When Legends Of The Hidden Temple premiered in 1993, it was a pretty sure bet. The game show, which taught kids history while also threatening them with terrifying temple guards, was filmed at Nickelodeon’s Universal Studios facility, meaning that it was not only a product for the television network to air, but also an attraction for those attending the park. Audiences could filter in to watch tapings, check out the massive temple set, and take home stories to share with their friends, who would then watch the show, get jealous, and plan a visit to Orlando themselves.
Though hundreds of kids churned through the show as contestants over the course of its 120 episodes, Legends had a few constants. There was Olmec, the show’s giant, talking rock head, who relayed the day’s legend to the aforementioned contestants, and the temple guards, who were pretty much just there to scare kids. There was also host Kirk Fogg, who held down the fort while clad in khaki cargo shorts. A consummate professional, Fogg was the temple’s ringmaster and chief contestant advocate, using his affable nature and microphone to help kids through the challenges and the temple itself.
Though Fogg has popped up in a few things since Legends, including an episode of Veronica Mars, his fans still know him best as their former temple guide. It’s a role he’s gladly embraced in the past and that he’ll embrace again this Saturday when he pops up as Kirk Fogg, temple guide, in Nickelodeon’s new, live-action Legends Of The Hidden Temple movie. In anticipation of that, The A.V. Club sat down with Fogg on the set of the Legends movie earlier this year, when—for the record—we also totally got to touch Olmec.
The A.V. Club: What’s your role in this new movie?
Kirk Fogg: I’m back being a guide on this lackluster tour of the temple. Well, should we say the temple or the hidden temple? The hidden temple. And that’s how you find me 25 years later.
AVC: Was the original temple lackluster?
KF: No. This one is lackluster because it’s been 25 years and things have gotten a little bit threadbare, but I’m hanging in there because I’m a believer in the temple.
AVC: Is it weird to be back? Did you expect this 20 years ago when the show was canceled?
KF: Well, the first thing I thought was, “Wow, we’re canceling the show! Oh no! I can’t believe we’re not going to do this anymore,” because it was such a great show. But we did 120 shows, so it was kind of a long run.
AVC: In a short amount of time, relatively speaking. Just three seasons.
KF: Yeah, because we shot it every nine months. We shot all the shows in three weeks.
AVC: In Orlando?
AVC: How many did you do in a day?
KF: I can’t remember now, but it was four or five shows a day.
AVC: That’s how they do Jeopardy! and how they did Double Dare.
KF: Right. Exactly. But this was pretty intense. Jeopardy! is pretty basic, and pretty much set. This was a ginormous set, and we’re running all the moats at one time, we’re running all the Steps Of Knowledge. So we did it in that way.
AVC: So you’d just do four sets of moats, then four sets of steps, break for lunch, and so on?
KF: At the beginning, we had six teams of two, so we had 12—so we had 48 kids in the beginning, and then we weeded them out real quick. The good news was you ran them through quick in the beginning, so they didn’t have to stay there all day to get eliminated in two minutes.
AVC: How long have you known about the Legends movie? How involved were you?
KF: They just contacted me and told me they were making a movie and were interested in having me come back. And what could I say? I had to say yes. I had to come back and do the show.
AVC: Is it surreal at all to be back?
KF: It’s completely surreal. Three weeks ago, they brought me into the set, and I think they were all really super glad to see me because—have you seen the set yet?
AVC: Not yet, no. [Note: We saw it later, and it was amazing. It’s full of references to the original show, and the movie should be a treat for both nostalgic adults and today’s kids.]
KF: Well, you’ll see it, and it’s amazing. It’s like Raiders Of The Lost Ark out there. So it’s really amazing. But then coming on the set, they’re really happy to see me, and I can bring sort of the punctuation and the authenticity of what they’re doing. They were very excited to show me the rooms and all that kind of stuff, and I was blown away. It’s a pretty big gift to come back and be able to do this.
AVC: How many through-lines are there from the original show? There’s a silver monkey, a red jaguar, a barracuda, and the Steps Of Knowledge, and so on.
KF: They do a lot of similar things for the movie. They bring in those iconic images of the game show, and I think they follow the game show really well. They bring it alive, so it’s like a real live-action adventure of the game show.
It’s sort of like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or Raiders Of The Lost Ark meets Jumanji. It’s kind of that combination.
AVC: How did you get the job hosting Legends?
KF: At the time I was working for Amblin Entertainment. I had won a writing fellowship through that company, and I thought my life was going to go off into a big career of writing and directing. And so I was on the lot at Universal.
I was an actor out of New York. Grew up in L.A., but I went to New York and started my career. And so I started doing a lot of commercials. I did theater there, too, but when I got out [to L.A.], I was doing a lot of commercials and really trying to push to become a writer/director. I won this fellowship, and I was there on the lot doing it and super busy and had done, like, seven commercials that year, so it was a big year. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere I get a phone call saying they wanted to see me for this new game show. They had pulled me out of a player’s directory guide that actors used to pay, like, $75 every six months to have their pictures in. And that’s how they used to find people and cast people.
