a labor of lava

Your Burning Floor Is Lava Questions, Answered

Nooooooo! (Don’t worry, the lava is safe to drink.) Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix’s surprise hit game show Floor Is Lava has been sitting comfortably atop the service’s “Top 10” row since its premiere, and it’s easy enough to see why. A cheeky mix of Wipeout and Legends of the Hidden Temple in which groups of three contestants climb, jump, and quip their way through a fully produced re-creation of the classic kids’ game, it scratches so many of our respective entertainment itches: nostalgia, puzzles, and watching overconfident amateurs completely biff on slippery barstools.

Key to the show’s appeal is its sense of play. If a contestant touches “the lava,” the show treats them like they’re literally dead; their teammates cry out anguished “Noooooo!”s, and we never see them come back up. The commitment to the ramshackle bit is part of what makes Floor Is Lava so addictive: Whether you’re rooting for the contestants or find them deeply annoying, the show is dedicated to putting them through the slapstick wringer of a homespun children’s game manifested on a television budget.

As with any good magic trick, we have so many questions about Floor Is Lava, from its adaptation of the imaginative “rules” of floor-is-lava games to the mechanics behind its many traps and twists. Luckily, executive producers and series creators Irad Eyal and Megan McGrath are here to give us a peek behind the curtain and answer our most burning questions.

How’d they design the sets?

Not only were McGrath and Eyal inspired by the kids’ game and the sense of imagination that comes with it, they looked to theme parks and adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Night at the Museum. “Initially, we were thinking, Oh, this could take place at a natural history museum,” says Eyal. “You could have the dinosaur room, you could do all the things that you could never do at a real museum.” From there, they eventually imagined a mansion with differently themed rooms, tied together by the fact that they’re all flooded with lava.

Video games like Uncharted also played a big part in designing the themed rooms (planetariums, pizza kitchens). “We wanted to make rooms that weren’t a linear obstacle course,” Eyal explains. “It was about populating these rooms with obstacles and elements that are surprising and fun and react in different ways.” This gave the contestants endless options for getting to the other side of the room: “Sometimes we’d be in the control room screaming, ‘That’ll never work! They’ll never be able to make that jump!’ And then they would make it.”

Are the objects padded? Why is no one wearing safety equipment?

“We really wanted to bring you back to your childhood game,” Eyal says. “So we didn’t want anything that broke the illusion — no helmets, no elbow pads, no knee pads, folks are in their regular clothes.” Because of that, every single object in the game is built and designed from scratch to be able to not only hold up to punishment but protect the contestants. “You have to fall from ten feet and slam your face into it and not lose any teeth.”

What’s the lava made of?

“Lava’s a really hard liquid to create,” says Eyal. “It has this internal glow.” So they had to form a substance that (safely) glows, has enough viscosity to stick to objects and contestants while still being slippery, and can allow people to be submerged in it.

The show’s lava was the product of three months of research with one of Hollywood’s foremost slime manufacturing labs, a proprietary mix whose contents remain a closely guarded industry secret. All told, they went through at least 50 different formulas of lava before locking down what you see on the show. “I think our lava looks better than any other lava that you’ve seen out there,” Eyal says.

What makes the lava bubble and spray? Why does it happen when it does?

The production team invented a number of devices from scratch to make the lava bubble and smoke and belch and explode, depending on where (and when) the directors want it to erupt. “From the very beginning, Irad and I said that the lava is a character on the show,” says McGrath, which led them to spend weeks in a garage in North Hollywood bubbling lava in tanks, dropping objects in it, and more to test which lava looked best.

As for the bubbling on the show, some of the lava movement is automated, but some is directed, especially when the directors want to soak the contestants at a crucial moment. “We had very clear rules to make sure that it was fair throughout the game,” stresses Eyal. “But some people in the control room might have had a very active trigger finger.”

Can you drink the lava water?

“You could,” says Eyal, noting that the show’s lava is totally safe. “You wouldn’t want to, though.”

What happens to the lava between each game?

Between rounds, all the objects and surfaces are meticulously cleaned by a dedicated “lava cleanup” department — not just for the contestants, but the crew and camera operators as well. “If a lot of the lava got out of the set, you’d have crew walking around doing their own obstacle course,” Eyal says.

Why do the contestants (and the show) pretend their teammates actually die when they fall in the lava?

Contestants were encouraged to imagine that the lava is real, just like when you were a kid — a conceit they readily embraced. “Surprisingly, we didn’t have to give them much direction at all,” says McGrath. “I think as soon as you walk into that room, and you see that set for the first time, it awakens your inner 8-year-old, and they really, really had fun with it.”

Where do the fallen contestants go when they disappear?

“Like magicians, we don’t want to break the magic and the illusion of it,” Eyal explains. “But we can tell you that the stunt team and the designers put a lot of work into figuring out how to let someone fall ten feet into a vat of bubbling lava and make sure they don’t drown, don’t get hurt.”

While the games themselves commit to the conceit that a contestant dies once they fall in lava, Eyal and McGrath want us all — especially young kids watching at home — to know that all of the contestants are alive and well. “And,” McGrath stresses, “they’re begging to come back and play again.”

What’s with the flat Earth in the planetarium?

The flat Earth, along with the other Easter eggs throughout the rooms, were the product of showrunner Anthony Carbone. “If you look carefully, there are little gags all over the place,” Eyal remarks. (The Flat Earth Society could not be reached for comment.)

Your Burning Floor Is Lava Questions, Answered