Nickelodeon fans born in the '90s have fond memories of shows like "Rugrats," "Rocket Power," "Doug" and more. "Figure It Out," which aired for four seasons from 1997 to 2000, was a key part of this nostalgic lineup. If you don't remember it, here's a quick refresher: kid has cool talent, a bunch of awesome panelists (like "All That"-era Amanda Bynes) try to guess kid's talent, someone gets slimed. ?
Summer Sanders hosted the show for four years, and it simply wasn't the same without her. Nick revamped "FIO" in 2012 for two extra seasons with a different host, but it never achieved the level of popularity it had in the '90s.
MTV News spoke to Sanders about her experience hosting "FIO" and what she's up to now. According to her Twitter bio, she's now a "wife, mom, Olympian, swimmer, social runner, television host and author who used to slime people and hang with NBA players." Sounds pretty cool, right? Here's what really went down behind the scenes of your favorite childhood gameshow:
How to be a "Figure It Out" contestantNickelodeon
Back in the '90s, there was no YouTube or Instagram or Vine. Video submissions had to be mailed in -- we're talking snail mail, not email -- and the "FIO" producers would watch 'em all to find the show's next contestant.
"Can you think of a better job than watching all these awesome kids? When you submit something like that, you feel with every fiber of your being that you should be a contestant on that show," Sanders said. "Like my invention or collection or my talent is so good, it has to make that show. It had to be a great job but also heartbreaking because you couldn't include everybody."
The grossest invention was...Nickelodeon
Nope, not the famous watermelon-eating kid. It was the toe jam collection!
"I do remember being really impressed by some of the inventions. There was an underwater speaker a kid had invented. I remember being grossed out by a few of them, most specifically the toe jam collection, which literally almost blew me away when I opened up the jar and smelled it." ?
Sanders once beat a contestant at her own talentNickelodeon
"I remember accidentally beating a girl in her own talent, which was the cricket spitting competition. Who knew that I could spit a cricket as far as I did? I certainly didn't mean to ... My producer and my director in my ear said, 'Can you try not to beat the children at their own talent? You need to get second place.' I was like, I'm so sorry! But deep down, I was very proud of myself that I could add cricket spitting champion to my resume." (laughs)
Everything was pre-tapedNickelodeon
"FIO" was famously filmed in front of a live studio audience at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., but the episodes themselves didn't air live on TV. This caused some confusion for kids who saw Sanders filming another show, NBA TV's "Inside Stuff," in New York City.
"The kids on the streets of New York would stop me at 5 p.m. [30 minutes before 'Figure It Out' aired] and they'd say, 'Oh my god, is there not a show today?'" Sanders said. "I would joke with them, like 'No, I have the fastest plane. I can get to Orlando in two minutes and 33 seconds.' And they'd ask, 'Can you please mention me on today's show?' I didn't have the heart to tell them that they'd all been taped [ahead of time]."
The secret slime action was 100% realNickelodeon
"FIO" may be a reality TV show, but everything about it was totally real. The secret slime action was revealed at the beginning of each round to the audience but not to the panelists, who never knew when they'd be slimed. If one of them did the secret slime action -- Sanders used the example of "being Lori Beth" -- they'd be immediately covered in Nickelodeon's signature green goo.
"[The panelists] were always on edge about getting slimed because anyone could be slimed at any given moment," Sanders revealed. "Lori Beth [Denberg] was OK with getting slimed except for on the last show."
And this is because...
They filmed four episodes per dayNickelodeon
"You have to understand, we would shoot up to four shows a day ... The entire set had to be cleaned, and the contestant who got slimed had to go shower and then go through hair and makeup all again. So the process was extensive, right? Let's say you were the one who got slimed twice earlier in the day, and let's say that was Lori Beth. By the fourth show, all she wanted to do was just to get out of there without having to take another shower."
Slime was made of two ingredientsNickelodeon
The slime was made of vanilla pudding and green food coloring. Yep, that's it. There are other slime formulas out there, but this is the one Sanders remembered using in "FIO."
The slime was really, really coldNickelodeon
"They kept it refrigerated," Sanders explained. "Half of the reaction from the panelists was the fact that they were getting slimed, but the other half was that it was so freezing that it would just shock you. But that's why Danny [Tamberelli] would eat it all the time, because it was just vanilla pudding."
The first time Sanders was slimed, she knew it was coming
Thanks to a fluke, Sanders knew her time in the
spotlightslimelight was coming: "I was supposed to be standing on this mark, which I think I was on the mark, and the slime fell down. It completely missed me."
"They were like, we have to do it again but you need to pretend like you're super surprised because this is our big moment. We have to slime you," Sanders continued. It was the season one finale. "So I made sure to stand on my mark. I waved goodbye and I knew that I was going to be slimed in about three seconds. The second time around, it went off without a hitch and to be honest with you, I was just as surprised because it was so cold."
Danny was especially good with the kidsNickelodeon
"I have to applaud the people who worked behind the scenes and the panelists and guests. We had a lot of Make-A-Wish kids who came through our set, and I feel like our 'Figure It Out' family made it the absolute best experience for them and their families," Sanders recalled.
