What Exactly Is ‘Floor Is Lava’ And Why Is It The Most Popular Show In America?

First things first, we all need to be clear about the distinction between floor is lava, generally, and Floor Is Lava, specifically. The former, lowercase all the way through, is a game most children have played with their siblings or cousins or friends in which you must leap from one piece of furniture to another without touching the floor. The game ends when there is one competitor who remains safely on a piece of furniture, making that person the winner, or when someone’s mom shouts “Stop jumping on the furniture,” in which case no one wins because moms are undefeated.

The latter, complete with capital letters and italics, is a new Netflix competition series that is based on that children’s game and is, as of this writing, for reasons that historians and anthropologists of the future will teach entire post-graduate courses on, the most popular television show in the world. I say that as someone who watched five episodes in a row recently. It is profoundly stupid. As am I, sometimes. I have regrets.

But I’m sure you have a few questions about all of this. Please, fire away.

What is any of this?

Excellent place to start. Floor Is Lava is the latest of Netflix’s reality/competition shows that are somehow both very much more and very much less than their network counterparts. Like Temptation Island but find it too classy? Try Too Hot to Handle. Enjoy dating shows but wish there were more preposterous gimmicks? Click on Love Is Blind. The Netflix algorithm is here to pump your stupidest guilty pleasures into your stupid veins as efficiently as possible. It’s exciting and strange and a little disquieting. Welcome to the future.

The game works like this: Three teams of three compete in each episode. They have to navigate their way across a room meant to represent the rooms of a house — basement, bedroom, study, planetarium for some reason — by leaping from structure to structure without falling into the “lava” that surrounds them. The team that accomplishes it fastest and loses the fewest people gets $10,000. It’s very simple. On paper. Stuff like this happens a lot.


Okay. But why did you put lava in quotes like that?

Well, because, as you can see in the GIF above, each of the structures they’re leaping from and to is floating in a pool of bubbling reddish-orange water that is meant, for the purposes of the show, to be actual lava.

I’m still lost. Please continue.

Okay. This is the weirdest part of the show. Everyone involved has just really agreed to accept that what is very obviously a pool of colored water is, in fact, bubbling, fiery lava. This is full-on method acting by everyone involved. You see it when a jet shoots up and splashes someone in the back and they pause for a second before they realize they’re supposed to shout “Ow, hot” or whatever. You really see it when someone’s teammate falls into the “lava” during a failed leap and everyone tries to act like they really, truly just died. It helps that you never see the person surface after they fall in. The commitment to the bit is honestly a little inspiring.


Huh. So this is like a Wipeout, Holey Moley thing, but with fake lava?

First of all, no. Second of all, how dare you?

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for snapping. But, no. This show is not as good or fun as those shows, for two main reasons: One, everyone on those shows — especially my beloved Holey Moley — knows they’re involved in a nutty bozo circus of recklessness and misadventure, and they lean into that energy in a tongue-in-cheek fun way that this endeavor does not match; two, the stakes are much lower here, both in prize money and gameplay, with this being more like a wetter, less dramatic version Legends of the Hidden Temple than either of those shows. Like, you will not see anyone get wiped out by a huge padded windmill on Floor Is Lava, and you definitely won’t see anything like this, which is my second favorite thing that has happened on television all year, just behind the Jackie Daytona episode of What We Do in the Shadows. I have no higher praise to give.


Well, that’s a bumm-… hold on. Is that guy okay?

No one knows! Probably!

Jesus Christ.

Greatest show on television.

Okay, so there’s nothing wild like that happening? Then what’s the point?

Oh, there is definitely some fun to be had. Take, for example, this lady, a member of the first team to tackle the course in the very first episode.


Guess what happens to her.

She… does she bash her face?



I think I’m grasping this now. Are there also, like, teams of bros in American flag tank tops making corny jokes about dating and/or the obstacles?


I knew it. So here’s my real question, I guess: How and why is this currently the number one show in America?

Three reasons, I think, if I had to try to level a guess, which I kind of do:

  • Netflix has a very powerful reach, to the point that anything that cracks its algorithm and bubbles up to the leaderboard tends to become wildly popular for a brief period, like Tiger King did a few months ago
  • People are very bored and fried due to … [gestures broadly toward a summer filled with massive political unrest and a pandemic-related quarantine that could last through the year or longer]… and might enjoy shutting their head off to watch lunatics pretend water is actually scalding hot lava that has bubbled up from under the earth and melted the entire floor of a house but not, for some reason, the highly flammable cloth furniture
  • People like seeing strangers flailing their bodies and faces into things

America’s Funniest Home Videos has been on the air for like three decades. There’s a formula for success here.

Yeah, I get it. So… should I watch Floor Is Lava?

Up to you, buddy!

That’s not helpful.

Okay, fine. Sure. Watch it. It’s silly and fun and a decent way to kill an hour. But not until you’re caught up on Holey Moley first.


One more Holey Moley GIF for the road.


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