'90s Nick Game Show Winners Tell All

Other than a My Size Barbie, your own phone line, and to be BFFs with the Olsen twins, the only thing a '90s kid wanted was to be a contestant on a Nickelodeon game show. Legends of the Hidden Temple, GUTS, Figure It Out: These were just a few samples of an irresistible lineup they offered.

In fact, they were more than just game shows. With no DVR, Netflix, or on-demand services, we carved out a special time in our pre-Internet lives specially for this programming. They were an integral part of your childhood.

Now that we're adults, we're always thinking about this golden age of kids' television — there doesn't seem to be anything remotely close to this kind of TV today. So, we  reached out to five people who were lucky enough to be part of these '90s shows. Ahead, five winners recount the most epic moments of their childhood — and yours.
Photo: Courtesy of Jana; Via YouTube.
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Jana
Winner: GUTS and GUTS All Stars, 1993


Jana — "The Warrior" — impressed Nickelodeon with her GUTS performance. Halfway through the taping, a producer asked her if she'd like to come back and compete again if there were ever an All Star version of the show. Returning for another competition was a no-brainer. "The second pair of free Reebok pump shoes sealed the deal," she said.

Of course, no prize is greater than bringing home a piece of the coveted Aggro Crag. "To set the record straight, it didn't actually come home with me that day." Jana explained that the Crag she held up during the show was a lighter, smaller version. The actual one arrived at her home weeks later, larger and with a plug for the wall so it can light up. "It still works brilliantly, actually." 

Not only was it a treasured item as a child, but it's still a fixture in her adult home. "It was my husband's idea to pull it out of the closet and put it up in the house." Jana says whenever people come over or hear that she has a piece of the Crag, they like to take pictures with it and post on social media. "I was once offered $500 for it. I politely declined, but thought it was funny because for the first time someone gave it monetary value."

For the All Stars edition, she also won a silver trophy and a $2,500 college scholarship. "None of the contestants knew about the money until we overheard Mike O'Malley announce it in the intro," Jana recalled. "We all looked at each other, and were like, 'What? There's money to be won?'"

At the time, Jana was a nationally competing gymnast. Like Jen (see below), she and her team were approached at the gym and encouraged to try out for the show. Most of them made it. "We're all from Orlando, so there were a bunch of people from my high school on different shows. When it aired, we all just went to school the next day and hope nobody said anything about it."

Jana's fans are surprised to learn she's now paralyzed from a stunt show accident at Sea World when she was 20 years old. "GUTS was such a physical show, so when they look me up and see that I'm in a wheelchair, it's jarring." Jana's written about her tragic experience on her own blog, where she now does some freelance writing. Thanks to social media, anonymity wasn't in the cards. In the early '00s, GUTS reruns began airing on Nick's Games and Sports channel, which made it something of a cult classic. Before long, clips were all over YouTube. Her first fan letter came through MySpace. (I found Jana through a Twitter picture of the Crag from her account.) "I could've never imagined the popularity of GUTS even now, or even fathom I'd be interviewed 20-something years later about what I thought was just something I did as a kid."

Photo: Via YouTube; Courtesy of Logan.
Logan
Winner: Figure It Out,  1998


To be a contestant on Figure It Out, Logan had to send in a video pitching his special talent: "I was the only kid with his own brand of hot dogs."

Logan's mom had created a brand of all-natural beef hot dogs free of preservatives called Logan's Choice. Intrigued, Nickelodeon interviewed him over the phone. "They liked me enough and asked me to participate."

The panelists — including Danny Tamberelli from Pete & Pete, Taran Noah Smith from Home Improvement, and Amanda Bynes — were stumped. Logan won a $300 gift card to Toys 'R' Us, an arcade-style basketball hoop, and a trip for two to Key Largo. (But, he explains the trip wasn't as all-inclusive as it sounded on TV.) "I have a framed list of my prizes at my parents' house [in New York]. When I go back there and see all this stuff — posters and autographs — it's cool."

Almost as exciting as winning was having Bynes as a panelist. "I had a crush on her when I was little, so I was really excited she was on the show." He got to shake her hand backstage — a major moment for a kid with a crush. "I was really shy and starstruck."

Logan says sometimes people don't believe that he was on Figure It Out, though YouTube has helped. And, Cornell University must have believed him, because he used this story for his college essay and gained admission. Now, he's in law school in Florida. He's hoping to begin practicing law in the fall after passing the bar. 

