Olmec gets a makeover: An inside look at new, 'more authentic' Legends of the Hidden Temple set
Almost 26 years after Nickelodeon's Legends of the Hidden Temple staged its final run under the watchful eye of Olmec, the obstacle-course game show is back starting tonight — this time on the CW and with a supersized set for adult contestants. But far more went into crafting the new Legends set than just making everything bigger... even though they did make everything bigger.
"Epic" and "adult" was the vibe that EP (and original series co-creator) Scott A. Stone wanted for this new outdoor set, which is more than double the size of the 23-foot-tall original: "It had to live up to the memory built up from childhood — that same wow factor."
Stone shares that more than 48,000 people applied to compete on this new Legends (a number he says far exceeds the number of applicants for similar series), and he saw their primary goal to be exhausting those contestants as quickly as possible — something made easier by upgrading from the small water feature kids ventured over in the Nickelodeon version.
"It's a little bigger than the 2-foot-deep bathtub we had in studio," Stone says of upgrading to an 8-foot-deep course the size of half a football field. "The first challenge is just swimming across it, and they're all just exhausted," he adds. "I would be too!"
Design consultant Joe Stewart and art director J. Patrick Adair were brought in to help transform the Simi Valley, Calif., set into a Hidden Temple, a task made more difficult once the luscious foliage that had been growing around the set began to wither.
"The original idea was to shoot it in a real jungle. And when we scouted the location, it was beautifully lush and green, with nice California Oaks," says Stone. "But all those pretty trees that were all brown by the time we shot. So we spent a lot of time putting green stuff down — and Patrick was out there with his team, spraying the ground with green stuff. We brought the jungles to the desert."
They also brought Olmec to the desert, but not without a makeover. While Cristela Alonzo has taken over hosting duties from Kirk Fogg, the stone-faced fan favorite is still voiced by Dee Bradley Baker — though he's has traded his round earrings for square ones, thanks to an expert hired to help the show represent Mayan culture more authentically.
"There was no internet in those days to do research, to see, 'Okay, how does that work?'" Stone says of creating the original series without a consultant. "We literally took it out of an encyclopedia. I mean, that's where it all came from. So it's now, you know, how many years later, and we actually hired a Mayanist expert to make sure that everything we did with our show was more authentic." As another example, he points out that there are now real hieroglyphics around the Temple Run instead of just squiggles. (The one above the Temple entryway in the photo below translates to "hidden temple." The one on the wall past the entrance translates to "temple run.")
Stewart and Adair worked closely with challenge producers, electricians, sound technicians, camera operators, and the people playing Temple Guards to make sure the Temple Run would execute perfectly 13 times in one day (since the show block shot each section of the competition, with a whole season's Temple Runs executed in one day).
"It's a very, very, very collaborative experience. We had meetings that went on and on and on because everything had to match together. So it wasn't just creatively, but also mechanically doing things and structurally making sure that we could get from door to door, room to room. So it became a series of meetings," says Stewart. "A lot of times when you design something, it's the design, but this was an entirely collaborative experience throughout the whole run — it needed to be in order to work."
One of the 12 "escape rooms" replicates the cenotes (water-filled caves) of the Yucatán. It leads to the Spider's Lair, the Royal Rage Room (a unisex renaming of the King's Storeroom, "with a lot more pots to break now"), or the Crypt of the Heartless.
"There's these three corpses, and there's a slit in their chest," Stone says of the Crypt. "And you reach in and look for the heart that's beating. One of them still has a beating heart, and you rip the heart out and you go put it into this receptacle in the room and it lights the room up with the veins and arteries that are now flowing with the blood. I pitched that and said, 'Can we do that?'" Stewart's response? "We're not paid to say no."
The CW's The Legends of the Hidden Temple premieres tonight (Sunday, Oct. 10) at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
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