The new Syfy Channel game show, Total Blackout premieres tomorrow night at 10pm. Each episode puts four contestants’ fears to the test as they are asked to identify items and perform tasks in total darkness. The way their minds seem to picture the worst yields some pretty comical results.
Last week host (and former Family Matters star) Jaleel White participated in a press Q&A to talk about the show. He discussed his favorite surprises, challenges and contestants on the show, as well as his current work on Dancing With The Stars. The conversation even delved into his family holidays and childhood playground days!
Did you expect it to be so comical when you first started?
Jaleel White: Yes, we knew it was going to be funny. It was trying to capture the comedy though in edited form is a challenge. The same time we experienced – when we did it live and when we filmed the episode. So we knew it was going to be funny but you still got to make that translate to the viewer at home in the final post production stages.
How this show is different from other similar shows that are on television?
Jaleel White: …yes, well a lot of people are immediately going to say oh it’s Fear Factor in the dark. And it’s not that. In Total Blackout your imagination becomes your own worst enemy. And that’s where the comedy comes from.
So it’s putting people in a familiar environment in the dark you know your spatial awareness. You know where things are in the room. In this particular case you don’t know anything about the room that you’re in. You just have to complete these challenges and you have to basically use all four of your senses apart from sight.
And people just – they freak out. It’s guinea pig TV at its best. You just kind of sit there. You keep watching different versions of the same reaction and watching who can overcome their fears quicker than others. And it’s hysterical.
So one person might get freaked out by the fact they just touched a snake, but the next person is freaking out over a pineapple because they think it’s something worse.
What attracted you to this product?
Jaleel White: Yes, well, I mean that was largely one of the things that attracted me to the project is that it is a departure from what people expect from me. They asked me to be a host was definitely a new skill set that I had to pick up, you know, being able to relate to contestants and all.
And the other thing that really was a huge component in me coming aboard the show is I think people will watch the show. Just naturally. You get tired as a celebrity or as a performer or whatever you want to call it, a public figure, of always trying to push something down peoples’ throats that they don’t want to watch.
But this is guinea pig TV, man. You turn this thing on at the end of your day and you just crack up because people are going to make you laugh in the most natural way.
What is your biggest fear?
Jaleel White: Wendy Williams just goosed me real good. I don’t like possums. So I was doing the show and she brought a possum on at the end of our interview. My mom used to make me take out the trash late at night if I had forgotten to do so during the day and you run into these suckers and they hiss at you. It’s just a memory you will never forget when you’re a kid.
What have been some of your favorite moments as a host?
Jaleel White: My favorite moments on the show really so far have been, the couples episodes, that is just hysterical. Because the interaction between the couples is just like – yes. Those are my favorite moments hands down on the show.
And then to just be surprised by who will display unbelievable bravery while some muscle-y character is freaking out.
Were you expecting people to be more scared than laughing?
Jaleel White: I was expecting people always to pick up on the comedy of the show. And the challenge is then to try and make that comedy translate to the viewer. Because when you see the Total Blackout game played live or you see it filmed on stage, there’s nothing but laughter everywhere.
And you got to make sure that you’re at a job, you know, your post production attitude that translates. I think we’ve finally gotten it that point.
Did you think there was going to be such a big difference between what you can’t see and what your mind sees when you touch something?
Jaleel White: Huge, huge. I mean, really, I can’t say it enough but I will say it again, your imagination becomes your own worst enemy in Total Blackout. And so people always ask me do you know, how would I fare in the game. I think I would definitely be affected by the game. But I also know how television works. So that would give me an unfair advantage.
But people who don’t know how television works they have no visual understanding of the spatial awareness of the room that they’ll be entering, you know, it’s just – it’s a freak-fest, man.
After doing scripted comedy most of your life, what do you like about the comedy in a show like this one?
Jaleel White: What I do like about it is I got to think on my feet. I got to think a little more like a standup comedian. But at the same time be respectful of what the contestants are actually going through. So I don’t want them at all to become the brunt of any cheap jokes.
But at the same time if they do something funny that we all can’t help but remember forever then I got to comment on it appropriately.
How do you maintain your composure with spiders and snakes and around?
Jaleel White: It’s funny because that was part of my screen test to become the host. They made me hold a tarantula and talk directly to a teleprompter. The damn thing was just so freaking big I just imagined in my mind it was a gerbil.
Of all the people that you’ve had on so far and all the reactions that you’ve had, which one surprised you most?
