Rutledge Wood on Hosting Netflix’s Hit Game Show “Floor Is Lava” - The Hottest Show On TV, Really | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Rutledge Wood on Hosting Netflix’s Hit Game Show “Floor Is Lava”

The Hottest Show On TV, Really

Jul 10, 2020 Rutledge Wood
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What’s the difference between lava and magma? Turns out magma doesn’t have it’s own #1 TV show. Welcome to the world of Netflix’s Floor Is Lava. Filmed and in the can for more than a year, the show (which debuted June 19 and quickly vaulted to the platform’s top ranking) arrives at a time of social distancing and discord and saves the planet. That may seem a touch of hyperbole, but who knew that one of the most deadly elements on the planet could serve as the bond that brings us all together—at least for 10 episodes.

Multiple teams with ragtag costumes and inspiring names, such as Retail Co-Workers and Tennis Trio, compete to cross a myriad of obstacle and lava filled rooms. Based on the similarly named kid’s game (sans the “The”), Floor Is Lava presents competing teams with the challenge to cross entrance to exit in as little time as possible. It’s clear when the teams appear at the beginning of the course they have no clue what they have stumbled upon. The Kitchen, with its sharp corners and swivel chairs, and The Planetarium courses are particularly brutal. Who knew that giving your body over to a belly flop on Uranus could prove so painful? And it may not be a spoiler alert to reveal that tongue scraping could prove the key to making it from end to end.

Under the Radar caught up with the show’s “en fuego” emcee, Rutledge Wood. Wood is a television veteran with multiple years hosting Top Gear and serving as a longtime auto racing analyst. Though no vehicles are involved in Floor Is Lava, there are plenty of machinations in play and more than a fair share of wrong turns. Wood revealed that the lava is hot and very slippery, which is a bridge further than most other publications have been able to extract from the show. But aside from that we will jump right in—to the lava as it were.

Mark Moody (Under the Radar): I’m normally a writer for the music features, but when I saw Floor Is Lava I knew I had to get involved in this somehow?

Rutledge Wood: That’s really awesome, man. Thank you. [Laughs]

I know live-action game shows aren’t exactly your background, so how did you get involved in the show?

I’ve been lucky enough to do some fun stuff for Netflix, and I did a show called Hyperdrive, which is this insane dream of a car show. It’s kind of like American Ninja Warrior meets Top Gear, another show I used to do. And Netflix has this really cool thing where people from many different groups watch different things that are in production and they kind of talk amongst themselves.

So somebody at Netflix saw me in that and thought, “This guy might be fun for Floor Is Lava.” And probably five months after we did Hyperdrive, I got a call and said, “Hey, is this something you’d be interested in?” And I, of course, said, “Yes, please.” [Laughs] And, boy, it has just blown my mind, the response. And you’re a perfect example. If this isn’t normally your wheelhouse and you’ve jumped at the opportunity because you like it so much, what a huge thing that is for us. That’s really cool.

Yeah. I don’t watch a whole lot of series and things like that. I’m not sure you’d call Floor Is Lava a series. But I was walking through the room when I saw it on, and I ended up watching five or six in a row. [Laughs]

That’s fantastic.

So I know the show was recorded a while back, and with a lot of sports off the air and everything else going on, who made the decision to go ahead and go live now? Seems like a good time to do that.

Well, it’s funny. I think it had always been kind of planned to air about this time, but certainly, with everybody at home and no sports going on, it really seemed like the perfect thing for them to say, “Okay. Yeah, let’s go for it.” Because we shot it last May. And I know because I was covering the Indy 500 and had to fly on the red-eye once we’d wrapped to make it back to Indy in time. And so, yeah, I think that’s a huge part of it, right, the notion that not only is it competition and it’s fun, but also I think where it really hit so hard was for a game that so many of us played as kids—and now, either as adults or as parents of kids, what a perfect time to have something like that to celebrate.

Right. When everybody’s at each other’s throats and needs some new entertainment to check out.

Absolutely. And it kind of forces people to just unplug. To your point, it just kind of sucks you in. I loaded up the puns and dad jokes, and the fact that they hit is hilarious to me.

Yeah. Absolutely. So one of the things I kind of love about it is just it’s this very diverse group of people on these teams and they look like they show up just wearing street clothes and kind of basic names like “Retail Co-Workers.” So no costumes, no fancy names, where do these teams come from?

Well, I know that the group that worked on the show, Megan and Irad [producers Megan McGrath and Irad Eyal], and everybody else said the casting process was kind of interesting. Because imagine if you got an email and it said, “Hey, would you and your friends like to compete in this thing that we can’t describe to you?” Because none of those contestants saw the room or anyone else, so they kept everyone sequestered because they really wanted that experience and reaction. I do think they look in the casting process for people who were down for adventure, who want to have fun because whether it was the flight attendants, the three women from San Diego or even the cousins and their friend that were clowning on their buddy the whole time and he was the saving grace for him. So I think when you look at how these teams all work the joy was people from all walks of life, friends, family, you name it, but then it wasn’t the people like, “Oh, they’re in great shape.” And they were the first ones in, so it’s a pretty good equalizer I think.

Well, that’s so funny that you took the words right out of my mouth, but one of my favorite scenes was the doctor that’s dissing on the nurses and then she eats it hard on the table right off the bat. So it does seem like the course is the great equalizer. It doesn’t have any favorites.

And the joy I think for that is I don’t know about you, and hopefully you’re in incredible shape [of course!] and you can do it, but I’ve never watched Ninja Warrior and thought I could do this. I’ve never had that. But with Floor Is Lava, I love how many people are like, “Oh, I can totally do that.” But yeah, these people blew it [Laughs]. And in my mind they are going down so fast, we couldn’t even make a show around half of them. But hopefully we’ll get to do another season and we’ll get to see the rooms get bigger and better and crazier. And then we’ll be able to test that theory because imagine if people have seen the season and they show up super cocky.

