Can American Gladiators Be Saved

Where were you on September 16th, 1989? I know where I was. I was sitting on the couch in my parent’s living room watching the debut episode of American Gladiators. There was nothing cooler to a teenage boy than a show that was part wrestling (but real), part football (big hits), and part war (Assault)?

I loved American Gladiators and watched it religiously throughout high school. Once I got to college I didn\’t watch as often, but would catch it on random Saturday nights. Always an excellent show to watch while having a few beers with the guys.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the revival of American Gladiators earlier this year. I really enjoyed the first season. But as the second season has progressed I\’ve gotten more and more annoyed with the show. The following is a list of my issues and suggested changes to get American Gladiators back on track and enjoyable once again.

Show Length: How much garbage time do they pad this one hour show with anyway? I DVR it each week and watch later because I cannot stand the wasted time. I can watch a single episode in 20 minutes by fast-forwarding through all the commercials, the fits and starts of each event, and the annoying pre AND post even interviews with the contenders. So in those 40 minutes there are about 20-25 worth of commercials, which leaves 15-20 minutes of garbage. It\’s a dead heat between which I hate more: when they go through all the pre event stuff and get to the point of referee Al Kaplon blowing the whistle only to go to commercial and then replay the entire pre event stuff again… OR … the annoying interviews with the contenders which have turned into the worst TV since contestants on Millionaire started giving 20 minute monologues before they would answer a damn question… \”Well you know Regis, it just so happens that when I was a 10 year old boy my family took a trip to New York City, and I climbed the Statue of Liberty; now this was back in they day when they still allowed people to climb up inside, they don\’t allow that anymore, but I remember I has an onion tied to my belt, which was the fashion of the time… blah blah blah\”

The Solution: Pretty easy really. Stop with the stupid pre-game cliffhanger. It\’s one thing if this was a drama, but to build it up, go to commercial, and then come back and replay the previous 2 minutes again is insulting and reeks of desperation to fill time. Next, tighten up the interviews. I realize we need to get to know the contenders, even beyond the heart wrenching montages at the beginning of each show, but how about dropping the pre-game interview and just focusing on post-game? However, what could the producers fill that extra time with? How about the two events they drop out of each episode? They show brief recaps and tell viewers to go to to see the events in their entirety. How about you show me less crap, and more of the actual events?

Referee Al Kaplon\’s Moves: Ok seriously, if I see this guy make the illegal procedure (or traveling) motion before pointing at the Contenders to ask if they are ready, I might puke.

The Solution: Chill out Al. As a former MLB ump you should know that the best officiating is when you don\’t even notice the officials. So skip the 70s dance moves and stick to the basics. But I give big props for using \”giving him the business\”. That\’s good stuff.

Too Many Different/Stupid Events: Ok, at American Gladiator\’s peak in 1993, there were 15 different events. Which is a lot, too many, and some of them sucked; which is why the number tapered down after that time. But only 6 months after coming back on the air, there are already 15 different events. The first time it was a gradual progression, now it reeks of desperation in a time when attention spans are at an all time low.

The Solution: Obvious, drop the crappy events.

