of Despair.
Player 1 enters the Gargoyles Room.
Player 1 re-enters the Pit of Despair.
Player 1 re-enters the Throne Room.
Player 1 enters the Heart Room (encounters Temple Guard, exits game).
Player 2 enters the Cave of Sighs.
Player 2 enters the Pit of Despair.
Player 2 enters the Throne Room.
Player 2 enters Heart Room.
Player 2 re-enters the Pit of Despair.
Player 2 re-enters the Heart Room.
Player 2 re-enters the Pit of Despair.

Between the two of them, these kids accomplished absolutely nothing, spending their entire three minutes wandering through the same three rooms, not really even trying to solve anything. They circled back to the Pit of Despair four times.

Surely these kids aren't dumb. Surely they are good at problem-solving and get good grades in school and know how to do long division. This is just what this show does to you, man: it rips the ambitions out of your preteen soul and reduces you to a wandering ghoul without short-term memory or long-term ambition. It envelops you in a matrix of horrors. In these three minutes, the waters rise and fall, the fields erode to canyons, civilizations are built and toppled, and at the very end, you are left to cling to a rope, without destination or purpose.


You short heroes. You little fools.