'Figure It Out' Host Jeff Sutphen At Top Of His Game (Show)
June 27th, 2012 10:30am EDT
"I look at what I do for 'work' - air quotes - and I have the best job in the world," Jeff Sutphen remarks. As the host of Nickelodeon's Figure It Out, he gets to watch celebrities guess the hidden talents of kids - and often get slimed in the process.
It's a revival of the series that became a cult hit when it first aired from 1997-1999 and was hosted by Olympian Summer Sanders. "I'm not entirely sure [what led to the show's return]," Sutphen tells me during a recent conversation. "There's a desire to have game shows back. We did three seasons of [his previous show] BrainSurge, and that game show did well. Figure It Out was a popular game show when they did it 15 years ago and I think they said, 'Why don't we bring Figure It Out back?'
"Our audience loves to see the Nickelodeon stars do the stuff they don't normally do," he adds. "They know them so well as their characters, but it's seeing them in a completely different light." Celebrities who have been on the series so far include James Maslow (Big Time Rush), Victoria Justice (Victorious) and Rachel Crow (The X Factor).
For Sutphen, the history of Figure It Out presented both challenges and benefits. "The bar was set really high," he explains. "I was like, 'No matter what I do, they're always going to compare me to what it was in the past.' I want those fans to be happy with it, but at the same time but I want our [new] audience to love it just as much as they did 15 years ago."
At the same time, "All the Nickelodeon stars are at that age now when they grew up watching Figure It Out. They would come up to me and say, 'I can't wait to come on. That was my favorite show growing up.' It was really cool hosting a show they all knew how to play. Matt Bennett from Victorious must have memorized every episode of the original Figure It Out. When you're doing something like that, it's so much better because they're just amped to be there and be part of it."
Sutphen shares that enthusiasm, one of the many qualities that makes him an outstanding host. Hosting is about much more than just bringing a lot of energy and introducing segments. With Figure It Out, Sutphen is having just as much fun as the people around him, and feels like he's part of the game rather than just the person moderating it.
He's also well-versed in Nickelodeon game show history, as he's been part of it for a long time, as a host and producer, and a fan before that. "I've been with Nickelodeon for ten years now," he says. "I got hired originally to be a producer on U-Pick Live. Before we started the show, they said 'We've got this small little on-camera part, you dress up as a superhero, would you want to do it?' I started doing that and one thing led to the next. I did that for a bunch of years and I continued to produce stuff for them. A few years ago I was a producer [when] they did My Family's Got GUTS. BrainSurge came about and I got that. I've rounded out my game show experience with Nickelodeon game shows both new and old. They've been an awesome place to work for."
Prior to that, "I grew up watching Double Dare. That was my show. Through all the years I've been working at Nickelodeon, I've gotten to meet [Double Dare host] Marc Summers on a number of occasions. That was awesome for me. I remember one of the first times I was on a Nickelodeon shoot, we were in Florida and the old studio, and they had some of the old Double Dare props there. It was so cool seeing all that old stuff."
It's clear that the network couldn't have found a better host for Figure It Out: Sutphen has a passion for his job and knows Nickelodeon game shows from every conceivable angle short of being a contestant. "I came from a producing background and ended up hosting things as an accident," he tells me. "I, from a very young age, knew I wanted to work in television. I went to school to become a producer. It wasn't like I just did production to end up in front of the camera. Production was my first love.
"I think both sides of the camera have their positives. Hosting, I just have so much fun. My job is to stand here, act like an idiot, and slime people. Production, I look at it as like a challenge or a puzzle. I think the best scenario for me is like on BrainSurge; I was a producer on that as well as a host. I came in every day and I helped create the puzzles and the stories. That makes me a better host, because the more connected to the material I am, I know it much better."
Hosting Figure It Out has already led to some pretty memorable moments for Sutphen. "We had one contestant, I think he was probably about six or seven, and his talent was he was a circus sideshow performer, and he could lay on a bed of nails. He was sitting in the chair next to me while we were shooting, and the panelists had guessed the Word of Honor," he explains. "He had realized at that split second that was the word that was going to get him slimed, and it was unbelievable. He spun and jumped out of the chair and ran behind me, and ran off the side of the stage. And I was like, 'What just happened?' I ran after him, at which point he darted backstage. I grabbed him, I carried him back out on the stage, and I held him in the seat as they slimed him." Talk about an interesting day at work!
While the ratings for Figure It Out so far look healthy and he's happy to be there, Sutphen has other aspirations for his career as well. "I would like to have my own late-night variety talk show," he tells me. "I love [David] Letterman. I think there's nobody better in the business. If I could have a show like that, that'd be beautiful for me. Letterman and Jon Stewart, I could watch those two all day long." He then adds with a laugh, "I could never do what Jon Stewart does, he's way too smart!"
What are some of his other favorites? "My favorite show right now, which I'm totally psyched [for], is Suits on USA. That show is awesome," he says. "USA, they've really gotten so good, between Suits, White Collar, Necessary Roughness, Royal Pains...I watch every single one of those. My favorite show was Friday Night Lights. That was such a good show. When it was over, I couldn't wait for the next episode."
Sutphen knows what makes a good series: he's experienced both behind and in front of the camera, affable and unafraid to be self-deprecating, and considerate of fans both old and new. That extends to off-camera, such as their desire for him to join social media. "there are some fans out there that are asking if I do Twitter," he says. "If my fans could give me an idea of what they're looking for, what they would want from me in a Twitter account, then I could be convinced." Get on that, Figure It Out fans!
As for his own personal outlook, he sums it up thusly: "I don't look at what I do as work. I have a good time doing it. That's what I base my reputation on, is if you hire me, we're going to have a good time working. I'm genuinely excited to do what I do," he says, "and that shows across the board." With a positive attitude like that, and the know-how to go with it, Nickelodeon is lucky to have him. If he's got the best job in the world, he's certainly earned it.
Figure It Out airs Monday-Friday at 7 PM ET/PT on Nickelodeon.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my Starpulse writer page and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: Nickelodeon