  1. Assault (1989-1996, 2008-) — My personal favorite event from the original series. I haven\’t seen it much during Season 2 of the new series, and don\’t understand why. They tweaked it appropriately from Season 1 (e.g. you don\’t have to scrounge around in the sandpit to find the arrow), so it was more entertaining. I demand more Assault!
  2. Breakthrough & Conquer (1989-1996) — So I understand why they probably didn\’t bring this one back. Considering the difference in size of the Gladiators versus Contenders (more on that later), Breakthrough would be a breeze with the Contenders easily running circles around the Gladiators; but Conquer would be near impossible. Perhaps modifying the rules for scoring to be more like Earthquake.
  3. Human Cannonball (1989-1990 [through first half of season two], 1992-93) — Deemed too dangerous after it ended Malibu\’s career. I can understand why they stopped doing it, but it was damn entertaining.
  4. Joust (1989-1996, 2008-) — Always a crowd pleaser, but again, with the difference in size this one is a tough task for the Contenders. It is far less entertaining than it was during the original American Gladiator series.
  5. Powerball (1989-1996, 2008-) — Could be re-titled: Who Wants To See A Knee Get Blown Out! A very entertaining event, but probably the most dangerous.
  6. The Wall (1990 [second half of season one]- 1996, 2008-) — I liked The Wall, right up until last years Men\’s Winner (who just happens to be a rock climbing instructor) became \”Rocket\”, and pretty much specializes in this event. Why not get a ninja to do Joust, and an Olympic wrestler to do Earthquake. Seems hardly fair.
  7. Atlasphere (1990-1994, 2008-) — Who doesn\’t love Atlasphere? Why did it take the producers until the end of Season 2 to bring this event back? Atlasphere is an American Gladiators icon. (Oddly enough is calling it \”Altrasphere\”… how strange)
  8. Hang Tough (1990-1996, 2008-) — Excellent and always entertaining event. One of the few fair contests on the show.
  9. Swingshot (1991-1996) – This event during the original series was exceedingly lame. Contenders bungee cording themselves to a central pole hanging from the ceiling with balls velcroed to it. The newly envisioned Rocketball is far more entertaining.
  10. The Maze (1991-93) — There was good reason this event only lasted a couple of seasons. It relied more on luck than skill.
  11. Sky Track (1992-1995, 2008-) — Obscenely stupid event. So bad that it is the odds on favorite for one of the events that gets relegated to \”online viewing\”.
  12. Gauntlet (1993-96, 2008-) — Have not seen much of the Gauntlet this season, but it\’s a welcome addition and should be featured more.
  13. Pyramid (1993-96, 2008-) — Seriously, ok, I get that it\’s entertaining with all of the big spills, but considering only two people have ever scored on it, and that was only because the Gladiator either feel down or they used the other Gladiator as a pick… it has got to go.
  14. Tug-O-War (1993-96) – Was moderately entertaining the first time around since the Gladiators back then didn\’t have a 100+ pound advantage (see also: Tilt)
  15. Tilt (2008-) — Even with the height differential (Gladiator\’s platform higher than the Contender), this event is boring and one-sided. But mostly just boring.
  16. Whiplash (1993-96) — I don\’t even remember this event from the original series.
  17. Snapback (1994-96) — I vaguely recall this event, and what I do recall, isn\’t good.
  18. Hit & Run (2008-) — This event seems to have been replaced by Sideswipe during Season 2. Probably for the best. While Hit & Run was entertaining, I got tired of Contenders just hitting the deck to avoid the large balls thrown by the Gladiators.
  19. Earthquake (2008-) — Very similar to the Conquer portion of the old Breakthrough and Conquer event, except held on an elevated platform. I really liked this event until they changed the rules to not allow the Gladiator to kick (ok, push firmly with their foot) the Contender in the head to knock them off the platform. Come on, would they prefer the Gladiator just ask the Contender to kindly let go? Wussies!
  20. Vertigo (2008-) — This event is ridiculously stupid, and thankfully has been noticeably absent as of late.
  21. Rocketball (2008-) — I really thought I would hate this event, but I actually like it quite a bit. A good mix of strategy, athleticism, and luck.
  22. Sideswipe (2008-) — The \”new\” Hit & Run. Perfectly described as: \”\’Hit and Run\’ meets \’Powerball\’ meets \’Human Cannonball\’.\”
  23. Snapback (2008-) — I\’ve seen this game several times, and I still don\’t understand the scoring rules. Is it where the Contenders hand is when time runs out, the furthest they\’ve reached during the time? I\’ve seen it scored both ways. It makes no sense at all, and the game is just a boring variant on Tug of War.

So, out of 23 past and present events, what is worth keeping?

  1. Assault
  2. Joust
  3. Powerball
  4. The Wall
  5. Atlasphere
  6. Hang Tough
  7. Gauntlet
  8. Earthquake
  9. Rocketball
  10. Sideswipe

A nice and tidy list of 10. Enough for variety, and all of the entertaining.