"The one that stands out to me is Danny Tamberelli, who, for a kid himself, he just seemed to get it. He would bring so much joy to these children. All they wanted to do was to get slimed and sit in the dog pound behind [him] and have him flick his slime-filled hair back on them. He would give them their moment and it was beautiful."
Sanders' "Figure It Out" audition involved cheese and cigarettesNickelodeon
Just like the contestants sent in video submissions, Sanders sent Nickelodeon an audition tape when they began casting the show.
"My dad acted as the kid [on the show]," Sanders said about her first audition for "FIO" host. "He's sitting there pretending to be this kid who could bite a piece of American cheese into any shape of the United States. You pick a state and this kid could apparently create it with a piece of American cheese. So he pretended to be that, but he was smoking a cigarette at the time, and he just wouldn't put the cigarette out, so that was my audition tape -- my dad pretending to be this child, but he was smoking a cigarette and just being my goofy dad."
Sanders was a gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer before "Figure It Out"David Madison / Getty Images
Yes, really. Her swimming career started at age 4, thanks to Roseville, Calif.'s hot summers: "My dad didn't like to turn the air conditioning on. He said, 'Why would I ever turn the air conditioning on when I've got a built-in air conditioner in my backyard?' So me and my brother, we literally lived in that pool. And then we eventually took our skills in the pool to the swim team."
Sanders received a swimming scholarship to Stanford University, where she won multiple NCAA National Championship awards. At age 19, in between her sophomore and junior years, she swam in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain and took home FOUR medals -- two gold, one silver and one bronze. No big deal or anything. She later retired from swimming at 22, what she said would be considered a young age now, and transitioned into television work.
"For as long as I wanted to swim in the Olympics, I knew I wanted to work in TV," Sanders explained. "I was very scared but excited and knew I needed to jump in with both feet. So I did. I was still going to school at Stanford, but I was auditioning for things and taking basically every job that came my way. I did color commentary for swimming, I did sideline reporting for other NCAA events. It was a smooth transition because my heart was in it, and I knew I loved it. I wasn't perfect at it by any means ... I've had failures in swimming. You learn and you get better and hopefully you don't do that the next time -- you do it a different way. That's the way I approached my television career as well."
Country singer Hunter Hayes was a contestantNickelodeon
Grammy-nominated Hunter Hayes, a country singer famous for his songs "21" and "Invisible," appeared on FIO in 1998. His talent was being a "cajun singer and accordionist." Since then, he's dropped three albums -- his self-titled debut album, Storyline and The 21 Project -- and toured with big names like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. In 2013, he was one of MTV's Artists to Watch.
"I have never met a more polite child in my life," Sanders said about working with Hayes over a decade ago. "He was on point -- shaking your hand, looking in your eyes, it's great to meet you ma'am, thank you ma'am, yes ma'am. It was like, when I have kids, can you just come and do an etiquette class for them? He was so polite." (Sanders does have kids now, by the way. Her and husband Erik Schlopy have two children. Peep their adorable family pics here.)
The "Figure It Out: Wild Style" animals were part of the familyNickelodeon
Season 4 of "Figure It Out" was called "Wild Style" because the contestants' talents included animals. A chimpanzee and orangutan -- Sanders told us their names were Brooks and Bailey -- joined the cast to deliver the clues on stage.
Sanders recalled one time when Bailey the chimp found his way into her dressing room, where she kept a bowl full of fruit. He wanted in on this fruit, but his trainer said he could only eat two pieces.
"[Bailey] went over there to my little bowl and he really thought about it," Sanders said. "It was like a child thinking about 'OK, I can pick an orange, an apple or a banana. Which one do I want?' He ended up with the apple and the banana."
"With Brooks, the orangutan, you can't just go up and hug them," Sanders continued. "They have to OK it first. They'll grab your hand and they sniff you and then, if they want you to be close to them, they put your arm around them. So I had that moment with Brooks backstage." ?
Even parents loved "Figure It Out"Nickelodeon
Even today, parents recognize Sanders: "It wasn't just the kids -- the parents, they'll hear my voice and it takes them back to dinnertime in 1998 or 1999, because at 5:30 everyone was hunkering down at the dinner table watching 'Figure It Out.'"
"It's my favorite moment, showing up at a restaurant being seated by somebody who used to watch me [on the show]," Sanders said. "It's like the moment I see them and their eyes connect, I can tell they've turned into their 10/11/12-year-old self ... Your generation is this rad generation that's doing amazing things. [I'm] very honored to have been a part of that Nickelodeon, that true, really creative, interesting, strange, awesome television programming for children ... I do feel like 'Figure It Out' was a unique show with a cultlike following."
The audience was the unofficial "fifth panelist"Nickelodeon
"I can't imagine doing a show like that not having a big, robust, excited studio audience. They certainly were the life of the show. It was the energy, you feed off of the energy."
A kid once punched Sanders in the nose on airNickelodeon
"I had one little kid who was so excited when he won one of the prizes that he went and put his arm up in the air to do a fist pump and he caught my nose. I didn't start bleeding and it didn't break my nose, but oh my god, it felt like it. It was that eyes-wouldn't-stop-watering, that really stingy feeling like holy cow, I got to get this together. That's the beauty of semi-live moments like that. It's on air, it happened, it's great."
"I will say that your life is never the same after you're slimed," Sanders said, "and I was slimed three times and it was awesome."