Netflix seems to have a reality show for every occasion. Each series in the streamer’s latest batch of buzzy reality programming (Love Is Blind, Too Hot to Handle, The Circle) restricts contestants’ abilities to have face-to-face and social interactions, as if the shows were meant to be binged during a global pandemic that has people dealing with the same challenges. I’m not sure what stage of quarantine “imagining your furniture as pieces of an elaborate obstacle course” is, but whenever you find yourself in that headspace—or just wanna shut off your brain for a bit—Netflix has you covered there, too.
The wildest part about Floor Is Lava is that nobody ever thought to make this into a show before. Floor Is Lava is exactly what it sounds like: a version of the timeless childhood game of not touching the floor while jumping between living room furniture, but on steroids. In the series, rooms are flooded with 80,000 gallons of gooey, bright orange water while various pieces of furniture and other items are all that separate contestants from falling into the “lava.” It’s perfect(ly stupid).
Each episode features an obstacle course themed for a different area of a house (i.e., the basement, bedroom, kitchen, or the planetarium, for whoever the hell is rich enough to have one of those), and is tackled by three teams of three contestants. The teams get a point for each contestant who is able to successfully complete the course—and if there’s a tie, the winner is determined by whichever group finished in the quickest cumulative time. (The winners get a $10,000 prize and a … lava lamp trophy for their trouble.) It’s a setup that is easy to understand, but the obstacle courses themselves are anything but. Think of the show as a discount American Ninja Warrior with courses made from an assemblage of props/furniture apparently stolen from the set of Legends of the Hidden Temple and a few ads on Craigslist.
But maybe the strangest element of Floor Is Lava is the creative choices the show has made for whenever a contestant inevitably falls into the “lava.” Everyone—the host, Crappy American Top Gear’s Rutledge Wood, and the participants—acts as if there is actual lava bubbling beneath the furniture, and contestants will basically mourn their fallen teammate as if they were incinerated. In every episode I’ve watched, you never see a contestant emerge from the “lava” once they’ve fallen in, which adds to the bizarre effect of pretending these stakes are in some way real.
Is it extremely dumb melodrama for melodrama’s sake? Sure, but it’s also freakin’ incredible within the context of one team, a mom and her twins who are about to head off for college, when the daughter “sacrifices” herself to knock down a prop that’ll make it easier for her family members to make it to the finish line. (The daughter’s noble sacrifice was worth it: her twin brother and mom were able to win the round and get the $10,000 that will be used for college expenses.)
In fact, it’s the contestants’ banter that really makes this show work. “Mom, you do pilates for a reason!” one of the twins shouts as passive-aggressive encouragement. In another episode, three teachers with serious “How do you do, fellow kids?” energy dole out sage advice like, “You gotta YOLO it.” (Noted.) Best of all: Upon entering the planetarium room, three former college roommates freak out about the obstacle course implying that the Earth is flat. Don’t tell Kyrie.
It helps that Floor Is Lava has enough variations in its obstacle courses to keep things from getting too redundant throughout the first season—plus, there’s more than one way for the contestants to make their way across a room. I can’t believe I’m typing this out, but it’s actually kinda awesome to see the courses mapped out with all of the possible routes. Forget YOLO—not being able to test my own theory for escaping the planetarium is giving me FOMO:
Slippery surfaces and leaps of faith allow for a glorious montage of wipeouts that achieve the right balance between looking hilarious and not so painful that you’ll start feeling bad for these people. Unless every contestant’s chin is made out of adamantium, thankfully, none of these props appear to be as hard as the coffee table in my childhood home. If this game had real furniture, I’m pretty sure this triplet with an American flag tank top (nice) would need to visit a hospital.
Suffice to say: Maybe don’t try reenacting Floor Is Lava at home—it’ll probably hurt and I’m fairly certain no home insurance covers obstacle-course-induced flooding. But as the latest in Netflix’s slate of “We’ll literally green-light anything” reality programming, Floor Is Lava might be a first: I would never willingly participate in Love Is Blind or Too Hot to Handle, but I want to know how to sign my high school buddies and me up for Floor Is Lava Season 2 ASAP.