Article Thumbnail

Scientists Debunk ‘Floor Is Lava,’ Netflix’s Very Hot New Game Show

What’s really on the floor is this show’s bar for accuracy

Netflix’s new game show is hotter than how I thought I looked the time I buzzed my head. But like my style in 2017, it doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.

In Floor Is Lava, teams of three play an adult version of the childhood challenge to cross a room without touching the floor. In the series, the “lava” is a studio filled with a liquid, and the path to victory includes household items like a bed, chaise lounge or fireplace.

Executive producer Irad Eyal stayed tight-lipped to Vulture about the fake lava’s properties. He said producers worked with slime manufacturers on 50 different formulas before finding the right viscosity and color. The result looks like a vat of Gatorade’s fruit punch flavor.

Photo via Patrick Wymore/Netflix ©2020

Bingeing four episodes during a quarantine depressive moment, I couldn’t get over how faulty the premise and make-believe lava are. Not to be all Neil DeGrasse Tyson about it, but lava shouldn’t be so, uh, splish-splash-y, right? And wouldn’t all that furniture just melt or something?

But I’ll admit I know literally nothing about lava. I grew up in the Midwestern plains and got a C in high school chemistry. I’ve never seen a lava lake in real life. So I spoke with several volcano experts about the logistics of surviving an actual game of Floor Is Lava. These scientists, some of whom have seen the inside of Hawaiian volcanoes, graciously answered my annoying questions about the show and the human ability to safely cross molten rock. 

Spoiler: Much like its fake-ass lava, this show’s bar for accuracy is also on the floor.

Volcano Lava GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The premise of the show is this: If you fall into lava, you die. Is this accurate?

“Yes, that is without a doubt true. A pool of hot lava is somewhere north of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, so that is too much for the human body,” Einat Lev, an associate research professor at Columbia University, tells me.

Unlike the contestants in the show, you wouldn’t just sink into lava like diving into a pool. Lord of the Rings also got it wrong with Gollum’s slow submergence into a lava lake. Death by molten rock is literally a searing experience. “It’s a lot more sizzling,” Erik Klemetti, associate professor of geosciences at Denison University, tells me. 

The contestants are splashed with lava bubbling from the ground. What would happen to their bodies and clothes?

“They would burn immediately,” Philipp Ruprecht, a volcanologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, tells me. Running, bubbling magma would have a viscosity consistent with warm honey or maple syrup. Except your hands aren’t going to get all sticky; they might just burn right off. 

Contestants wouldn’t even have to touch the lava before their shoes start melting and skin starts peeling. “If they are just suspended above the lava, like it is portrayed in the trailer, they would burn too,” Ruprecht says of the intense heat. Goodbye, my perfect eyebrows. 

Photo via Adam Rose/Netflix ©2020

The show features household objects like a glass chandelier, wooden crate and fabric curtains to cross and avoid touching the “lava.” Realistically, would these objects withstand or disintegrate (alongside my spirit)?

Fabric curtains and wooden crates will fall apart in lava more quickly than my last relationship. “Any wooden materials would burst into flames,” Tracy Gregg, associate professor of volcanology at the University at Buffalo, tells me. 

A metal desk or countertop made of granite rock will have a better chance of surviving the heat so you could momentarily jump across. Be quick. As Lev says, “Eventually the heat will go in and destroy everything.”

So, if my apartment floor suddenly became lava, would I have a chance of making it out alive?

If the lava is slowed by cold temperatures or contains high volumes of silica, Lev says, you could outrun or jump over it. If it’s a lava flow, you’ll have to wait until it hardens. “You can attempt to cross over that, hoping it won’t break under your feet. But that roof might take days to form, if ever,” she says.

Now, what if my bedroom suddenly turns into a lava lake? I actually feel confident in answering this one. I die before waking up to realize this horror movie isn’t still a comedy.