They were in a hurry because Stone Stanley had gotten the gig, and they hadn’t done a pilot for it. So they had to kind of scramble, like, “Can we do it? Of course we can do it. We’re ready!” They just threw the whole thing together, and they did an amazing job.
I went out and auditioned for the job, and they had me do the play-by-play of the temple. I didn’t really understand the show, but they said, “It’s going to go through this giant temple,” and all I could think was, “I watch football.” My brother and I used to do play-by-play all the time, so we’d do, “…takes the ball at the 40, the 35, the 20, 15, five! Touchdown!” And so I thought, “I can do this.” And so I started doing the whole narration of the kid going through the temple, and I booked the job.
And then all of a sudden I’m on an airplane. And we go out [to Orlando], and it’s this ginormous set. And they’re building and figuring it out and writing, and they hand me this huge script. I was like, “What is this?” I was trying to figure it out.
AVC: Do you still get people that recognize you from the show?
KF: When the show was on, my brothers and sisters had young kids, so I would show up to their big birthday parties and blow away all the kids.
AVC: Would you show up in the outfit?
KF: No. But all of a sudden I’d be jumping around in a jumpy house, and they’d be like, “That! Guy! Is! From! The! Show!” Like, while they were jumping around.
One time, my nephew—he was a good soccer player, this was even later—we went to a soccer game. Landon Donovan was there, and it was kind of a big thing. And then, all of a sudden, I stepped onto the field just to talk to my nephew, and one of the big soccer players came up to my nephew, and he goes, “That was Kirk Fogg from Legends Of The Hidden Temple. You know that, right?” And he goes, “Yeah, that’s my uncle.”
AVC: What was it like for you to be on the set, around the kids?
KF: It was pretty exciting. And I was thinking about this earlier today. I showed up, and they introduced me to all the cast and the crew and everything like that, and then I met the kids who are on the show. Have you met the kids yet?
AVC: Not yet, no. [Note: We did later, and they were very nice.]
KF: So I met the kids. They’re almost like a throwback to the ’90s. They’re almost like the kids that I did the show with. They have almost, like, that same sensibility, and that’s the déjà vu of the whole thing. We’re already high-fiving, and we already feel like we kind of knew each other. It’s surreal.
But the kids out [in Orlando] were—we’re all in it. Because first of all, we’re there all day together. I had someone working with me all the time, always jotting down, like, I’d say, “Remember this moment, remember this,” so that I could tie the narrative together, and so I could remember, “Oh, that was Julie, and she dropped that pendant,” or, “In the temple games, she had trouble putting those things in, but at the last second she won and it was a miracle, and you know they’ve been struggling ever since the moat,” and that kind of thing.
But it was very emotional for the kids. It was very tiring, they were very much invested, and they didn’t know each other before the show. They were paired up, girls and boys, so the preteens were even more like, “Hi, how are you…”
AVC: That sounds like a lesson in trust.
KF: Yes, how much do you trust each other? You couldn’t just be super strong, either. You had to be smart, and you had to think. Sometimes I’d think, “Oh god, these guys just look like they’re going to kill here,” but they couldn’t get past the Steps Of Knowledge. So you had to have this weird brains-and-brawn combo. So sometimes the girls would carry the boys through, and sometimes the boys carried the girls through. It was kind of weird.
AVC: I knew a guy that was on.
KF: Really? What year?
AVC: I have no idea. I learned this years later.
KF: How far did he get?
AVC: He only got to the Steps Of Knowledge and always complained that he got stuck with a dud. He said he had to carry his team.
KF: Right. Because you had to go read the lesson.
AVC: The kids got to read the lessons?
KF: Yeah, they didn’t hear it for the first time on set. That’s because you’d be sitting there when the show started, and you’d hear Olmec talking and you’d be thinking, “I just missed half of it.” So they’d give them the lesson to learn, to give them a chance to study. But then it’s like Jeopardy! so you had to step on the step to ring in.
AVC: It’s not just being smart. It’s also speed.
KF: If you’re thinking on your feet, how do you react under pressure.
AVC: Have you always embraced the show? Was there a time after it ended that you were glad to be done?
KF: No, there’s never been [anything like that]. I’ve been going down memory lane here, but this is one of those shows where I’m glad to be able to take it all the way to my grave. It’s been nothing but good times, and that always gets reinforced when I run into fans of the show. They’re like, “This was very meaningful for me growing up.” As my shows were when I was watching. But this was a really positive, fun, and kind of strange and weird, too, which was kind of cool. It was kind of like Survivor a little bit.
AVC: It was educational, there was physicality… it was a bunch of things at once.
KF: Yeah, so it kind of fit together really nicely. And there was a lot of unexpectedness, which I liked. But when I die, of course that’ll be my byline, you know?
AVC: Well, a lot worse could be said about someone, so you’re lucky.
