A big-budget makeover of a children's game, the reality competition Floor Is Lava has become such a breakout hit that it ranked as Netflix’s most-viewed title in the United States two weeks in a row.
The premise is simple: Teams of contestants must cross obstacles courses without falling into the "lava" below. But the logistics? Surprisingly complicated. The production team, which includes creators Megan McGrath and Irad Eyal, spent months finding a shooting location, designing the rooms, and coming up with the lava recipe.
From prop design to playtests to a potential second season, these are the behind-the-scenes secrets from this summer's hottest competition.
It was filmed in a former IKEA in California
After multiple facilities said no to the production (because who wants 100,000 gallons of “lava” in their soundstage?), the Floor Is Lava team found a home in an abandoned IKEA warehouse in Burbank, California. “We had all of our different teams in there,” McGrath tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There was a welding shop and the casting department, and challenge producers had a giant office that they were working in. It ended up working out really well. The main stage is in, I guess, the self-serve area of IKEA?”
The challenge team tested each course personally
“We had sort of an above-ground pool, but an industrial version of an above-ground pool, out in the parking lot of the IKEA,” McGrath explains to THR. “So that just had water in it…. We put everything in that pool, and the challenge team was able to test it out, see how everything moved, see how you could climb to the top or where your foot could grab on or your handholds [might be].”
The props aren’t rock-solid
“We really wanted to bring you back to your childhood game,” Eyal tells Vulture. “So we didn’t want anything that broke the illusion—no helmets, no elbow pads, no knee pads, folks are in their regular clothes.” Which meant the team built each prop with safety in mind. “You have to [be able to] fall from 10 feet and slam your face into it and not lose any teeth.”
Those lava bursts? Command performances!
To up the course’s difficulty, directors would often trigger lava bursts to soak contestants and/or objects in their way. “We had very clear rules to make sure it was fair throughout the game,” Eyal notes to Vulture.”But some people in the control room might have had a very active trigger finger.”
To contestants, the lava seemed lethally real
“We didn’t tell [players] to act,” McGrath tells Vulture. “I think when you’re playing and there’s 100,000 gallons of lava in front of you boiling and bubbling and smoking, you just turn into your 8-year-old self again. They really had fun with it.”
The lava is a secret recipe
Creatin the nontoxic gooey lava mixture—which, yes, is heated for game time—took three months and at least 50 iterations. “We tasked Hollywood’s No. 1 slime-manufacturing lab with coming up with the proprietary blend and then ordered more slime than any show had ever produced—close to 100,000 gallons,” Eyal reveals to Fast Company. “I can’t tell you what’s in it, but our showrunner Anthony Carbone always joked that the closest thing to it is Panda Express orange sauce. So if you can get 100,000 gallons of orange sauce, you actually can try this at home.”
A second season would double down on teamwork
If Floor Is Lava is renewed, the production team aims to amp up the collaborative nature of the competition. “One really big thing I’d love to see and that we want even more of is we love when the teams work together, when they’re reaching across, when they’re helping each other, boosting each other, pushing the canoe, all that, so I think we’re going to double down on teamwork,” Eyal tells THR.
A new season would also dig into the show's mysteries
“If viewers watch carefully, and maybe it’s going to take a second viewing, there is a little bit of a backstory, a little bit of a mystery: Where is this house? What is this mansion that has all these different rooms? Why is the lava here?” Eyal says to THR. “We’re going to want to explore that in more depth.”