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Relive the best 10 times Ellen DeGeneres scared the hell out of her celebrity guests

During nearly two decades on air, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” set itself apart from other daytime talk series by relentlessly pranking its staff, studio audience and celebrity guests.

Over the years, DeGeneres has terrorized hundreds of suspecting and unsuspecting victims backstage, in their dressing rooms and onstage — with varying results. Approaching the conclusion of her eponymous program, DeGeneres recently revealed the show’s scare strategy, as well as how the running gag came to be.

The series finale of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” airs this afternoon, nearly a year after allegations of a toxic work environment and public scrutiny of its host.

Battered by scandal, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” ends its 19-year run on Thursday. Its host is no longer the queer celebrity we can all agree on.

“I guess was my idea to start scaring people as they entered into their dressing room, and I’d be hiding in the bathroom to scare them,” DeGeneres said last week on the show.

“It’s just my way of welcoming people and putting them at ease. I don’t want them to think it’s like some kind of formal situation. It’s just a relaxing place where you can get scared.”

After successfully spooking the living daylights out of her co-executive producer Andy Lassner behind the scenes on multiple occasions, DeGeneres decided to extend the tradition to her famous friends, who began to catch onto her twisted games after a while.

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When entertainers began to anticipate the sneak attacks — especially around Halloween — DeGeneres and her staff had to get creative by dropping people from the ceiling and building a tunnel underneath the coffee table (also known as the scare box).

“Celebrities have gotten on the phone with our producers and said, ‘Why hasn’t anyone ever tried to scare me?’” Lassner said. “They always love it. It’s their favorite clip to show the next time they come ... There’s never been a bad feeling about the scaring.”

From Taylor Swift to Lil Nas X, here’s a sampling of some of DeGeneres’ best scares as her series comes to a close.

1. Taylor Swift

Perhaps the most infamous “Ellen” scare of all time involved singer-songwriter Swift, who naively strolled into the bathroom of her dressing room in 2009 and hasn’t known peace since.

By now, you’ve probably seen the viral gif of the “Folklore” artist screaming and collapsing on the cold, hard ground in reaction to DeGeneres lurking in the corner of the restroom. And that’s just one of several times DeGeneres has targeted Swift.

2. Garth Brooks

Not all of DeGeneres’ scare attempts have gone according to plan. In 2017, her effort to frighten country musician Brooks failed spectacularly when Corey Palent — an executive producer on the show who has scared tons of guests — fumbled his earpiece in the scare box and missed his cue.

Though Palent still managed to pop out of the table during the interview, Brooks was completely unfazed and laughed it off without missing a beat. DeGeneres promptly deemed the moment “the worst scare we’ve ever done.”

3. Lil Nas X

In 2019, singer and rapper Lil Nas X interrupted his interview with DeGeneres to ask if anything was hiding in the scare box.

“No, no, no,” DeGeneres said. She lied.

Moments later, an employee dressed as the hitmaker’s “Old Town Road” collaborator Billy Ray Cyrus jumped out of the box, causing Lil Nas X to shout and stomp his feet on the ground.

“During rehearsal, you said, ‘Nobody’s gonna scare me, right?’” DeGeneres told him. “And we had no intention until you said that.”

4. Sarah Paulson

After getting ambushed by DeGeneres’ scare team one too many times, “American Horror Story” star Paulson took it upon herself to preemptively check the scare box before settling into her interview in 2019.

Little did she know about the secret tunnel under the stage.

“I do watch it, and I do think it’s funny,” Paulson admitted last week in a digital short. “I am an Ellen in the sense that, in my younger life, I spent a lot of time scaring people, so I do understand why she does it.”

5. Jennifer Lopez

As the scares became more frequent, DeGeneres began tailoring some of the pranks to her guests by dressing her scare staff in costumes related to their personal life or career.

Take actor and singer Lopez, who got spooked in 2017 by a staffer wearing a New York Yankees uniform while she was in a relationship with baseball star Alex Rodriguez.

“This a— has been in here the whole time?” Lopez exclaimed. “Are you f— kidding me?”

6. Jesse Tyler Ferguson

No one from the “Modern Family” cast was ever safe on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” — especially Eric Stonestreet, who was the first guest ever to be pranked using the scare box.

But it was his onscreen husband, Ferguson, who upstaged him with a terrified “Jesus Christ!” when Stonestreet sneaked up on him during a 2015 episode of the show.

7. Selena Gomez

In 2015, DeGeneres pulled back-to-back scares on actor and singer Gomez, who thought she was safe after surviving the scare box — only to be spooked again from behind her chair.

“What the hell?” Gomez yelled after a staffer in an Elsa costume sneaked up on her. “Why?”

8. Sterling K. Brown

Before playing a word game at DeGeneres’ game table in 2019, “This Is Us” star Brown thoroughly checked the inside of the table for scarers. Last time he sat down at DeGeneres’ game table, a man dressed as a surgeon popped out of it and scared Brown clean out of his chair.

This time, Brown was suspicious, but DeGeneres had something else up her sleeve. In the middle of the game, an employee dropped down suddenly from the ceiling on a wire and frightened the actor out of his seat once again.

“I never looked up!” Brown said, staring at the ceiling in disbelief. “I’mma kill you, man. ... You were there the whole time, watching me check all this stuff like a ninja.”

9. Kristen Wiig

Brown is far from the only guest to be unseated by a scare. In 2015, “Ghostbusters” star Kristen Wiig shrieked and dropped to the floor when a staffer dressed as a ghost emerged from DeGeneres’ scare box.

10. BTS

In 2018, DeGeneres attempted one of her biggest scares ever when all seven members of global pop sensation BTS sat down for an interview with the talk-show host. While expertly dodging a question about the band’s dating life, RM — the unfortunate soul sitting closest to the scare box — got spooked by an employee dressed as a BTS fangirl.

But no one was more frightened than J-Hope, who fell all the way off the sofa a la Wiig.


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