AVC: Is there a brotherhood of kids’ TV hosts? Have you met Marc Summers?
KF: I tried to get ahold of Marc Summers, but he wouldn’t return my phone call. No, just kidding.
I spoke to Marc probably about a year ago. We met because we did some funny garage show with Jeff Sutphen. He did a show out of his garage. So the door opens, and it was me, Phil Moore, and Marc Summers, and we did a whole talk show. Jeff moderated the talk show. And then we had a Jeopardy! round, and Marc Summers actually did the hosting on that. I won, I think.
AVC: We did a Taste Test video a while back with him, and he’s the consummate host.
KF: He’s good. He’s really good. He’s totally Alex Trebek. But for kids.
And Phil Moore, we converse back and forth.
AVC: It’s funny, because, as a kid, when I imagined everything being shot at Nickelodeon Studios, I imagined all the casts just hanging out together, and I’ve come to find out that wasn’t always true.
KF: No, we were.
AVC: You were?
KF: In beanbag chairs.
What happens is, we went out there, and I happened to run into Marc because he was there.
Those stages, once one show goes out, a new one comes in, and then they go off and go do their life. So they deconstruct Guts, and then Legends comes in for its little period. There wasn’t a lot of overlap, and it was Orlando, so a lot of people had other jobs in other places. But I ran into Marc once, and his first question was, “How do you do so many commercials?”
AVC: What’s the answer?
KF: Good improvisational skills.
AVC: Do you think former kids that watched the original show will like the movie?
KF: They’re going to swarm to watch this movie. I think they are going to like this movie a lot. Because the movie really did integrate stuff. Alex Jenkins Reid, who wrote the script—I looked at it, and the first thing I thought was, “This looks like he’s a fan of the show.” That’s how I read it. When they said, “Do you want to be in the movie?” I said, “Yes, but I’d like to read the script, because how are they going to do this?” Are they going to set up the temple like it is and then make it look like a temple, but is it going to be, like, one-dimensional? When I started reading it, I went, “Oh, he was a fan of the show.” So he was able to update it, put it as a live-action, action-adventure set but integrate all the games and the challenges, but put it in a real situation. In this one, you’re fighting for your life as opposed to fighting for a trip to the Bahamas or space camp.
AVC: Or Busch Gardens.
KF: [Laughs.] Busch Gardens. Yeah. You’d go, “Wait, but I did all that, and I’m only going to Busch Gardens?”
AVC: “And I live in Orlando!”
KF: Exactly. Poor guys.
So, anyway, the iconic figures from the shirts are all back. They’re all represented, and I think it’s done in a clever way, how they brought them into the movie.
AVC: So there are barracudas?
KF: Everything. Everything’s back!
KF: Olmec is back. He’s there.
AVC: What are the kids from the new movie like?
KF: Well, it’s kind of the age range [from the show] because you have Jet [Jurgensmeyer,] who’s the youngest at 10, and then you have Isabela [Moner], who’s, like, 13, 14, so…
AVC: Is that how old the contestants were on the show?
KF: Yeah, it was that range. We’d go through like a 9-year-old, 10-year-old period, and then they would bring 12 and 13s out.
AVC: So 9-year-olds weren’t competing against 13-year-olds?
KF: No, [the producers] were smart. They paired it up age-wise. Sometimes, the way the little kids are, they were all on top of each other, and then you got into the 13-, 14-year-olds, and they’re a little bit more standoffish.
AVC: “Don’t touch my hand!”
KF: [Laughs.] Yeah. But by the time the show ended, if they’ve stayed with each other, they would all be dancing together at the end.
AVC: It had to be hard to be those kids. You’d have to learn about your partner very quickly.
KF: I think the producers probably helped them out a little bit and were sort of able to navigate them toward making their decisions. They were at least able to provide strategy on who goes first and who would be better at this… Maybe. I don’t even know.
No one ever got hurt. We only had one girl who threw up, but it was in the middle of the Pit Of Despair, which I thought was apropos. And then we had to cut. Everything shut down, and we had to clean the balls and we had to set her back in there and wipe her tears because she was crying hysterically, and put her back in there and set the clock back up and go again.
AVC: She was probably so keyed up.
KF: She was! If you ran the temple… you don’t realize how really difficult and how out-of-breath you are at the end.
AVC: Did you ever do it?
KF: Yep. I did it every year before we started the show. So we’d have our rehearsals, and I would say, “Put the clock at three minutes and set it, and I’m going to go.”
AVC: With temple guards and everything?
KF: No temple guards. That’s the first time anybody asked me that. No temple guards. I did it without temple guards.
AVC: Well, of course you make it through without temple guards. The temple guards are what threw actual contestants.
KF: No, but you’ve got to go through, and halfway through you’re saying, “I don’t know if I can go any further.” You’re really gassed.
AVC: Kids have a capacity to do things that adults don’t, though. They can just go and go and go.
KF: I know a lot of adults that would like to have gone on that show. They would like to go on that show now. And, my own son.