Flashback to September, 1989. To the premiere of a new tv show that would combine the story of David versus Goliath, the action of the NFL and all with the bodies of the Greek Gods. SBS is proud to flex our way back to a world of big hair, tight abs and awesome nicknames. This is American Gladiators. One of my all-time favorites. My buddies and I regularly tried to recreate elements of the show in our backyards or basements.
American Gladiators was a reality competition program where regular folks would battle against the show’s ringers for a chance at prizes and glory. Two sets of contestants (one male, one female) were featured each episode. Your average event pitted a player against one of the gladiators in some wacky athletic challenge to see how many points they could ring up (usually, not very many). But before we get too far into the details, let’s meet the stars that kept us tuning in each week.
Each muscle-bound warrior has a rad handle like they are all Top Gun fighter pilots. The original cast featured: Nitro, Malibu, Lace, Sunny, Gemini and Zap. They added more over time and replaced a few as the show progressed. Other fan-favs were Laser, Turbo, Diamond, Thunder, Hawk, Ice, Diesel, Blaze, Tower and Sabre. They played the role of both villain and hero, all while rocking red, white and blue singlets. That’s talent. We wanted to see them crush the contestants and gloat while doing it. The real achievement is that the gladiators had real personality. Some were funny, some were cold but they were all charming. And ripped. I’m sure they were going through cases of protein powder and hair spray on a daily basis.
Malibu is like Jeff Spicoli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) on steroids.
These are the images that have survived the passage of time. You may not remember the details of the show but most can recall those giant hamster ball things. The game is called Atlasphere. Roll your cage onto the point platforms while avoiding the gladiators.
Other memorable events are the Joust, where players use what looks like a giant q-tip to try and push the other person off their pedestal. The object of Hang Tough is to swing from chain to chain while someone like Nitro (last name Glistening. That’s right, Nitro Glistening) tries to catch you and drop you. Plus there is Powerball, The Wall, Whiplash and half dozen other set ups but the real gem is Gauntlet. One gladiator mans a tennis ball machine gun turret and tries to snipe the player as they make their way from station to station where they find weapons to fire back. It’s the best.
All of the events are just appetizers for the big finale: The Eliminator. A monster of an obstacle course where the players race head to head. The points leader of the day gets a head start for their hard work. Gladiators are positioned all over the arena and try and slow the runners down. I seem to remember that everyone has trouble with the cargo net. That’s the place where you can really make up some time. This last event is excellent because you get to witness how tired each racer gets. By the end, it’s a battle of guts and who wants it more. The heart of real sports.
The Arnold Schwarzenegger film, The Running Man, came out in 1987 and no doubt had a clear impact on the minds that created American Gladiators. They brought that fictional game to life and filled it with characters that seem pulled from the WWF. But unlike wrestling, it was real and America couldn’t get enough. Now if you’ll excuse, I need to hit the weights.