'Double Dare': The eternal allure of getting 'super sloppy'

Double Dare: who can forget it? It was the kiddie game show that put children through challenges such as throwing a football to your partner while blindfolded (oh, and your partner is blindfolded, too) or trying to assemble a Mr. Potato Head toy in less than 20 seconds (tougher than it sounds). There were obstacle courses whose stations included a slide slathered with chocolate sauce, and “The Icy Trike,” in which a luckless young person had to negotiate a baby-size tricycle across a surface slicked with vegetable oil.

I’d say that the appeal of Double Dare (which aired from 1986 to 1993 with variations that included Family Double Dare and Super Sloppy Double Dare) was to people who, had they been born a generation earlier, might have idolized the Three Stooges — all that sticky slapstick, y’know — but Double Dare was a kid’s show that appealed to boys, girls, men, and women: It was an equal-opportunity happy mess of a show.

As I wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer at the time of its greatest popularity, Double Dare “is like a televised Van Halen concert marinated in raw eggs and green slime.” (Hey, it was the ’80s: Van Halen was the right cultural comparison at the time.)

I have a soft spot in my heart and head for Double Dare. In my head, because I know it’s really not a great show by any standard, but it’s awfully fun and entertaining. In my heart, because my daughters loved it — it was the first TV-show taping I took them to, when the series was filming in Philadelphia. In 1988, we attended a Double Dare “Celebrity Week” edition whose big name celebrity guest was Married… With Children‘s David Faustino, who taped a week’s worth of Dares in two days and gamely threw himself into a grinning mouth, scooted down the throat, and landed in a pile of what looked like regurgitated guacamole.

My daughters loved the show. As pre-teens, they were bedazzled by the joltingly bright, candy-colored set (even done on the cheap at Philadelphia’s WHYY TV studios, the back-drops and props were a psychedelic riot of reds, oranges, purples, and yellows). They loved to watch host Marc Summers bound around with pinball energy, dressed in a semi-informal uniform of jacket and tie and sneakers. And my kids identified enthusiastically with the young contestants: There, but for the grace of a parent who knew better, would they be, slip-sliding through whipped cream-slicked obstacle courses. (My most neat, fastidious daughter also appreciated that there was a relative lack of slime on Double Dare: excitement and messiness, yes, but slime was destined to be enshrined elsewhere on Nickelodeon.)

For me, Summers was an excellent host for this kind of show. He never condescended to the children, but tossed in pop-culture references and little jokes whose punchlines that only parents would get. Summers was also a one-man safety patrol, making sure the wee ones didn’t trip and break their ankles as the kiddie audience screamed encouragement during the challenges. And he maintained some nice, goofy byplay with Double Dare’s announcer, Harvey (whom Philly residents knew as “Harvey in the Morning” on local radio).

Double Dare actually holds up pretty well when you look at YouTube clips: People diving through bright-colored tubes and smushing pies down their pants as the studio audience cheers deafeningly is irresistible, timeless stuff. Double Dare turned everyone who took part in it into an accidental comedian, but it did so without snark or humiliation. (For that, you had to grow up and appear on ABC’s Wipeout.)

Summers, who was always super-nice to the kids while managing to telegraph to any adults watching how ridiculous the show and his job really was. “It’s a great country, isn’t it?” Summers told me at the time. “Where else could you become famous offering kids a clean towel after you’ve just told them to have an egg fight?”

Twitter: @kentucker

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Comments (79 total) Add your comment
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  • KaT

    I’m loving EW’s nostalgia kick…the late 80s/early 90s were legitimately the golden era of children’s TV.

    • LostLover4eva

      @Kat

      Right on! Game shows, cartoons, and variety shows! Bozo the clown, Rainbow Bright, DD, Pee-Wee, CareBears, etc

      • Jackie

        Don’t forget ‘Ghostwriter’!

      • shawn

        Ghostwriter was indeed AMAZING. But I think it was on PBS.,, That being said, the phrase “Slime, anyone?” still terrifies me.

      • MattChance

        Ghostwriter always make me think “I’m burrrrning mad, STEAMMMING mad”.

    • Zoe

      Reading Rainbow and 3-2-1 Contact!

  • callie

    The only things I remember from Double Dare were the questions part and the obstacle course. I wish there was still a Nick Games and Sports Channel.

    • Mike

      The only thing you’re missing from your DD recollection is the physical challenge! Ahh memories

  • LostLover4eva

    I lovvvvvved DD!!!! And Marc Summers was the best and only host who could make that show work! It doesn’t hurt I’m a Philly native & it was filmed here. They should bring DD back, even as an adult I’d watch & love to participate!

