On Double Dare, which bills itself as the "show that turns kids into sundaes for cash and prizes," two teams of two youngsters ages 10 to 13 answer trivia questions ("Which president is on the $5 bill?"), accept physical challenges (catching a ping-pong ball with cymbals, blindfolded) and run the Double Dare obstacle course (plopping into piles of chocolate pudding and whipped cream).
For the taping of its second show yesterday, the Hamsters, 10-year-old twins Melissa and Heather Neeson from the Green Ridge Elementary School in Aston, teamed up against the Destroyers, Ronnie Rainey, 10, and Billy Law, 11, from Edgewood Elementary in Folsom. The kids were dressed in the Double Dare uniform - red T-shirts, pull-on pants and Reeboks.
Busloads of classmates accompanied them to the studios, as well as children
from the School of the Holy Child in Drexel Hill. Contestants were chosen during auditions held at private and public schools in the area.
Philadelphia was chosen for several reasons, according to Double Dare executive producer Geoffrey Darby. He and his co-workers like Philadelphia, they were impressed by WHYY's facilities, and it's easier to transport suburban kids - Nickelodeon's main audience - into Philadelphia than into New York City.
Before the video cameras rolled, crew members put finishing touches on the obstacle course: Putting real maraschino cherries on top of whipped cream at the bottom of the Sundae Slide; pouring sticky butterscotch sauce beneath the seesaw seat. Associate producer Bill Prickett jogged on the One-Ton Human Hamster Wheel to get it loosened up (and you always wondered what associate producers did).
Harvey warmed up the audience, telling the kids when to applaud and cheer. It's a TV show, not school.
"This is a lot like history," he said facetiously, climbing to the top of a vat of Stryrofoam peanuts. "This is a lot like study hall," he continued, before taking a leap that landed him up to his neck.
The Hamsters and the Destroyers began playing, successfully answering such questions as: A baby kangaroo is called a pain in the neck, a joey or a mini- roo? (A joey.) And missing harder ones, like: Which part of every cell links up like a twisted ladder? (DNA).
Billy and Ronnie opted for a physical challenge instead of that last question. Standing back to back, one flipped a pancake slathered with jelly, syrup, cherries and whipped cream over his shoulders and onto the other's plate. Summers stood on the sidelines under an umbrella.
When the buzzer sounded, the boys were declared the winners, which meant that they got to run through the obstacle course - what Double Dare is really all about. (During taping breaks, the audience only wants to know when the sloppy stuff begins.)
The object is to race through eight obstacles, including a trike ride through an oily patch, a swim through lime syrup, and the slide into chocolate pudding, in 60 seconds. They made it through six obstacles and won $320 to split, a TV, a VCR and other gifts.
Double Dare, Darby said, was the result of eight months of work and research by the staff. Children were interviewed in focus groups, stunts were
devised, questions - 3,000 of them - were tested.
But most of all, said Dee La Duke, Nickelodeon's director of creative planning, "We went by instinct. We're all just big kids ourselves."
And, she added, "I always wanted to have a giant hamster wheel. Now, I've got it."