Roundtable Review: Guts, “Alex/Sarah/Jennifer” and Legends of the Hidden Temple, “The Secret Battle Plan of Nathan Hale”

By Andrew Daar, Whitney McIntosh, Andrew Rabin, and Cameron White

Season 3: “Alex/Sarah Jennifer”
Originally aired: 1994

Andrew D.: Guts was one of my favorite shows as a kid, which was weird, because I did not then and still do not enjoy watching sporting events. It’s likely that the events were so weird that I was captivated by the strangeness of them (this episode featured an event in which the three players were tethered together and had to work against each other to collect footballs), along with the fact that I wanted to climb the Aggro Crag, and I thought I’d be a good contestant. (Looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking because I was neither athletic nor coordinated.) Watching Guts again 20 years later, I realize that only someone with the attention span of a small child could watch this show regularly. The editing is absolutely frantic, so I could barely follow what was happening. In addition, the events are so short that O’Malley and co-host Mo Quark had to fill time by showing highlights of previous events after commercial breaks. Having said that, the physical challenges were inventive – as I watched the horizontal running game, I was trying to figure out the best strategy for conquering gravity and was unable to figure out how those kids ran the course so quickly – and O’Malley and Quark seemed to enjoy themselves.

Cameron: GUTS is all about presentation. From the stadium arena to the action cameras to the infectious enthusiasm of hosts Mike O’Malley and Moira Quirk, it doesn’t matter if you like sports shows or not, because this one will pull you in for a good half-hour of fun. And in a pre-Sasuke/Ninja Warrior world, this particular brand of “obstacle course television show” had a chance to shine, and shine it did. In contrast to Legends of the Hidden Temple, which focused on teams of people, GUTS only ever had three players per game, which gave the show more room to play the games and a little bit of time to profile each of the players. Each player’s struggle thus becomes a little personal for everyone watching, and makes it just a notch more exciting than the average competition show. And Nickelodeon, with its Figure It Outs and its Double Dares and its Legends of the Hidden Temples, knew a thing or two about how to put on a competition show. But for me, nothing compares to the thrill of GUTS. DO YA HAVE IT?

Andrew R.: GUTS was never my favorite show, but it was a show I watched a whole lot of anyway. Cameron’s point about the profiling of the contestants is an interesting one, because it runs opposite to what seems to stick out for me with this show versus other Nickelodeon game shows- the contestants are utterly and completely replaceable. Seriously, right now, can any of you tell me which was Sarah and which was Jennifer? When Mike O’Malley starts calling Alex “Tony” in one competition, it is only the fact that Mo goes back to calling him Alex that makes me certain they did not just switch kids midway through the show. No one episode of GUTS feels distinct or notable from any other episode because of this (at least until the kids start having accents in Global GUTS).

I also wonder how we would consider this show if it were hosted by Kirk Fogg or Random Host X rather than Mike O’Malley. While our glee for O’Malley is certainly justified, would he be viewed as such a great host if he did not go on to a substantial career? In fact, in watching this episode, Mo stands out to me as the more interesting host. O’Malley constantly tossing to her for “official” results gives her a sense of authority, almost like O’Malley is a play-by-play announcer and Quick is a color analyst with experience and expertise in these events.

Whitney: The editing in GUTS is absolutely off the walls. I know for sure they filmed at least three episodes a day if not more, which I’m sure took a lot of effort and having to keep kids’ names and event descriptions straight but it still seems like Mike and Mo showed up every morning a little hungover or something. I love Mike O’Malley, but I don’t think he got one sentence out of his mouth without stuttering or messing something up the entire episode. It makes the whole proceedings seem especially slap dash, in a good and very “Nickelodeon” kind of way” even though there was certainly some level of effort making sure all of the competitions and stunts went as planned.

I still think climbing the Aggro Crag would be the coolest thing ever even though an average sized adult could do it in approximately five steps. Every time Mike described climbing it he made sure to add in as many dangerous and intimidating adjectives as possible. Watching it now it’s very obvious that the Crag is neither “sharp” nor “nefarious” and what not but as a kid watching someone make it to the top of the mountain first felt like watching them summit everest without a sherpa. Props to the producers for making the winner stand on the podium at the end holding the winner’s trophy (ahem, “piece of the Crag”) for the absolute longest amount of time possible. Them looking into the camera just gets more and more awkward every second and it’s amazing to experience.

I wonder if Mike, Mo, and company ever hung out after filming was done for the day and goofed off on set. “Last one to the top of the Crag takes a shot!” “Not fair I’m still full from the craft services eating contest!” I bet they did.