    • Mike

      I’m from the Philly area too and I don’t think I realized that it was filmed here. Even when people from my school were recruited to compete on the show. Guess I was too young to put 2 and 2 together lol But there must be something in the water around here because I’m a LOST Lover 4 ever too! :-)

      • LostLover4eva

        Nice to meet ya fellow Philly native and LOST Lover 4 ever!!! I miss LOST so much!!!

      • Kimmy

        Oh man I miss Lost too!!

    • Poops McGee

      I thought it was filmed at Nick Studios in Orlando?

  • Daily

    I want to get slimed. I heard the slime tastes good too!

    • frggrl

      lol It does! If you went to Universal and went through the Nickelodeon Studio tour they would give you a sample! I forget what it was made from, but it was definitely cool to taste it!

      • Sara

        Oatmeal, if memory serves.

      • shawn

        Actually, I think it’s applesauce

    • Cajo

      Wasn’t the slime popularized by You Can’t Do That on Television? That was a great Nickelodeon show.

  • Zilly

    One of the funnist moments of my life was serior year of high school when the smartest (yet least interested) cool dude in class answered “I’ll take the physical challenge” to an AP history question from our teacher. I still laugh thinking about it.

    • jo

      hahahaaaaaaaaaaaaa why didn’t i think of that?! awesome :)

  • Beauty

    This needs to be on TV, NOW!!! I would be late to school every am because I had to finish watching DD when it ran in the mornings. Had no idea it was filmed in Philly!

  • Smash

    I loved the show so much, my ninth birthday was Double-Dare themed, complete with physical challenges and a huge obstacle course in our backyard that ended in a baby pool filled with shaving cream. My mom sure knew how to throw a good kids birthday party.

    • frggrl

      That is cool and definitely imaginative! I would have loved something like that, but being born two days before Halloween, it was always costume parties for me!

      • Ferniesfreckles

        I was actually born on Halloween, so every birthday cake was black and orange and white :(

    • Johnification

      My older brother had a DD-themed birthday once, too! I think we climaxed with the shaving cream kiddie-pool, too. Man, what a fun show.

  • downtown diva

    I was already an adult when I first got to see Double Dare, but it was really fun to watch, and it reminded me of similar shows that were on network TV early on Saturday afternoons (there was a show that Soupy Sales hosted, but I’ve forgotten the name) and occasionally primetime such as Celebrity Battle of the Sexes. I had to grow up on a farm with about 3 channels to choose from… shows like this were some of the best entertainment there was. But even if we’d had cable or satellite, I think I still would have enjoyed these kinds of shows. I do like Wipeout, but lately it’s been scheduled against shows I like more, and my DVR is sometimes close to filling up so I don’t record it regularly.

  • Ms. Chanandler Bong

    I always wanted to jump in that kiddie-pool pie thing. What do you think they used for ‘whipped cream’?

    • Marc

      I just have to say that your name is awesome. LOL. Has to be my favorite episode from that show.

      • Ms. Chanandler Bong

        Thanks :) it’s one of mine too! Now if only EW would recognize!

  • Em

    It is interesting that Marc Summers actually had OCD so it was really hard for him to do that show.

    • Cameron J

      Yes! Exactly! In all my years watching that (on Nick’s GAS- sorry, I was born too late) show I never would have guessed that! Nostalgia Critic said it best: ‘dude, you got balls.’

  • Carmania

    I loved DD! But who remembers What Would You Do? also starring Summers and the pie chair and pie coaster? I always wanted to ride the pie coaster.

    • Nick L. O’Deon

      What Would You Do never aired an episode without pies (AND brought over from DD not just Marc, but Robin too)!
      I always wanted to sit in the Pie Pod, but not with the big clunky goggles and plastic wrap. Let’s get all 4 of those pies In. The. Face!
      Also, the Pie Slide! Feet first? Never. Face first!
      Comedy, stunts, games… what a fun variety show it was!

  • Rayann

    Currently Marc Summers hosts “Unwrapped” on the Food Network which he has been doing for almost 10 years now. That show is actually one of my favorite shows on the network and he is an excellent host and it is a fun show to watch, especially the holiday themed episodes.

    • Ferniesfreckles

      Doesn’t he also produce some tv shows for the Food Network?

      • Rayann

        I know that he produces the tv show “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network. I am not so sure about other shows though.

    • JeramieH

      He’ll do his introductory segment, and then my whole family says in unison… “Cue the smile!” and BAM, there’s the instant Summers smile right before the transition.

  • Kelly

    Loved watching this show with my baby sister.

  • Jeanie

    I always wanted to be on that show! I would love for them to bring it back with a new show.

    • EK

      Me too! And here I am in my early 30s and would still love to be on it.

  • Amy

    What about the show Fun House with JD Roth? I loved it, it looked so easy to win!

    • Joan Holloway

      I’m SO glad someone else remembers Fun House with JD Roth! Most of my friends look at me like I’m from an alternate dimension when I talk about that show.

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