Jaleel White: Well there’s a black couple from L.A., they don’t surprise me, but boy did they overwhelm me. I just loved them. They are hysterical, hysterical, hysterical. You know, really, it’s different versions of the same reaction. And also surprise bravery shown by certain people that you wouldn’t think.
You might get some muscle-y guy that’s freaking out and then you get an older woman or whatnot that is just breezing through certain challenges. And it’s like, damn, that chick is brave.
Of all the challenges that you’ve seen, which one would be the one that you would least want to do?
Jaleel White: The one that I would least one to do is Find the Cheese Wheels. Because you’re in a Plexiglas maze. And you’re looking for these cheese wheels and there are mice in the maze, too. They are also looking for the same wheels.
Have any contestants freaked out to the point of needing medical attention?
Jaleel White: That’s a really good question there. None of the contestants have freaked out to the point of needing medical attention. But there is a psychiatrist on set and thank God for editing. Because some of the contestants have stalled for long amounts of time and we needed to be patient for them to eventually complete the challenges.
Like a mental breakdown or something?
Jaleel White: Just, once they were finally told to enter the room, it took us 20 minutes to get them in the room.
Is there any Syfy original series that you’d like to guest scene on?
Jaleel White: Gosh, not – I can’t really say right now. Every time I say I’d like to be a guest on any particular show it gets overblown. So I’m a fan of Syfy in general. If any of the shows would have me, I’d love to do it.
Do you have a favorite?
Jaleel White: I like Eureka, you know, [but it’s] not coming back.
What do you attribute to being able to make that transition from child star to adult actor?
Jaleel White: Right. I got a great family. My mom and dad have always felt like teammates more than anything. They have always put me first. They weren’t running out buying fur coats and Rolls-Royces.
And they really always taught me to respect work. So at the end of the day I don’t think what people were really realizing is that I’m working seven days a week right now and I’m actually happier for doing it. When I’m done with these interviews I got to go dance for six hours. And I’ve been at it since 8:00 this morning.
And we do that every day until Monday and hopefully you’ll get the steps that you need to pull off your routine that you need to pull off.
If you could pick any of your co-stars or co-dancers to participate in Total Blackout who would they be and why?
Jaleel White: Oh my God, you said I can pick any of my co-stars or co-dancers and put them in Total Blackout. I’d have to put Kym in there. I’d have to. She makes me do everything she wants me to do in rehearsal every day. So it’s only right that I would put her in a dark room and get some ratings off of her.
What would your fans that watched you grow up be surprised to know about you?
Jaleel White: Surprised to know about me? That I’m really competitive. And I like to win and if you really look back at my childhood and what my life has been about, it’s been about winning. It’s been about, I won (unintelligible) when I was a kid. Now it doesn’t even matter.
There’s so many other metrics now that matter. But even right now with Dancing with the Stars or whether it’s Total Blackout, I want the shows to do well. I like to be at the top of my game.
Is this the first game show you’ve hosted?
Jaleel White: This is the first game show I’ve ever hosted so I am way outside my comfort zone, but I’m having fun with it.
What game shows are you a big fan of?
Jaleel White: …traditional game shows growing up as a kid I loved the game show called Press Your Luck. It was with the whammies. And then I also liked Family Feud, stuff like that. Modern stuff, Wipe Out I’m probably a huge fan of. And I think Total Blackout definitely has an element of that.
Are there any hosts that you look to, to get inspiration for with the show?
Jaleel White: No, I wasn’t a particular fan of any game show hosts. I mean, I thought Richard Dawson was really funny because he was kissing all those women.
Before filming the show, did you actually get to go through the game experience of Blackout?
Jaleel White: Well, the cool thing is that we did the game live in Orlando, Florida. So when we did it live I really got the chance to see the game in the full with people who knew nothing about the game. That was early on in the process. So we still hadn’t even filmed all of our episodes yet when we did that. That was very helpful. It helped me out in preparing for host.
How is the game laid out as far as rounds go that get the players up to the final round where they win the $5000.
Jaleel White: Right. There’s either four players or four teams. And three rounds. And generally the challenges are all timed. And the person who completes the challenges in the shortest amount of time they move on to the next.
You really held your own on The View. Did the mother hens give you an advice about hosting?
Jaleel White: I don’t know. They actually were talking about bringing me back in May for maybe some co-hosting so we’ll see what happens. I really enjoyed going on The View. I loved all the different perspectives. I’m not scared by anybody’s perspective. Elizabeth is really fun. Whoopi and Sherry generally treat me like a little brother.
Do you feel like going on Dancing with the Stars, did that give you a new understanding of fear that might have been helpful for Total Blackout?
