My daughter and I have taken to watching a new Netflix show called Floor is Lava. It’s a reality competition based on a game many can identify with. As kids, my brothers and I would pretend the floors of our house were covered in lava (or quicksand, or shark-infested water) and would role-play various adventures that required us to navigate the house by climbing on the furniture. We’d jump from bed to bed, crawl over tables, and use couch cushions as islands – anything to avoid touching the floor. Netflix has taken this concept and created an adult-sized obstacle course.
Filmed in an old Ikea building (because no studio wanted their property covered in 80,000 gallons of pretend lava), the show pits teams of three in a race from one end of a room to the other. One point is scored for each member who makes it to the exit, with ties decided by the fastest time. There’s only one rule – don’t touch the floor. This means that everything in the room is a potential asset. With multiple routes at their disposal, teams must figure out the best way to navigate the room and escape. The winners take home a trophy and $10,000.
The show is simple and somewhat cheesy – some might even call it stupid – buts it’s a huge hit for Netflix. It’s also turned into an interesting character study for me. After watching contestants work their way through a variety of themed rooms, I’ve noticed that those who do well tend to operate very differently from their less-successful counterparts.
Winning teams get busy. The teams that win don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their moves. They identify a way forward and get started. When things don’t work out, they try something different. Losing teams tend to wait longer before getting started and waste a lot of time debating even the simplest maneuvers.
Winning teams work together. While viewers can see the entire course laid out, contestants have limited sight-lines. They can’t always judge the distance between objects or see where footholds are located. Teams that do well communicate with each other, shouting encouragement and advice even as they each navigate their way around the course. They support each other (literally) when necessary to ensure the team stays together and on track.
Winning teams have fun. At first, I was frustrated with the way some teams seemed to be more interested in chatting with each other than in getting the job done. I soon realized that these teams were still moving forward, they were just enjoying the process rather than agonizing over it. They view the experience as an adventure, not a chore. Completing the course takes concentration and effort, but it doesn’t have to be work.
Creators Irad Eyal and Megan McGrath are already working on plans for a second season of Floor is Lava. Given the success of the first few episodes, I imagine the sets will be larger and the obstacles more daring. One thing I bet doesn’t change though, is the formula winning teams use to get from point A to point B.