American Gladiators

American Gladiators

While most game shows catered to the intellectually-advanced, there weren’t many opportunities for the jock types to parlay their physical talents into cash and prizes. American Gladiators gave them a few moments of televised glory. In this popular 90s show, it didn’t matter whether you knew the capital of Wisconsin, as long as you could outwhack your opponent with a giant Q-tip.

The hour-long, syndicated program debuted in 1989 and challenged four macho contestants – two men and two women – to fight a group of oil-glazed Gladiators sporting names such as Nitro, Zap, Gemini, Ice, Lace and Laser. The contestants were competing against each other, seeing who could score more points against the Gladiators by way of multiple events.

The events themselves were varied and usually consisted of a number of ornate contraptions designed to test a player’s strength and stamina. The Joust had a player face off against a Gladiator on pedestals with those aforementioned giant Q-tips. SwingShot had players bungee hopping past the Gladiators to collect balls from a pole. Powerball was a rugby-style event where players pushed balls into containers while the Gladiators tried to stop them. In Hang Tough, players scrambled across a grid of monkey bar rings, while the Gladiators tried to pull them down. Assault was an event that had a Gladiator shoot a tennis ball cannon at a player, who had to dodge the balls while firing back from an airgun station. Finally, there was the Atlasphere, a hamster ball device that both contestants and Gladiators rolled around in, while the contestants tried to run over pods on the ground.

The final challenge was the Eliminator, where the two sets of contestants ran through an obstacle course full of Gladiators. The contestant who received the most points in the previous events got a head start. The winner received fabulous prizes as well as chance to come back for later rounds. In the first season of the series, the overall champ was invited to come back as an actual Gladiator in the following season but producers nixed that idea in the seasons that followed.

Mike Adamie served as host of American Gladiators, joined by a variety of co-hosts such as Joe Theismann, Todd Christensen, Larry Csonka and Lisa Malosky. Like a traditional sports broadcast, the hosts gave camera time to the Gladiators who provided the requisite smack talk between matches.

American Gladiators became a surprise hit, airing for several seasons in syndication. Its popularity led to a number of international versions and a kids spin-off called Gladiators 2000 in 1994, hosted by Ryan Seacrest. A short-lived series reboot aired in 2008, hosted by wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali, daughter of boxing icon, Muhammad Ali. Unfortunately, the new generation of Gladiators couldn’t quite propel the series to the same lofty heights of the original, which is still fondly remembered by millions of fans who preferred Q-Tip competition over geography quizzes any day.

Did you faithfully tune into American Gladiators each week to see how Nitro and Gemini would fare? We’d love to hear your thoughts and recollections of this memorable game show in our comments section below.

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