Jaleel White: Baby, you aren’t saying nothing but the truth right there. The thing about DWTS is it puts fear in a whole other context. And I think I’m most qualified to talk about it because I’m the only one who’s in the dance duels out of the remaining contestants.
And let me tell you something, I felt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator being ushered into that spotlight. So you don’t know how your body’s going to completely respond, but the thing I love about myself and Kym Johnson is that she’s a gamer and I guess so am I. I can honestly say that.
When the music starts up I tend to bring out one of my better performances and not one of my worst. And I’m really proud to have discovered that about myself.
How does this version of Total Blackout compare to the original?
Jaleel White: Well, we have some probably wittier remarks because we’re American so we’re a little snarkier than the rest of the world. Maybe the bridge might have something on us in that room but we hold our own. So we have a little more to say in our Total Blackout.
But the game really holds true to the other version. And we do a lot of the same challenges to be quite honest. So I’ve seen some of the older – other versions. And it’s amazing how the game translates from country to country effectively.
Are there going to be any other themed episodes, maybe a celebrity episode?
Jaleel White: Right. You know, you never know. We got to get past this season and we have to see how people take to the show. Everything is week to week when it comes to television these days. But trust me, the themed episodes whether it was athletes or reality stars or what, I think people would absolutely go over the moon for that.
For your audition, was there anything else you had to do besides holding the tarantula?
Jaleel White: No. They just wanted me sitting with a tarantula. I don’t know what that was about. If they did that for the legal department or what. So, for the most part I play Joe Rogan on this show and I’m proud of the way I’ve been able to adapt to being a host because it’s a lot more than just trying to be funny.
You also want to be able to relate to the contestant in a way to make them feel comfortable. But at the same time, not giving anyone a definite advantage over that.
Do they screen the contestants before they put them on the show?
Jaleel White: Yes. No, they definitely check out all the contestants. They psychologically profile them. And they check their fears and try to make sure that they would be able to withstand any other challenges that we give them. Thank God we have editing though because not all the games are fast.
Sometimes we have people that really do stall out. Like they really do stall out. They take 20 minutes to even get started doing it. It’s like once the doors open and they’re told to enter the room suddenly it’s like – they become like the person who wants to not get on the roller coaster after they get to the front of the line.
I saw you on Styled by Judy. I was wondering if the braces might make an appearance on Total Blackout.
Jaleel White: I’ll probably end up wearing braces at some point. They’re a very nice look if styled properly. But doubt they will make it on Total Blackout. It’s just not the look of the show. And quite frankly I’m very particular about what I wear.
Can you just share any thought or memory about Michael Jackson?
Jaleel White: I met Michael after I won my very first NAACP image award. Nobody knew he was backstage watching the awards. It was an amazing honor. I think I met him at the same time Martin Lawrence did for the first time.
He was tall. He was a very wide-eyed man. Very child like but very respectful. And he’ll be missed forever.
How do you choose the objects that everyone gets to touch during the process of the show?
Jaleel White: You know, that’s really up to the producers. It always cracks me up what they will choose. You know, but obviously they like things with varied textures. So it could be anything from a pineapple to a human foot.
What are your plans next after the season wraps for Dancing with the Stars and Total Blackout?
Jaleel White: Just looking at a lot of different things that are starting to come my way. I mean, I am flattered by the amazing opportunities that are coming my way now. But I’m definitely going to stick with the trend of doing things that people wouldn’t expect necessarily.
And hopefully somehow in doing that I get a chance to get back into comedy because I do love comedy and I want people to know I haven’t lost my funny bone.
Can you talk about how you found out about the show? Were you approached to do it?
Jaleel White: Yes. I’m very candid actually. I’m pretty sure that I ended up on Syfy’s radar because I starred in a movie that I didn’t even want to star in called Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus. But my manager was very adamant that people needed to see me in uniform.
So I went out there for three weeks and busted my tail filming this movie. And I think it performed very well on Syfy. And I was asked to come in and screen test and be the host for their new show. And after that it’s history.
So what’s your ultimate dream role that you’d like to do in the future or maybe somebody specific that you’d love to work with that you haven’t?
Jaleel White: Yes, I’m always careful about putting too much out there. You got to understand the only reason why we’re talking is because I’ve embraced so many things that are outside of my comfort zone. So I don’t know at what point my career would be mine to govern entirely again.
It’s never been that actually to be quite honest. I mean, even my early characters from Family Matters. I just, I went on an audition and I got the role and I did the best I could. So whether it’s Dancing with the Stars or whether it’s Total Blackout, you just see a guy adapt in my environment as fast as I probably can.
