Total Blackout, the Syfy game show that challenges its contestants to complete fearsome tasks in complete darkness, returns tonight for the final six episodes of its second season.
It’s like Fear Factor – but in the dark. Challenges include walking across a plank without the benefit of actually seeing the plank (or how far above the floor it really is), crawling through tunnels filled with unidentified objects, and guessing the weight of objects and/or people (from a large snake to a sumo wrestler) just by touch. But the highlight of Total Blackout episodes tends to be the hilarity-producing challenge that requires contestants to identify the contents of six boxes. Those challenges have produced freak-outs and squeamish responses to things as scary as live tarantulas and as benign as teddy bears and hairbrushes.
Total Blackout is hosted by Jaleel White, best known for his role as nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel on Family Matters. Read on for what White had to say about the show’s upcoming episodes, airing on Syfy Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tease about the next batch of Total Blackout episodes?
JALEEL WHITE: We’re going to have more couples episodes. Those are always great. And when I say couple, it doesn’t necessarily mean people who are involved – although I did see a couple get back together through the course of the show. They arrived as mutual friends, and I think they left rekindled. But we also just have new challenges, upping the stakes. Every time we come back, we get these new savvy contestants. They’ve seen the show, and they think they can outsmart us, but that’s just not gonna happen because we can play little tricks of the game. We also have a celebrity edition this year. I’ll drop one name: Aubrey O’Day is on the show. I see that as something that’s evolving – as the show becomes more popular, celebrities are more up for the task.
When there are these couples episodes – whether the couple be a parent and a child, a boyfriend and a girlfriend – do you see the contestants learning a lot about each other?
They definitely learn more about each other – no question about that. In every couples episode, there’s always one person who’s pretty much “the do-er.” We had one couple that basically decided that only one of them was going to do anything, and she just clinged to his arm the entire time, so we had to make that part of the rules – “you both have to at least touch or do whatever it is that the task is.” They had completely outsmarted us. They were just like, “No, she’s just here. I’m the brave one.” So that part is kind of cool, seeing them work together, but there’s always a dominant one. But even if there’s a dominant one, the second it goes into interview mode, it flip-flops, so the person who didn’t do anything is yapping away like they really participated, and it’s like, “Dude, do you really want us to show the footage of what you just did in there?”
During the challenges, when we hear your voice commentating and sometimes addressing the contestants, is that recorded later, or are you in the dark room?
We do both. If I start to develop a particular rapport with a group of people, we will do it right there on the spot. But for editing purposes they’ll also pull me out, and be like, “Okay, that’s enough.” And another executive producer may take over [commenting in the room].
When you’re not in the dark room with the contestants, are you watching live in another room?
Yes, I’m watching from video village. We have three video villages. We have a video village that is for the director, then we have legal – I’m a part of that video village, the people that are actually monitoring the rules and timing. Then we have another video village that’s the executives.
Do you prefer to be in the room with the contestants or video village?
I actually prefer being in my video village because when I’m in the game room, I have to be very quiet. I’m wearing night vision goggles and I’m standing next to a camera guy. Something can be really funny, but if I start cracking up, it’s going to affect the game. So it’s actually less fun to be in the game room because you have to have your game face on.
How do you think you would fare in these challenges?
I’ve actually touched and handled many of the different things in the light, so I’ve had a tarantula in my hand that’s as big as my hand. I’ve touched the gigantic boa while it was in its tank and the lights are on. The thing I know about the show is the show does not intend to hurt me. And that would help me power through things. But generally what gets people and what would even get me is there tends to be that one thing that even if you know what it is, it just grosses you out.
You often say on the show, “Your imagination can be your greatest enemy.” Why do you think that kind of imagination manifests itself in the dark?
We shot a promo where I’m speaking in complete darkness. All the lights went out completely as dark as the show is played, and I gotta tell you, I’ve never experienced any kind of darkness like that. What creates comfort in darkness is spatial awareness. So when you walk into your bedroom or you walk into any room that you’ve been in before, you have a mental snapshot of where everything is. When you’re playing our game, you don’t have that luxury. You don’t know how big this room is. You don’t have any moonlight, any light under a door, nothing. You can literally put your hand to your face, and there’s nothing you can make out. So at that level of darkness, what your mind does once sounds start and the game starts to be played, is your mind just starts filling in images. You feel like you can see something, but you can’t. And that’s the best part of the game – we really only use tarantulas and crocodiles and stuff like that to get people to the pineapple or the cotton candy that makes them completely freak out.
Syfy’s Total Blackout returns with the episode “Parental Blackout,” featuring parent-child teams, tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
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