Legends of the Hidden Temple
Season 2, Episode 40: “The Secret Battle Plan of Nathan Hale”
Original airdate: October 5, 1994

Andrew D: Legends of the Hidden Temple looks really cheap and rewards players with prizes that I would have had no interest in as a child and have no interest in now (a $50 savings bond is not worth the time put in to earn it).  And yet, even to this day, if a Nickelodeon executive told me that the network was reviving the show and wanted me as a contestant, I would agree to do so in a heartbeat.  All of the games that lead up to entering the temple look tedious, and for some reason, the second game is a trivia round rather than a physical challenge.  But running that temple is something that every kid who grew up in the 90s dreamed of doing.  It doesn’t matter that the odds are hopelessly stacked against you or that you’ll probably get the crap scared out of you by a white dude dressed as what our pop culture sees as Mayan or that the Shrine of the Silver Monkey is absolutely impossible to put together despite only having three pieces.  The show allowed kids to live out a pulpy dream of being an Indiana Jones-esque explorer, mixing myth, history, and adventure story tropes to create a world where an American Revolutionary’s battle plans could end up in a Mayan temple full of cool puzzles and jump-scare booby traps.  The temple run was all the good parts, from a kid’s perspective, of an adventure film, and despite being the same thing every week, it kept our attention because the show knew that kids everywhere would want to live out an adventure exploration and be rewarded with crappy prizes for doing so.

Cameron: Let’s all take a moment and face the facts: Legends of the Hidden Temple is not nearly as appealing from the other side of childhood. It’s cheesy as hell, the challenges are low-rate (certainly compared to GUTS, which at least looks like a genuine sports competition), and Kirk Fogg, while photogenic, is no Phil Keoghan. Indeed, most of the episodes tend to lumber on with a distinct lack of momentum for three-fourths of the runtime. But that’s because everything was building up to those last three thrilling minutes spent scouring Olmec’s temple for a piece of history. The thrill of solving a room and moving onto the next challenge, the sheer terror of being caught by one of the guards, the anxiety of whether or not you’ll finish in time and win the grand prize–these are the things that cemented themselves in the memories of those of us who grew up watching the show. It almost makes up for the other three-fourths of the episode runtime. Almost.

Andrew R.: Look, we have all read the exposé on Legends of the Hidden Temple. But it does not matter. Because this show is a delight. And I disagree with both Andrew and Cameron; it is a delight from step one. No other game show lets you come in with a rooting interest; sure you know the Silver Snakes make it to the second round and the Orange Iguanas don’t, but you still have a favorite to root for. Andrew questions why the second step is not a physical challenge, but I would counter that the historical ties are what makes this show far more interesting than GUTS. Any two GUTS episodes are the same, Legends gives you a new story every time out! Plus you get to hear Olmec do voices. Also, Olmec exists! How can you call this show cheap when it has a giant talking head? I would totally trade a piece of the Aggro Crag for a piece of Olmec.

The trouble with the second round is the half pendants, which essentially become valueless in the temple. If this was competing for 1, 1, and 2, we have a whole different temple experience. Instead, the third event becomes a battle over who gets to lose in the temple. Here, our winning team even had a bit of temple strategy with the final half pendant, but they still blew it. And they did not even give me the chance to question how difficult a three piece puzzle is. Still, being captured by temple guards might be more fun than a weekend trip on a house boat.

Whitney: First off, can we all just agree that a weekend trip on a house boat is the most 90’s prize that has ever or ever will be given out on any game show? I mean, who’s idea was that? Just give the kids a ton of Skechers or something, you know that’s more fun to announce anyway. I love Legends of the Hidden Temple more than any other Nickelodeon show. Hands down. It is perfect in all the ways a game show from the 90’s aimed at kids under 12 should be, cheesiness and all. Kirk Fogg has just the right amount of dad jeans awesomeness, and combined with how close he puts his face to the camera when he talks I’d say he was about the best host of a Nick show.

It’s funny that this was the episode that was chosen for this round table installment, as I am very familiar with Nathan Hale since I went to UConn. Nathan Hale dorms, Nathan Hale roads, Nathan Hale residence, Nathan Hale Hotel, etc. But even with all that I don’t really care about Nathan Hale too much more than any other Revolutionary War figure. Legends changes all that because the retelling of Hale’s heroism is both cheesy and informative. The kids are learning things while competing and even though 80% of contestants probably don’t remember anything about the story they were told after completing filming it is admirable that a show made for fun centers around some form of education for kids. The amount of money I would pay to be able to take one shot at that temple is astronomical. Retirement fund? Who needs a retirement fund. (And even at this age I would still totally get stuck trying to put together a damn three piece monkey.)

Final thing: Purple parrots were like the New York Yankees…except cooler. Orange Iguanas were like the Chicago Cubs…except worse. Green Monkeys were that one Little League World Series team with the obvious ringer….”there’s no way that kid is 12 1/2!”

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