So I definitely would like to do more comedy in the future though. I have so many comedy admirers that I would like to perhaps join the ranks of as a comedic actor myself. That I hope that those opportunities can continue to present themselves, too. People don’t forget that I got a funny bone.
When you were a kid what were your go-to activities at home when there was a city blackout?
Jaleel White: If there was a blackout my go-to activities – wow, wow, wow. Damn, you just leave the house. I open the garage and get the hell out of there. Go get something to eat or go to the movie or come back and (unintelligible) lights are off.
Do you have any upcoming writing projects?
Jaleel White: You know what, I’ve written a lot of stuff and I have things that are in development, but right now I’m just so swamped with dancing and Total Blackout that I probably won’t have a chance to really get back to these projects until the summer season or fall kicks in.
Since you mention your parents a lot, what was it like growing up in your home? Was it funny? And what did they do to bring out that funny in you?
Jaleel White: One thing I think it’s something that you’re born with. But then your environment brings it out. My mother has a very funny family. Everybody on her side of the family has jokes. And then after that it’s just something you’re born with.
Your skills sharpen as you’re going to school. You know, but my parents were – my mother was definitely the disciplinarian. And my father was – he had a very keen understanding of my development. And I’ll always appreciate that from my dad, you know.
I might be revealing too much, but my dad told me when I was going to lose my virginity. And I’m like dad! He’s like I think it’s coming for you tonight.
Who were your comedic icons?
Jaleel White: Comedic icons, a person I really appreciate (unintelligible), I love his dirty (unintelligible). And Joe Hill is a funny guy, and Seth Rogan is damn funny. I mean, there are a lot of genuinely funny guys out there that are allowed to be as funny as they are.
I don’t think people really understand part of being funny is part of being allowed to be who you are and not being told to be funny in certain ways if you know I’m not funny. So those three guys have a lot of influence over their work and they protect it.
In the past anything old school, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Michael Caine from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. You know, these are people that just crack me up.
What was the funniest family holiday that you encountered so far?
Jaleel White: Wow, I kind of had a funny one recently because I went to visit my parents for Christmas. While unloading the car with all the baby stuff I felt like I saw something dart past me in the living room. And my mom felt the same thing but we thought it was our imagination.
And then like literally 36 hours later we learned that there was a vermin in the office. And it had basically been in the house living with us for the last 36 hours. It turned out to be a giant (unintelligible) rabbit but we thought it was a possum or a raccoon so it freaked us all out. That was how I spent my Christmas Eve.
Can you recall a time on the playground that was extremely funny that’s still with you today?
Jaleel White: Oh man. Time on the playground that was particularly funny. I mean, those are – those were typical stories where, you know, you’re playing kickball and somebody catches the red ball and the kid goes right down to his freaking knees because you hit him in the crotch. I used to play a lot of kick ball when I was a kid. It was always a funny story there.
Do you still play it today? And if not when was the last time you did and when will you, if you have not?
Jaleel White: No, I haven’t played kickball in a long time. I play basketball typically. But I’m getting a little older and I’m enjoying tennis more and just good old fashioned working out. And I also like to ski and snowboard.
I wanted to ask you about Dancing with the Stars and how it feels to be this far in the competition and kind of how you’re feeling about making it to the finale.
Jaleel White: You know what, I’m nervous. I definitely will tell you that after being in the dance school it’s like that was the most surreal moment as I’ve ever had in my entire career. I mean, I honestly felt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator… And then you step in that spotlight and that’s what I love about Kym Johnson is that we were both born to perform.
We were both born to perform and that’s impressive. But it’s nice to be tied to a gamer because when that music started and that dance school, it was like we were the only two people there.
And are you surprised you made it this far? When you started off the season did you think you – because you’re doing so well, you’ve gone so far.
Jaleel White: Well, it’s kind of tough, you know. I don’t know how comfortable it feels because the scores aren’t reflecting the comfort level that I’m feeling with my dances. So, I’m feeling really comfortable with dances and pretty much happy with four out of the five dances that I’ve presented and the scores aren’t reflecting that.
So, I’m happy to still be here. I’m happy – I didn’t feel like my samba was bottom two, but it was bottom two. And, we had to get in that dance spot and do our thing.
And what made you want to participate in Dancing with the Stars this season? What was it about the show that made you want to try it? Because it’s such a hard show to be on.
Jaleel White: My mom’s a big fan of the show and she told me that if I did it I wouldn’t regret it. And I’m still believing that. I’m still believing that.