Que Sarah, Sarah

Monday, January 07, 2008

American Gladiators...Reeeemix


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

I vividly remember watching the original "American Gladiators" as a teen, hoping one day I would be able to don the blue or red contender spandex and tear it up in Powerball.

I never had the chance. The popular show that pits everyday people against modern day Goliaths was canceled in 1996, but its fan base remained strong.

In March of 2007, ESPN Classic began airing reruns of the show, giving a whole new generation of fans a peek at the muscles, hairspray and unitards that made it such a hit. Around the same time, before news of the show's return had been announced, a group of friends and I all went to a costume party dressed as our favorite gladiator of the '90s.

When commercials for the new, technologically-advanced version of Gladiators began airing, I wasn't surprised to learn that friends and co-workers alike shared my nostalgia and enthusiasm for the show.

I awaited the latest incarnation with even more anticipation after learning a former college teammate of mine would be one of the new pack of recreational superheros. Jamie Reed, a pole vaulter at Cornell while I was a heptathlete, has parlayed her strength and athleticism into a new career as "Fury."

Reed was always an extremely muscular woman, but she's taken her fitness to a whole new level since graduation, competing as a professional bodybuilder and posing in fitness magazines. I don't know how well she'd fare in the pole vault these days, but after seeing her on the show I certainly wouldn't challenge her to an arm wrestle, that's for sure. Fury's just one of many new faces on the show, which, despite a futuristic facelift, retains much of what made the original so popular.

With more cameras and new state-of-the-art games — not to mention fire and water obstacles — the show's stepped firmly into 2008 without forsaking its roots. The same principles of competition and pageantry were evident on opening night, as fire fighters, life coaches and skateboard enthusiasts battled each other and the gladiators for supremacy.

Laila Ali and Hulk Hogan were adequate in their handling of the show's hosting duties, while the gladiators themselves lived up to the legends of their predecessors. The original pretty boy, Malibu, is succeeded by Titan, who looks like a (just slightly) humanized version of the dad from "The Incredibles" mixed with Gary from "Team America". If you believe his cheekbones are natural then you probably think the female gladiators are just naturally well-endowed, too.

Zap, who went on to pose for Playboy after her stint as an original gladiator, meets her match in Crush, an MMA fighter with a Posh Spice bob and a face that could make you forget that she could, quite literally, crush you. Wolf, who marks the beginning and end of his competitions with a howl, is a beefed up version of the Raiders' Rob Ryan. A Samoan former college football player, a simply but appropriately named "Hellga" and a former model for COLT (look it up) are a few of the other behemoths set to take on this season's contestants.

The new Gladiators is appealing for the same reasons today as it was in the early '90's. Everyone loves to see a David and Goliath story, especially thirty-somethings who take pride in their own "weekend warrior" workout habits. However, just as strong as the viewer's desire to see the underdog win is their desire to see that cocky everyday Joe from the local gym meet pain and suffering at the hands of a giant.

In the very first event of the new season, a mother-of-three hurt her knee being tackled in Powerball and then, while trying to fight through the pain, further injured herself in an oft-replayed fall that looked as though she'd been horse-collared from behind by an invisible foe. In a twist of fate that highlighted the show's idea that anyone can rise above his or her age, size or occupation, two of the night's four winners were diminutive, wiry Asian contestents who appeared undersized and outmatched when the games began.

Accountants and clerical workers everywhere will stand up straighter tomorrow. As the weeks go on, the show promises more injuries, unlikely victors and, of course, the requisite gladiator histrionics and dramatics.

I suppose now is my chance to fulfill my teenage dream of Gladiators glory. I just don't know if I can pull off that spandex anymore!


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