Tiny Contenders: Now I haven\’t done enough research to prove this out, but doesn\’t it seem like the size differential between the Contenders and Gladiators is far greater than the original series? By looking up what I could find on, it would seem that the average female Contender is about 5\’3\” and 120 lbs. While the average female Gladiator is about 5\’8\” 150 lbs. For the men, the average Contender is about 5\’11\” and 170 lbs. But the average male Gladiator is 6\’4\” and 230 lbs, but if you drop off Rocket (Season 1 winner) and Zen (who the f*** is Zen?) and the average is more like 6\’6\” and 250 lbs. Those are huge differentials.

The Solution: Get some decent sized people on this show. Someone who could actually hold their own with some of the Gladiators when it comes down to pure strength events (e.g. Tilt). While these little male Contenders are generally quicker than the male Gladiators, the women seem to be completely dominated by the female Gladiators. (boy, that puts quite the picture in your head, doesn\’t it?)

Too Many Gladiators: Speaking of Gladiators, how many freakin\’ Gladiators do we need anyway? I can\’t keep all of these people straight. Season 1 started with 6 men and 6 women. Seemed like a few too many, but I understand you need to have enough in case someone gets hurt. But now we\’ve got 8 women and 9 (yes, NINE) men. And did we really need to bring in a 7-foot 320 pound Gladiator? This is starting to border on Pro Wrestling. Having the previous season\’s winner become a Gladiator was more than enough. Now it seems that each week we\’re introducing a new Gladiator. Although I can\’t complain about the addition of Phoenix… yow!

The Solution: Time for some pink slips to fly around Gladiator Arena. Panther, gone. Steel, gone. You weren\’t around for Season 1, you don\’t need to be around now. The only reason Jet stays is because she was the winner from Season 1 (although I could be talked into Siren being dropped and keeping one of the others). Ideally it would be nice to get down to 5 Gladiators. On the men\’s side: Beast, gone. Hurricane, gone. Zen, gone. Again, we got by fine without you. And let\’s make Rocket do more events than The Wall, Vertigo, or Sky Track.

Travelator Too Slow: Most of the blogosphere has complained that the Travelator was at first set too fast. Especially when on some episodes it\’s taken several minutes for a Contender to get up the Travelator. On the other hand, there were several other episodes where there was no problem. Assuming a change wasn\’t made during the season to turn it down, it highlights that some Contenders are ready for prime time, and others can\’t make the cut.

The Solution: I would be in favor is lessening the angle at which the Travelator is set, and ditching the rope. It has seemed in recent episodes that the Travelator is noticeable slower than previous episodes. But if you\’re that out of gas after the rest of the Eliminator, than perhaps you just aren\’t meant to move on.

Convoluted Bracket: So here\’s the deal:
In Season 1, the four men and four women who had the fastest winning times in the Eliminator moved on to the semifinals. Matchups were determined by seeding based on the preliminary Eliminator results.
In Season 2, the six men and six women with the fastest winning times in the Eliminator will advance to the semifinals, where matchups were determined by seeding based on the preliminary Eliminator results. After three semifinal rounds, the two men and two women with the fastest winning Eliminator times in the semifinals will advance to the finals.
Here\’s my problem with it, it\’s possible to have a great Eliminator time and not move on because you lost by a second, while another person with a time much worse than yours moves on because they beat an inferior opponent. Now this doesn\’t happen often since they take all the winning times and only the top 6 move on. In the first season the loser’s time isn\’t noted on wikipedia, so I can\’t say for sure, but I believe this would have happened at least once in each bracket. However, in the second season one woman and two men had better Eliminator times as losers than the 6th place winner.

The Solution: I understand why they setup the bracket this way. For instance, with the Melvin vs. David battle where their times were 10:30 and 10:38, you don\’t want one of them moving on with times like that. But if moving on comes down to Eliminator times, why bother with winners vs. losers? How about having a second chance spot, like a wild card, where the best losing Eliminator time gets a second chance at making the semi-finals? This season Alejandro Soto had a time of 1:50 in a losing effort. That time would have beaten all but two of the 6 men who moved on. Hardly seems fair.