When asked what he missed most about the '90s, the answer was easy: "The shows were so good. Saved By The Bell, Boy Meets World, All That, Kenan & Kel. That was one of my favorites! Sometimes I'll watch an old episode or something and I'll crack up even now. It's still hilarious." 

Photo: Courtesy of Jen, Jess, Kate.
Jen
Winner: Legends of the Hidden Temple , 1993


Jen was a 12-year-old gymnast living in Orlando when she and her entire team were invited to try out for Legends of the Hidden Temple. One trivia questionnaire and an athletic test later, she was paired up with a boy named Tony. Together, they were the Blue Barracudas. 

They were a deadly combination. "He was the brainiac and I was the jock," Jen said. And, though it looked like a 20-minute adrenaline rush on TV, it was actually a 12-hour day of filming. (The network actually shot four episodes in one go.) Even with such a long day, Jen took care of the final Temple Run all by herself in just 53 seconds. "According to Nickelodeon, I was the second girl to ever do that."

Nickelodeon awarded Jen with a camera, a remote control truck that her dad still has even though it doesn't work — "He says it's my trophy" — and a trip to a ranch in upstate New York, where she and her mom rode horses.

Now, she's a personal trainer living in Orlando. Sometimes she'll get a Facebook message from fans of the show who discovered the clip of her Temple Run online. "It's actually kind of embarrassing," she said. "I was an athlete and a tomboy. I had short hair because my mother didn't know how to do anything with hair. The outfits were ridiculous, and because I got paired up with the boy, the announcer called me a boy multiple times saying, 'Look at him go!'"

Still, she knows being on the show was one of the coolest things to happen to her. "Anytime in school when they asked you to say one thing about yourself, my story was always the coolest one." Don't worry. I asked, and Jen hasn't ever used her story to get a date. Okay — but, maybe it came up during a date a few times. 
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Kate

Winner: Family Double Dare, 1992


When Kate was 9 years old, she and her family were on vacation at Universal Studios in Orlando. During a tour of Nickelodeon Studios, they signed up for a chance to be on Family Double Dare and were selected to play. 

Kids who remember the show can tell you it was messy. Slime, food, and basically anything icky was part of most physical challenges. I asked Kate if it was as easy as it looked on TV. "Some of them are easy, but others are harder than they look," she said. "I was rewatching it recently. My sister had to find a flag in a waffle. It didn't take a lot of brain work, but they take a lot more time than you'd think." Plus, as a 12-year-old facing the pressure of being on national television, things become a bit hectic.

Kate's family won their episode. They took home $625 in cash for the trivia portion, a luggage set, a word processor that they gave to their older cousin who was in college at the time, and some Looney Tunes watches. Though, she says Nickelodeon never actually sent the coveted watches. "I was always so mad about that," she said.

What's great about Kate's experience is that she is now able to provide some trivia herself about the show. For example, the slime is edible. "It doesn't necessarily taste good, but if it gets into your mouth, it's all food-product based. I don't remember if I tasted it, I was so nervous."

She was also surprised that Nickelodeon put makeup on her. "They put mascara on me. They French-braided my hair, which I thought was awesome. I looked at the video, and to me it was shocking. I look almost pageant-y," Kate said.

Her family lost the original tape — yes, the tape — of their appearance on Family Double Dare. But, plenty of people have uploaded the episode to YouTube. 

Nowadays, Kate's married with two children and is a social worker at a children's hospital. Her time on the Nickelodeon show has proven useful. "Once a year at my job we have Social Work Month. We do a little-known fact and every couple years I throw that in as mine."

Jessica
Participant, Nickelodeon Takes Over Your School , 2001


Jessica was in sixth grade when Nickelodeon took over Green Hills School in New Jersey. A fellow student who was in the second grade at the time entered the contest and won. And, Nickelodeon wasn't kidding when it promised a complete takeover. "It was a big production," Jessica said. The network set up a stage in the gym, camera crews were everywhere, and the hosts of Slime Time Live walked around the school all day. "We all got T-shirts, teachers were slimed, and O Town and LFO performed." Total pinch-me moment.

Jessica said the boy bands even used the school's library as their green room. "We kept walking by hoping to see them in there, but of course we didn't." At the time she, like every girl in America, was enamored by the boy band genre. (Think: *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees.) So, this was something of a dream come true. 

Now, Jessica's living in Brooklyn and working as a production assistant at Sotheby's. "I went to school in a very rural area, so nothing exciting like that ever happened."  In other words, it was the best day, ever.


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