Netflix debuted its first original game show, Awake: The Million Dollar Game, in June last year, a show where contestants are deprived of sleep and made to compete in physical and mental tasks in pursuit of a million dollar prize. A year later Netflix has debuted a new game show, this time called Floor is Lava, a series in which groups of contestants navigate a series of obstacles to reach the exit without ever touching the lava floor. While a somewhat interesting watch, the show has little in the way of lasting appeal and isn’t much more than a pleasant distraction.
There are a few things that can make a game show interesting to watch. One way is by creating a show where the viewer can put him/herself in the participants’ shoes. The viewer is interested in the show because they can consider how they might act when presented with the participants’ situations. People watching Jeopardy! can see how intelligent they are in comparison to the contestants, for example. There are also shows where the contestants and hosts themselves are entertaining to watch. Contestants in Survivor are interesting to watch because we the audience are curious to see how they act. A good example of this would be people watching Family Feud to see how both the contestants and Steve Harvey act. Finally, there are shows that rely on pure spectacle. Viewers tune into American Ninja Warrior to see what absurd challenges the contestants will face, and whether they can overcome them.
In the case of Floor is Lava, it most closely resembles American Ninja Warrior, except the show seems limited in the scope of its challenges. American Ninja Warrior is structured as an on-going competition ultimately leading to a championship at the Las Vegas strip, and the obstacles are such that only incredibly athletic people could hope to succeed. In the case of Floor is Lava, the obstacles seem to be made so that more average contestants stand a chance to win, hindering the overall spectacle. The obstacle courses themselves are admittedly interestingly designed, and if there is a reason to continue watching, it would be to see what unique challenges the designers decide to throw at the contestants.
There is little to impress in the way of spectacle on account of the limited difficulty of the courses, and the show fails to impress in other ways a game show could succeed. It’s very hard to relate or project yourself onto the participants, because the scenario of navigating these courses is too detached from everyday experiences. The show could have been more interesting if it had done something interesting with its host. In Floor is Lava, not only is the host not particularly funny or interesting, he’s in fact never seen on screen during the challenges, and just exists as a disembodied voice, often only explaining what the participants are about to do. Many people tune into watch something like The X Factor just to see Simon Cowell berate a contestant, or to Family Feud to see Steve Harvey joke around with the families, and that’s something that’s sorely lacking in Floor is Lava.
Additionally, the participants themselves aren’t particularly interesting. Game shows such as Survivor are made in a way to highlight the characters of each individual contestant, and this is also absent from Floor is Lava. It might be because the show is aiming for a more youth/family audience, but the participants seem very non-confrontational and uninteresting, not offering the viewer any entertainment besides watching them navigate the course.
There certainly is some enjoyment to be had from Floor is Lava, mainly coming from the creative and inventive obstacle designs, but that isn’t enough to make this game show worth watching for much more than a few episodes. It lacks the personality that makes great reality shows last, and the challenges themselves seem too scaled-down in difficulty to capture the attention of the viewer. Children might get the most out of this show, but it would be difficult to recommend this to an adult, especially with much better options available game show-wise. Given Netflix’s increased tendency to cancel original shows early, it seems unlikely for Floor is Lava to be renewed for two more seasons maximum.