There are few shows as straightforward as Floor Is Lava: Teams of three attempt to get across a room without touching the ground. Or, as host Rutledge Wood puts at the top of each episode, “There’s only one rule. Don’t fall, because the floor is lava.” Netflix’s obstacle-course competition series is almost genius in its simplicity, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have some questions as we binged all ten episodes. Luckily Wood—who some may recognize from Top Gear USA, Lost In Transmission, and NBC sports coverage—made himself available to answer some of The A.V. Club’s burning Lava questions. (Hey-oh.)
The A.V. Club: How did the show make sure the playing field was fair for each team? Was someone checking how slippery a surface was for one team and comparing it to earlier?
Rutledge Wood: Well, to be honest, all of the kind of mechanics that make this show a “game show” are way out of my realm. But I know they did an incredible job of making sure all the teams were basically sequestered. No one ever saw the room or the course beforehand; they didn’t even see the other teams. We shot it in an old Ikea in Burbank, so we had the physical space to do all of these different things.
But it really comes down to how you run the course. Some people could use the monkey bars underneath the canoe, other people would lower the canoe and think, “Oh, I got it.” And then they fell off. It’s like a big choose-your-own-adventure course.
AVC: Were you actually watching the teams run the course?
RW: Yes. It’s really fun to be backstage and to have all of the different monitors and you can kind of see like, “Oh, I think they might have something here!” And we were making notes; sometimes I’d get on the microphone and mess with them a little bit. Or I might just say like, “Hey, don’t forget, this show has a time element to it.” Because, sometimes people get out there and it was like they were all of a sudden writing a novel. And you go like, “Guys, that clock is ticking! You’ve got to go!” And they’d go, “Oh yeah, we should go.”
Keep in mind, there was a big team covering the show. You’re trying to make sure that you’re capturing all of this stuff, and we’re kind of like voyeurs in that moment. We just want to see how they approach things, but you’re also trying to anticipate where they’ll go next to set up the shot. You’re trying to line up these cameras without talking, without saying anything and messing them up, and just be there to capture it. It was really impressive.
AVC: Was it hard to watch people fall so hard all day long?
RW: If you look at a show like Wipeout compared to Floor Is Lava, Wipeout was very funny to me, but watching it was like watching a secret bully pop out of a locker and punch someone in the face—and they would just get knocked down. And it was hard to watch that. But when you watch Floor Is Lava, you see that it was much more geared to be about people laughing with you, rather than at you. And I think there is a big difference in that.
AVC: Do you have lava-trained lifeguards?
RW: If you’re asking if safety was a number one priority, absolutely. Because, when you take this kind of childhood dream and you make it to this insane level, you don’t want people to get hurt. You want it to be like, “Were just big kids playing around.” So you’ll notice sometimes when people hit something and they smash their face, it doesn’t look like if they fell on a sidewalk. There’s a little give to everything.
AVC: Do you know this from experience? Did you run the courses?
RW: No, I did not run the courses for a couple of reasons: One is, I had no team, and without a team, there’s almost no chance you’d make it. But, mostly, I only brought one outfit to do the whole show. So I couldn’t fall in. They did take me out to the spinning bed on a canoe. And what I can tell you is, this lava is crazy because it’s also the most slippery substance I’ve ever felt in my life.
AVC: We only ever saw the winners at the end of the episode. Did you shoot it like the Drag Race finale, where everyone’s a winner until they see on TV who actually won?
RW: No. When I would give away volcano of victory, we only filmed that 10 times. But there’s definitely parts of the show that didn’t make it to air. Like, it was supposed to seem like my crazy haunted mansion. And then, the further we got in there, we were like, “Why?” Like, we were already making the joke that, “Oh, you get to meet me, Rutledge Wood!” Half the people have no idea who I am, which is the hilarious part.
AVC: What else didn’t we see?
RW: At one point, I think we had like a “magic elevator,” and that’s where the losers would go, but they wouldn’t know where they were going. There was some silly stuff that we shot where we tried to, but just didn’t work.
AVC: Tell us about the lava lamp trophy.
RW: Well, it cost $29. And that’s a funny thing, we couldn’t say $30. No, it wasn’t $30. It was $29. But I think that that’s kind of the joy of not taking yourself too seriously. Is it like, “Hey, you won $10,000, but there’s also this technology from the ’70s that everyone used to love. And only one, you only get one. We don’t have a budget for three, that’s almost $90!” I loved giving that away, I tried to pick one person that I thought was really like the MVP of each team—and that just makes no sense because, really, if you made it, you guys should all get one. But you know, maybe we’ll get more for season two, fingers crossed.
AVC: What will you all do if you get more seasons?
RW: We have to make everything kind of bigger and better, because we can’t have any of the same sort of tricks or hints or anything. Those things can’t be the same next season, they’ve got to be totally different. I hope we get to do it.