I already have a favorite Gladiator. His name is Titan and he looks like a freakish cross between Matthew McConaughey and Rocky IV-era Dolph Lundgren. He trash talks and flexes before, during and after every event, which is something I think I’d do if I was an American Gladiator…
Last night, I sat through the premier of the new American Gladiators like Nelson Muntz watching Andy Williams. I was totally enrapt, all the way from the pyrotechnics-filled opening number to the final contestant interview. Gladiators had me for two full hours. And I loved every second. In fact, I loved it so much that I surprised myself.
We all have memories of the original run of the show. Every weekend, we were transported to a pseudo futuristic battle/playground, where a baffling mix of sport and theatre awaited. There were mullets-aplenty, and they flapped in the wind as contestants sprinted their way through the Assault. Larry Csonka offered expert analysis on Gladiator strategy in Powerball. There were plucky, sign-wielding fans in the crowd that constantly made the audience uncertain whether there were fifty people or two thousand people in the Gladiator Arena. Watching that show as a kid was an experience. Despite the relatively skimpy outfits, it was somehow a family friendly show. There were real live action figures battling against normal sclubs for prizes and glory. And to the average ten year old, something like that is as addictive as drugs or Magic cards.
When I first heard that Gladiators was coming back, I had more of an “oh, interesting” reaction than a “OMG WTF BBQ SOOO EXCITED!” reaction. Sure, I loved the show when I was a geeky middle schooler, but it’s been over a decade. Things change. I spend my days in an office, not learning my fractions. And sure, I still like video games, but I don’t spend the whole of my Saturdays eating mac and cheese and playing Techmo Bowl anymore (though maybe I should). A show like the original Gladiators, with all of the goofy glam and cartoonish competition, could not possibly hold the attention of an analyst in his mid-twenties.
But then they announced that Hulk Hogan would be a host. And then NBC posted Gladiator biographies (there’s one named Hellga!). I found myself actually getting excited for the premiere of a television show. I made specific plans to stay home and watch it. And when it came on, my heavens, it was all I could’ve asked for. I nearly shook my girlfriend to pieces during Hang Tough. I was on the edge of my seat during the Pyramid. My roommate and I lept to our feet and high fived when the referee called a “giving him the business” penalty during Gauntlet.
I was a ten year old again. American Gladiators reignited that type of fandom that most folks forget about during their teenage years, when the angst and bitterness begins to set in. Wonder had returned to me. It was that same kind of wonder that makes a third grader want to hit a homerun like David Ortiz or throw a touchdown pass like Peyton Manning. It’s a magic feeling – an odd mix of passionate fandom and boundless personal potential. My roommate and I came up with Gladiator names for ourselves (He’s Gavel, I’m Eagle, since you’re asking), and I started thinking about how tough it would be to fly out to LA and try out to be a contestant. We were cheering for the Davids and the Goliaths. We we joking about all of the new fire and water on the set. It was a heck of a thing.
A fairly hokey reality competition show is an interesting place to relive your childhood, but I’ll take such flights of fancy wherever I can get them. The show is on again tonight, everybody. Find an hour and check it out. The ten year old in you will appreciate it.