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A Salute to American Gladiators

I know I shouldn’t, but I must confess: I love American Gladiators. NBC decided to resurrect this slightly campy, but a tad addictive game show that has male and female competitors competing against each other as well as super-bulked up Gladiators with names like Justice, Hellga, Venom and Crush.

The show originally aired in syndication from 1989 and 1986 and, for me at least, was a staple of my Saturday afternoon. It usually came on at around noon and I couldn’t wait to see what challenges the contestants would face that week. Happily, it seems that all of the original challenges are back including the Joust, where contestants face off against a Gladiator and try to avoid being knocked into the water below with a huge cotton swab shaped apparatus, and the Wall, where contestants try to scramble up a rock climbing wall before being pulled off by a pursuing Gladiator.

The cheese quotient has been upped a bit as Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali serve as hosts. Hogan is actually more of a distraction because he seems to want to steal some of the attention away from the Gladiators, but Ali seems to know how to function as an unobtrusive commentator.

Why does this work so well? Because NBC, gratefully, didn’t feel the need to change the formula. Aside from adding one new challenge, Hit and Run, which has competitors trying to cross a bridge and avoid being hit by 100-pound medicine balls tossed their way, everything feels remarkably similar. And that’s a good thing. The favorite event for me remains the Gauntlet — it’s the exhaustion-inducing obstacle course that ends the show and determines which competitor will move to the next round. As you watch, you always think, “I could do that” or “I could do that quicker than they are.” Then, when they seem about ready to pass out or collapse toward the end, you realize that you’d still be stuck on the rope climb if you were trying to compete.

It’s not smart, it’s not life-changing, but NBC sure was savvy to pick American Gladiators.

American Gladiators: The Battle Begins (DVD)


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