The game primarily tested the memory and comprehension skills of the contestants. The first round, "Brain Tease", started with six contestants trying to quickly figure out the numbers conveyed visual puzzles, entered on keypads. Then, sans the two lowest scoring contestants (who have to go down ... the Brain Drain!), the remaining four in turn played Level 2, where they were told a story from the "Big Book of Truth" and had to answer questions based off it, locking in by sitting on a chair covered in Whoopee Cushions. The first to answer incorrectly is greeted by farts, and gets pulled backwards through the (paper) teeth of a giant mouth made to look like Jeff's face. This then continued until someone else answered incorrectly, who also faces the same fate.
For the final round, Level 3, the two contestants play a matching game with eight pairs of pictures from the story. If a player fails to match, the other player can automatically win if they make a match on their next pick, who then got to play the Bonus Round.
Its third and final season brought some major changes; along with being moved to Nick @ Nite (before being moved back to Nickelodeon in October 2011, and a brief burn-off of remaining episodes on Nick Toons a few years later), it became Family BrainSurge, played with five teams of two. Other adjustments included only playing 4 puzzles in Level 1, and the addition of a lifeline in Level 2.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Level: The Brain Trip: three floors, with 4x4, 5x5, and 6x6 grids. The winner has to memorize a pattern on the first grid, and then correctly step through the correct sequence. If done correctly, the same is done through the 5x5 and 6x6 grids. However, this all has to be done in 90 seconds (the clock does stop between floors), and making a mistake anywhere sends you back to the start. Each stage has a prize attached (won regardless of whether the round overall is won or lost), and completing all the floors in time awards a grand prize (usually a trip).
- Celebrity Edition: With Nickelodeon stars playing for a chance to win a prize for an audience member in the Bonus Round.
- Family BrainSurge also included celebrity editions, in which non-Nickelodeon celebrities competed with their family members for charity, but also get a chance to win prizes for a non-participating family member in the bonus round.
- Covered in Gunge: It wouldn't be a Nickelodeon show without unnecessary messiness: contestants eliminated in the first two rounds, and those who run out of time on the bonus round, have to go down the "Brain Drain" — a slide made to look like a human ear, with "earwax" foam. Bonus round winners get the more traditional Nickelodeon green slime.
- Eject the Loser: The Brain Drain, and the part where you get sent backwards on a chair through a wall (of teeth).
- Golden Snitch: In the first round, the final question is worth 100 points, more than the other ones combined.
- Lifelines: In Family BrainSurge, each team is allowed one "Brain Fart" in Level 2, allowing the team to get help from other family members in the audience. However, what they say is automatically locked in as the team's guess. In the celebrity episodes of this format, random audience members were used instead.
This show contains examples of
- Aside Glance: Jeff does this, alongside a smirk and a head shake, every time he claimed that all his Level 2 stories were "all 100% true".
- Time Keeps On Ticking: During the Bonus Round, if you make a mistake, you have to start over. You get to see the pattern again, but you're still on the clock.