When game show wunderkind Louis Corvin sold The $66,600 Question to CBS in 1955, he’d only been in our plane of existence for two hours. Seven separate witnesses said they saw Corvin “step out of nothingness, just materialize right there on the street.” Soon after, the seven witnesses were either dead or confined to an institution. None of the bizarreness surrounding Corvin’s arrival in Los Angeles stopped him from pushing forward with Question, making it the highest rated show in the country. No show would get close to those ratings until Mister Dead debuted in 1961.

The $66,600 Question was a game show, but one unlike any that came before it, literally asking contestants to save themselves from certain death. Each contestant would first chose a subject category (such as “Dismemberment”, “Torture”, or “Pain”) from the Catastrophe Board. Then Corvin, who insisted on serving as the show’s host, would ask questions on that category. (Sample question from “Dismemberment” category: “How many limbs can a normal person lose before passing out from loss of blood?”) Most contestants seemed intensely uncomfortable and therefore never got to the final round. Many seemed upset by the questions being asked, but even more were disturbed by Corvin’s intense manner, where he would occasionally stare at the contestants for up to a full minute before asking a question. In the background, a solitary clock ticked loudly. Sometimes Corvin would remark, “It’s counting down to your death” and then laugh heartily while the contestants squirmed in their seats; most of them never made it to the final round.

For those who did, the final set of questions posed a new challenge. Contestants were secluded in the “desperation booth,” where they could only hear Corvin’s voice—“plus the sound of your own screams,” the host was quick to remind them. Screams were plentiful as each correct answer unleashed a new terror into the booth. Sometimes it was spiders, sometimes it was snakes, other times it was poisonous scorpions. One or two were released after the first question in the booth, then more as more correct answers were given. To stop the release of the creatures, all the contestant had to do was quit the game. This happened often, with the contestant emerging shivering and wide-eyed from the booth. Corvin would then slap them on the shoulder, announce in a deep monotone, “Avarice does not consume your soul,” and would then provide them with a mysterious box as a consolation prize. (The contents of this box were never revealed to the audience but each contestant who received one died under mysterious circumstances months later.)

When someone succeeded in answering the final question correctly, usually with spiders up around their shoulders, Corvin issued a guttural moan, causing the spiders or scorpions to crawl ever higher, until the contestant was completely covered. The booth would fill with green smoke and the contestant would disappear. Upon returning from commercial, Corvin could be seen standing next to the dead-eyed contestant, who had begun to drool. Corvin would wish contestants a happy week and demand they tune in next week, for fear of losing those close to them.

Corvin was the creator of multiple hit game shows (This Is Your Death, I’ve Got a Dark Secret, and The Newly-Dead Game, among others), but none were as popular as The $66,600 Question. As the show’s popularity waned, and the contestant pool dried up, Corvin became erratic and looked more run-down with each episode of the show (he continued to host until the final episode). As he aged rapidly, more people tuned out and eventually no one was watching. Insiders say that Corvin would mumble about “the cleansing fire” and the “eighth realm” while eating his lunch. One afternoon, Corvin reportedly wandered back to where he’d supposedly appeared all those years ago and vanished without a trace. A homeless man who was watching said only he saw a bright light and then darkness; his eyes had been melted from his skull.