It wasn't that long ago that we were discussing in comments the career of Jaleel White, still best-known as Steve Urkel from Family Matters. It turns out I can deliver the best possible answer to the question, "Where is he now?" - he's hosting Total Blackout on Syfy (the new season premieres tonight at 10:30 p.m.). In this new competition show, contestants enter a completely pitch-black room, where they must touch unfamiliar objects (some of which are live animals and/or paid actors) and face their fears of the dark.
I was offered the chance to talk to Jaleel...but first, I had to brave the darkness myself at a live audition for the show at upscale L.A. mall The Grove.
That photo above is taken in night vision. Unable to see anything but a red dot that was presumably the camera, I was told to walk across the room with my shoes off. The catch? The floor would be covered in mousetraps, and if I walked in a straight line I was guaranteed to step on one. You can see for yourself what was actually going on - two people were crouched down making snapping sounds.
I'm used to being in the dark, though (I grew up with power outages a common occurrence in winter-time), so I'm afraid I wasn't as dramatic a screamer as they were looking for. I rather quickly felt with my feet that there were barriers on each side of me, so I followed them to the end and that was it. On the actual show, though, they eliminate contestants round by round by having them jump blindly onto a trap door that may or may not open. I don't mind admitting that that would bother me a lot.
Talking to Jaleel, however, didn't bother me at all, as we discussed Total Blackout, fan fiction, Sonic the Hedgehog, Urkel merchandise and more. Read on...
Luke Y. Thompson: So how did you get this gig in the first place? Was it Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus?
Jaleel White: It probably was! While you're bullshitting, it probably was! (laughs) We got some good ratings off of that! My manager laughs, "Jaleel, that's the movie I wanted you to do!" It's funny - you've got to put yourself on people's radar, and that's really what that movie was about.
I'm happy to be a part of the Syfy family now. Fremantle considered me as a host, and when my manager called me and told me what the concept of the show was, I immediately loved it, because I just knew people would watch it. It's one thing to host a show; it's another thing to host a show that you know in your heart people will watch, and 9 out of 10 people who watch the show, they love it. It's just like some peanuts over there, you grab a handful on the way out, and you're like "I don't know why I ate those, but they were there!" (laughs)
LYT: Did you ever try out any of the tests yourself?
JW: I know too much about the show to really get completely spooked out by it. There are probably one or two challenges that I don't like. I don't like being in the plexiglass tunnels with the mice and the cheese, and gathering eggs with the chickens around, and stuff like that, but I've held a tarantula now, it's no big deal. Really, what you start to realize is that the game is really just a test of how fast can you get past your texture issues. We're not trying to kill you, so some people, they may never get past it. Some people, it may take one challenge, and you can see it in their eyes - they're pumped, "Whatever I gotta touch, whatever I gotta guess, I'm going to blaze through it."
Evans Vestal Ward Photo
LYT: Now that it's been on for a season, and people know that it's not as dangerous as they may think, is there a challenge in upping the ante on that?
JW: Always! There's definitely a challenge in upping the ante. We can make the games bigger, we can turn games upside down, that people think they know. Especially even these live versions - I'd love to see versions like this permanently at Universal for people to enjoy. I think it's the ultimate haunted house! After you go through something like this, then some guy just jumps out at you with a bloody mask, you just kind of laugh at him.
LYT: They had a Clive Barker maze a couple of years back that was more designed to disorient you than actually scare you, and it really worked.
JW: Exactly! Disorienting and all that is really what haunted experiences are becoming, and this is it.
LYT: I saw you had a balance beam in the promo. As soon as I shut my eyes, I lose my balance.
JW: (laughs) Right? But there's a trick to it! And some people kind of figure it out. I'm not going to say what it is, I can't say it, but there is an actual trick to managing yourself on a balance beam in complete dark.
LYT: For me, the scariest thing is the elimination round, where you take that blind leap of faith. Is it a deep dark secret, or can you tell me how deep it goes?
JW: People always ask about that! I'm not saying anything about it now! It's not as bad as people think. We actually had a contestant who said "No, I want to see it!" Like, "I'm not doing it till I see it!" She just refused, until she saw where she was going to go. It's a respectable drop, I'll say that!
LYT: Did you ever have blind people try to trick you into becoming contestants?
JW: That is hilarious! I bullshit you not, I don't mean to sound cruel, I don't want to get in trouble with anybody's organization, but it would be funny to have an actual blind person on the show and nobody is told that the person is blind, and see how they do on the show! (laughs)