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Peacock's 'Frogger' host promises hopping across lily pads in a game show isn't as simple as you think

By Caitlin Busch

Leap for your life! Since the summer of 1981, the Sega-made arcade game Frogger, in which players navigate a frog across vast highways and log-filled rivers, has had players digging through their pockets for any remaining quarters. And while there have been many iterations of the game across handhelds, consoles, and computer screens ever since, Peacock’s new competition game show, Frogger, is unlike anything fans have seen before.

Premiering on Peacock on Sept. 9 and co-hosted by Damon Wayans Jr. (Big Hero 6, New Girl) and Kyle Brandt (Good Morning Football), Frogger will see contestants take on a variety of physical, often-wacky challenges that will, according to Brandt, land them on their butts more often than you might expect. The courses contestants will be running to win the $100,000 prize include a variety of outrageous “crossings,” including Frog City, Candy Frog Land, Frogs in Space, Frog Skull Island, Ribbit River, and Toad Temple. 

Brandt describes the game to us like this: “So you're in the arcade and maybe there's Depeche Mode playing, maybe it's Bon Jovi — to each his own. Maybe it's NWA, whatever you like. And there's some pizza grease on the controllers and you're down to your last quarter and you put it in and it says, ‘Ready Player One.’ But then instead of pressing the buttons on the controller, you actually dive into the screen like Wreck-It Ralph.

“And then you get to do that show for an entire hour,” he continues. “So if it's the Disney movie, it's [in] 1985, it's [with] Bon Jovi. And it's hilarious watching these people fall across giant hippos and pyramids and all of the madness that you put in front of them.”

Ahead of the series premiere, SYFY WIRE caught up with Brandt to get the low-down on this hoppin’ good time, and chat obstacles, nostalgia-fueled obsession, and working side-by-side with Wayans.

What was your initial reaction to finding out about this show? Because I don’t think anyone expected Frogger to ever become a game show.

Never mind being part of it: How fast can I watch it? My initial reaction also was pain because I remember being a 6-year-old and begging my mom for one more quarter to put in the Frogger machine in 1985. Frogger was hard, man. I mean, Frogger was a hard game for a 6-year-old and I wanted badly to pass the first level. And I don't think I ever could.

And some of the contestants we have on Frogger the show, I don't think they could ever either. It's hard!

What version were you playing? We talking arcade?

Oh yeah. Yeah, not only was I playing in the arcade situation as a kid, I went full Daniel Day-Lewis method for this job. If you go on a PS5 or one of those, you can download the original Frogger from back in the day in its intended form. None of these compromised recent drafts, I played the original and this is what I'm supposed to tell you now that I'm a grown man with kids of my own: I figured out it was actually very basic and I dominated it. 

[But no] It's still really hard! So I played it. I feel like I prepared like an athlete for this. And then you show up and it's like, “Man this show, I think it has everything.” It's got sports, it's got a video game, it's got comedy. And I think it even has some romance. So we really ran the gamut.

It's every genre you could possibly think of.

I didn't think it would have romance. And then the romance was between Damon and me, we fell in love by the end of it. And it was a hell of a journey.

Tell me about that romance. What kind of journey did y’all go on together?

Well, I remember when we were shooting this and he and I had never met before and we went to a restaurant and we had lunch and we just met for the first time... And we sit down together and we're kind of feeling each other out and I'm like, “I'm just going to do it.” And I was like, “Damon, I've got to tell you, I grew up watching In Living Color. I love the Blankman and White Chicks... I'm a huge fan of your family. And I hope that's cool with you.” And he's like, “Of course, thank you.” 

I think a lot of people would have been put off by that. “Oh gosh, more stuff about In Living Color.” And he's like, “No, I remember it. I was a kid and I visited this set and that set, and I remember Jim Carrey was crazy and my dad and he were so close.” And so I was like, “This guy's going to be awesome, I love this guy.” So chill and so laid back. 

So the relationship we had was just like two guys sitting there on a couch who've got some Pringles and some Sour Patch Kids and we're playing video games.

