1. The Teams
In each episode, there are six teams of two kids competing towards victory. These six teams are named the Red Jaguars, the Blue Barracudas, the Green Monkeys, the Orange Iguanas, the Purple Parrots, and the Silver Snakes, each wearing their respective colored shirts with a yellow animal logo on the front. Each team consists of one boy and one girl, and they need to work together through difficult physical and mental tests to progress as far as possible in each round.
2. The Moat
The first challenge is "The Moat," which is a wide pool the contestants have to cross as quickly as possible, while keeping in mind the restrictions of that day's specific challenge. These are of a wide variety--sometimes the challenge is as simple as crossing the water on an inflatable "lily pad," while other times it requires massive amounts of equipment, including large fishing nets and "ancient Babylonian Wheels". Whatever the challenge, the teams need to cross the moat as quickly as possible. The first four teams to do so and hit their color "gong" at the end progress onto the next round.
3. The Steps of Knowledge
With two teams eliminated, the next challenge is the "Steps of Knowledge". The four remaining teams stand at the top of a giant staircase four platforms tall. Olmec, the talking stone-headed sub-host, then tells a story about the episode's artifact, and how it ends up in the temple. He then reveals the artifact's exact location. After completing the story, the teams are quizzed on what was said. Olmec reads a multiple-choice question related to the tale he told, and if one of the teams knows the answer, they can stomp down on an "ancient stone marking" in front of them to ring in with their response. (The "ancient stone marking" is really just a button embedded into the platform the contestants stand on.) If they answer the question correctly, they step down to the next level. If they are incorrect or if they run out of time, the other teams are given a chance to answer. A question can receive incorrect answers until two of the three original choices have been eliminated, at which point a new one is asked. Play continues like this until two teams make it to the bottom level, having answered three questions correctly before their opposition.
4. The Temple Games
The Temple Games is where the majority of the show takes place. Each temple game is a small physical challenge usually lasting sixty seconds, in which the two remaining teams compete against each other in order to win "Pendants of Life," which will be used later during the temple run. There are three temple games, and each is explained by either Olmec (in the Second and Third Seasons) or the host, Kirk Fogg (in the First). Like The Moat, these games feature a huge variety of challenges related to the artifact's history. The first two Temple Games are worth one half Pendant of Life and involve individuals from each team, while the third is worth a full Pendant of Life and requires the participation of both players from both teams. After the three games, the team with the greater amount of pendants advances to Olmec's Temple. If there is a tie, a quick tiebreaker round is played, where either Kirk Fogg or Olmec asks a final multiple-choice question and the first team to answer it correctly wins. It should be noted that in the first season, an incorrect answer automatically caused the other team to win. (Although not mentioned in the show, there are six main categories of Temple Games. For more information on these six types, click here.)
5. Olmec's Temple
The temple run is the finale of the show. The temple is a huge labyrinth of twelve rooms that each feature their own puzzles, such as pulling a golden book from a skeleton and placing a key found in a broken jar into a pedestal. (The rooms are arranged in two rows of six, with a few exceptions.) The show's artifact is placed in the room that Olmec had previously announced during the Steps of Knowledge. Before the run, a player from the winning team chooses to go first into the temple, and is given one pendant. The second member of the team is given the remainder that was won in the Temple Games. The team's objective is to retrieve that artifact by passing through each room up to its location. The challenge is that the doors are rarely configured in the same way for each episode, so a door unlocked in one episode may remain locked in another. The pattern of locked doors often forces the players to take very indirect routes to an artifact.
Ready for a twist? Hidden inside the temple are the dreaded "mysterious Mayan temple guards" that protect three specific rooms of the temple. If the frontrunner is caught by a temple guard after entering a room with one inside, he or she has to surrender a Pendant of Life to the guard. If that player is caught a second time, he or she is taken out of the temple, and the other partner has to start at the temple gate and take over. Unless the team had managed to acquire two pendants in the Temple Games, a third temple guard encounter ends the temple run in whole at the moment of capture. The teams can combat this by searching for a hidden half pendant that, when found by the second player, is worth an extra life. This half pendant is only hidden if the team wins one and a half pendants in the temple games.
If the team reaches the artifact, all of the doors in the temple instantly unlock, and the temple guards "vanish," at which point the contestant must make a mad dash toward the temple gate. If that player successfully passes through the gate with the artifact in his or her possession, the team has won; however, they have only three minutes to complete the temple run in its entirety, an especially difficult feat taking into effect the unpredictable nature of the many locked doors and dead-ends. (Teams manage to win in roughly 25% of the episodes.) Every winning team wins a vacation, and to console the unsuccessful contestants, smaller prizes are awarded both for entering the temple and reaching the artifact. In my opinion, the Temple Run is the most exciting three minutes on television, even if I have grown to know the outcomes after watching so many episodes.