Right. Well, that was I going to ask you about that. It seems some of the teams that end up doing the best are the ones that kind of stick together and help each other across the obstacles. Do you see a strategy that’s worked better than others?

Well, it’s funny because you can really go so many different directions in every room. Different from some of the kids’ game shows that people have known in the past. A lot of people say that “Oh, it reminds me of Legends of the Hidden Temple.” They’re ones like that that only had one true path but I think the joy of Floor Is Lava is whatever you want to do, you can try everything or try nothing. And I think it really just depends on how that works. Teamwork for sure paid off and that’s what I think people love the most because there was a group of guys that all three of them went rogue and all three went down. You’re like, “Hey, you’re here together for a reason, you have to rely on that.” So I think I loved that because even watching in the first show how Talia sacrificed herself for her mom and her brother, where else would you see someone make that choice and say, “All right, I’m going to help you guys out but I’m definitely gonna fall in the lava here.”

You alluded to Ninja Warrior and that you could never do that. Have you tried to run one of these courses?

I have not. Funny story, I didn’t bring a change of clothes to really give it a whirl and I didn’t have any teammates, but I know a bunch of our crew had run all of them. What I can tell you is the lava is very hot. It’s also incredibly slippery. So when I went out they had to get me in a canoe to go out to certain stations because they were pretty sure I would fall in and I appreciate that. [Laughs] But, I can tell you for just doing a show that opens on that spinning bed and with the lava, I mean, you can’t imagine what happens to your heart rate when you talk trash to the lava, and it starts to bubble up. It gets absolutely visceral, you feel it in the depths of your soul. And then by the way, you’re spinning on this bed and if you take longer than about 15 seconds to get off there, I mean it’s barf city, man. I don’t know how people did that. It just was so tricky.

I’m assuming you’re doing your voiceovers after the fact. Do you write the lines yourself, or is that ad-libbed?

So we kind of did a little of both. We had a group of writers that threw out a bunch of their stuff. And writing is really tough because there are things that you think are obvious and funny, and then there are other things where when we were watching the team go through it, I’m kind of just riffing in the back watching the monitors, kind of making fun of people to myself. And so what we ended up doing as you see the shows come together and the suspense building, you can see much better as the show’s being put together, that’s where a ton of my ad-libs came from. And my friends, I love that they could definitely tell the ones that are like, “Okay, we’re trying to move the story along,” versus like, “Oh, in the face again!” There’s only so many things you can think when someone jumps and then falls off flat earth. It just makes you crack up. But I think that the joy of this show is just it builds on all these ways that people don’t see as it’s happening.

It’s funny, when I first saw the show I didn’t realize it had been filmed a while back. It almost looks like a kind of a COVID friendly activity. Aside from you meeting the team at the end, the teams are isolated from other teams. So are you guys ready to go if it were to be renewed?

To your point, I think that’s something that we are really lucky about and we could definitely do this in a very distance friendly production. So hopefully we get some good news from Netflix soon, and we can go do that because there are a ton of regulations that are coming out for the entire industry and we obviously want to be really sensitive to that. But your point, the cool thing is if I just needed to stand two feet further back and slide the winners the volcano of victory I think we would be pretty set. So yeah, I definitely know the process for application is going to be gigantic because there’s so many people wanting to try it. And I think that’s how we know the show really works. I mean, every single day, no matter what I post on social media, it could be about NASCAR and NBC stuff, it could be about cars, whatever, every single reply is “When can I apply. I got my family, we’re ready to go, I want to do this.” But I definitely think we’re going to have our hands full with the casting, but I’m ready for that challenge.

So I think I had read someplace that the rooms would be different, and obstacles different and things like that. I mean, how much lead time would the show need to go again?

Oh, good question. I’m not technically involved in that part of it with the art director and safety and everything else. What I can tell you is that I’ve thrown out ideas of rooms and additions. Because the one thing you want to make sure is that every time someone goes in, they understand that it is a game show, there are rules that they have to follow. But when we say everything’s in play, we mean that. You see as the show goes on, sometimes there are things that are helpful and sometimes they aren’t. Because we saw people lower a canoe and then they fell off the top of it. Whereas if they had done the monkey bars underneath, they might’ve been fine. But I think that’s the joy of the choose-your-own-adventure that the show really creates. So I think we can make that stuff happen pretty swiftly under the guise of making sure everyone stays safe and aware.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Under the Radar readers?

Well, I can tell you that of all the stuff that I’ve done in my career, I have never seen the amount of families and individuals come out and say, “I needed this laughter and this love way more than I could have ever guessed.” And to your point, how you kind of get lost in the mindlessness of just fun. I think it’s so cool that Netflix wanted to take that leap. Because by the way, this started a year and a half ago. You have to think about how long this process took. But they believed that fun and happiness was going to be something that people loved and to make a co-viewing show like this, where families could or didn’t have to watch together was a big deal. And I just loved that they thought that way, that they led with their heart and then it worked. It’s so funny to me and I’ve never felt more like I’m in the right place doing the right thing.

Oh, that’s great. Yeah, it’s always human nature to laugh at other people falling down and cracking a few ribs.

I hope you see, we did really try to laugh with them. We only laughed at them a couple of times. So I think that’s important to remember. Wipe Out was mean as hell because people would just get punched in the face and fall in water. It’s not that it wasn’t funny at times, but geez, every time you watched Wipe Out, you thought, “Someone definitely got hurt.” Because we wanted to make it as safe as we could, while still like, “Hey, who knows what happens when you fall in the lava.” But everyone’s okay in the end, it’s magical.

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