Specifically, Frogger.

I mean, who knows one day, maybe this might be a franchise! Galaga and Donkey Kong [in game show form]. But right now it's the purely amphibian genre.

What's the hardest part about this that you've seen so far? The stuff that people are having a really hard time with. 

Man, I guess it would be easier to answer what's the easiest part. Alright, #nospoilers, but we had a contestant who — you get three lives and, oh my goodness, this young lady we kept having to stop because Damon was laughing so hard about how it went. And you hear about this, you see all these outtakes from John Krasinski and Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson [on the set of The Office], And they can't get through takes at Dunder Mifflin and all that. That is what this was like. We kept having to [re]start because I actually thought that Wayans was going to break a rib laughing at how this particular contestant went on the pirate level. 

And I was like, “We only have a month to shoot the show, Wayans, we're going to be here for six months if you don't hold it together!” But it really was that funny. 

There are many different levels. What are some of your favorites?

Oh, man. Well, here's the thing, I have a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old at home and I have them inside me in terms of psychologically, like I have their mentality. And so I'm watching this for weeks and watching these people run up and down pyramids and swing from pirate ships and jump on the back of crocodiles. And I'm like, “Can I run the course? Please let me run it one damn time — let me get out there!” And they kept saying, “When we're done, when we're done, we have contracts and legal departments and everything.” 

So I will tell you that sure enough the second we wrapped, I ran out there on what we call the Boss Toad Bonus Round, which is like the boss of the video game level.

That's my favorite level. There's a pyramid we have that has this Raiders of the Lost Ark-style boulder, that crushes you. It’s unbelievable. I don't even remember this in the video game, but maybe that's because I couldn't pass the first level. [Laughs.] 

It's more nostalgia, we all remember what it was like at the end of whatever Nintendo game we were playing; whether it was Zelda or Metroid or whatever. There was that SOB boss at the end and the level picked up a bit and the music changed and we have that. So that's my favorite level.

Frogger Still

So once you actually got to get on the course, how did you do? Would you have won?

No, no, no, no. And here's the thing: People are going to watch this and they're going to say, “This is lame, this is easy. I could do this in my sleep.” I thought that for a month straight, I thought that for 13 episodes. And then in 13 seconds on the court, I was tapping out and exhausted. I'm like, “Get me off of here. I'm going to break something and I'm going to hurt something.” 

It's way, way, way, way more difficult than you think. It turns out that jumping on the back of hippos and space snakes and satellites — and sometimes even giant spinning s'mores — is exhausting. I will put that up against anything: decathlons... I live in the NFL world. I've seen football players, who just played four quarters, less exhausted than I was after 10 seconds of climbing a big pyramid. It's way harder than it looks, folks, I'm telling you.

It's the same kind of thing with like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune where you're like, “Oh, I knew that!” No, you didn't.

Yeah, you're like, “Oh, these idiots on Wheel of Fortune, how do you not solve that puzzle?” And it's like, “You put yourself at the podium and I guarantee you will not get that before and after.” I will guarantee [the same with] the Frogger people. You think you can climb across this giant licorice bridge. It is way harder than it looks.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about this show?

The ending was absolutely that bleepin’ insane. And what I mean is, look, Caitlin, you do the 13 episodes. You hope that when the grand champion is crowned, hopefully, it's sort of dramatic. Hopefully, there's a cool, tight race at the end. We were screaming — actually blood-curling screams in the booth because we could not believe what happened in the final, final, final match. After the 13 episodes, it is one of the craziest endings I've ever seen. 

And look, I'm classically trained. I was watching American Gladiators back in the late ‘80s. I've watched all this Ninja Warrior this and all that. I've seen a million of those. I have never seen an ending to a show like our ending. It was shock and awe; we thought we were hallucinating, but we weren't, it really happened.

Frogger premieres on Peacock on Sept. 9.

Peacock and SYFY WIRE are both owned by NBCUniversal.

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