All that being said, the return of American Gladiators has been a welcome addition to my DVR. I just want to make sure it stays on for a few years. All shows need to adapt over time, but too much change too fast reeks of desperation for rating that have slipped from Season 1 to Season 2. Did NBC think that maybe since Season 1 started in January that maybe fewer people are watching in general b/c it\’s nice outside? So just a couple of tweaks, and be a bit more focused on the events and characters, and there\’s no reason American Gladiators can\’t be on for years and years.







6 responses to “Can American Gladiators Be Saved”

  1. Drew Avatar

    You need to submit this here. That being said, there’s some stiff competition for this show coming from Ninja Warrior on G4. It probably relates to all the drama they try to create with interviews rather than the action as you pointed out. One of my local bars shows Ninja Warrior on Saturdays on a the big screen TV and basketball/baseball/nascar on the other tv’s. Supprisingly, most of the bar is watching Ninja Warrior because it’s non stop action. The key element is that it’s a vairiety of different challenges but the overall challenge is so difficult that almost nobody is able to complete the whole thing so it’s usually judged by how far they get on the course. They should incorporate something like this into the eliminator and make that the basis of the 2nd half of the show.

  2. wadE Avatar

    Pfft… Pulitzer? For a paltry $10,000? I’m shooting for a Nobel Prize. That’s where the money is.
    Ninja Warrior is a fantastic show. I also like that the Japanese are very comfortable with a show that has no winner. I’m not sure the American public can handle that… but obviously some of us can.

  3. Les Avatar

    The interviews and the interaction between the competitors, Hulkamania, Lali Ali, and the crowd is far too much. It some times feels like I’m watching Fear Factor or Dog Eat Dog. Okay same network, but its annoying as all hell. Even in the old days, when they cheered people on from the crowd and did the interviews it was done very quickly and always transitioned smoothly into the next event. They could’ve done better with the hosts too and not just used stupid celebrities.

    I actually like the large amount of female Gladiators and they mixed up things well compared to the original series when every time you’d look up it was either Ice, Zap, or Sky competing. At least they aren’t following the same trend and focusing on just Crush, Siren, and Venom. All of the new ones are fine except Panther who looks like a reject from a Janet Jackson music video. The original gladiator from the first season that I still hate the most and find completely pointless is Helga. The only reason for her to be there is seeing her get slamdunked in the pool during Assault and there isn’t much else to her past cracking the occasional obesity joke.

  4. wadE Avatar

    I heard an interview one morning on my local sports radio station, but I tuned in during the middle and I was trying to figure out which dude from American Gladiators they were interviewing… turned out it was Helga. She has a deeper voice than I do… kinda scary. Helga doesn’t bring much to the table besides being relatively huge. She’ll be the anchor on Gauntlet, is relatively useless on Powerball. Funny you don’t see her on Hang Tough or Pyramid…

  5. Explosive Bombchelle Avatar

    The word “gladiator” conjures up an image of large, strong, and imposing men who can fight any foe to their finish; the male gladiators (mostly) fit the bill. The size differential between the gladiators and their opponents is ridiculous; I am bigger than the average male contender. Then there is my little pet peeve with the female gladiators, whose looks and sexuality were obviously bigger factors in obtaining their roles then their size and strength. I understand the basics of expanding viewers but why must every women’s sport or competition be turned into a beauty contest? It makes me physically ill.

    For the record, I like Hellga… she’s the only gladiator bigger then me!

  6. wadE Avatar

    I’d prefer a Hellga who could also perform some of the more demanding events. The other female gladiators are good at the events, and for the most part are quality athletes. Crush for example is an accomplished MMA fighter. As for the sexuality, beside Wolf, it’s pretty obvious that the male Gladiators were chosen for their attractiveness as well. It’s TV… you have to be pretty regardless of being male or female. Hell, you could also make the arguement that the Contenders are all pretty as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *