We “Double Dare” You to Read This

Just over 30 years after its debut on Nickelodeon, Double Dare has returned to TV. It was a dream for a generation of kids to win cash and prizes with the show’s messy “physical challenges” and sloppy “obstacle course.” Here’s a look into the old-school TV phenomenon.

Show origins

Seeing toy companies make millions of off of tie-in merchandise from cartoon shows like Transformers and G.I. Joe, Nabisco wanted a way to showcase its baked goods on TV. The idea: Truth or Dare, a show where kids would compete in messy games and stunts involving Nabisco’s cookies and cakes. The company approached Nickelodeon, which started developing the show…only for Nabisco to pull out. Nickelodeon kept working on the show, keep the sloppy stunts but adding in semi-athletic events (inspired by Battle of the Network Stars), and renamed it Double Dare.

The first host

More than 1,000 people auditioned to be host, and the guy that won out was Dana Carvey. On the same day he was offered Double Dare, he found out he’d passed his Saturday Night Live audition, too—and went with that show. Producers’ second-choice got the gig: a game show writer named Marc Summers.

The final round

The “final round” of Double Dare saw the winning team of two kids running through a Rube Goldberg-esque obstacle course—they have to find a flag and pass it off to their teammate to consider each obstacle complete. When the produces shot the pilot episode, the kids got stymied on obstacle number 1. The poor kids had to find a flag in an oversized, feather-stuffed pillow. It took them the full allotted 60 seconds to find the flag—actually, they didn’t find it at all, because the crew forgot to put it in. The kids got another chance, and this time couldn’t find the flag. Finally, on the third try, they were successful, and on their way.

Injuries during taping

Another early snafu: During the first week of taping, a camera operator slipped on the show’s ultra-slick, epoxy-coated floor at the show’s studio in Philadelphia. He fractured his ankle…and producers laid down some linoleum instead.

Green slime ‘aka’ Gak

Double Dare used a lot of bright-green-colored slime in its proceedings. But Summers didn’t call it “green slime”—he called it “Gak.” Using that term was an inside joke among crew members that stuck—in late ‘1980s Philadelphia (where the show initially taped), “gak” was street slang for heroin. Summers thought it was funny, and called the slime “gak” one day. The name caught on with viewers, and Nickelodeon’s marketing executives. Before long, toy stores around the country were stocking little cans of Double Dare­-branded slime labeled “Gak.”

Bodily functions

While many stunts and obstacles involved bodily functions—kids had to find flags in giant fake mouths, giant fake noses, and the like—Nickelodeon had a few ground rules. Double Dare was barred from doing any stunts involving rear-ends, solid waste, and armpits.