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Arts and Entertainment

Ode to American Gladiators

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It’s so good to have you back.

I know you’ve been back for a couple of months already. But I still can’t believe that you’re here again. I mean, seriously, we hadn’t seen each other in more than ten years! Where have you been all this time?

I fully admit, when we parted ways before, I was the one who was losing interest and looking for something more in my life. So when ESPN Classic told me that you were coming back, I didn’t know how to react. You brought so much joy to my teenage years, but I guess I got bored of the gladiator schtick. Maybe I just felt like I was outgrowing you back then. It wasn’t your fault, I was just trying to figure out what I wanted.

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But these last few weeks, all of the quality time we’ve been able to spend together has made me realize how much I truly missed you. I didn’t appreciate how special you really are, with your unique combination of athletic prowess, cheesy personalities, and bad hair. That first weekend back in March when we reunited during your TV marathon, I found an immediate attraction like the first time we met. I was supposed to go out and run errands, but I couldn’t resist watching episode after episode.

I hope you don't hold it against me that we split up all those years back. People change. Look at all the changes that you went through while we were together. Remember when we first met? You were at Universal Studios Hollywood on that dark, ghetto set with equipment that looked like it was purchased from a 99 Cent Store (seriously, medicine balls on the Eliminator?). There were only six gladiators then, and they weren't very good. The worst was Malibu. He tried to play the surfer personality with a trademark hang loose sign, but would get constantly schooled by some middle-aged guy in a mullet on Breakthrough and Conquer or Powerball. Nitro and Gemini weren't so bad. But Lace was definitely worth remembering - so fashionable.

What kept me interested in you were those crazy athletic events that I couldn't find in anyone else, despite the questionable spandex outfits. I loved watching Assault - I remember trying to recreate my own game with friends by throwing tennis balls at each other while trying to hit a cheap homemade target. You also exposed me to the thrill of The Wall. I was so impressed when you junked the rope swing and added the cargo net and zipline to the Eliminator. Yes, things were good during those early years. When Larry Thompson yelled "Contenders, ready! Gladiators, ready!" my heart always skipped a beat.

I didn't even mind that much when you tried to make yourself more flashy. I found Atlasphere and The Maze fun, if not a little quirky. And Slingshot was kinda cool 'cause the contenders could sky on those bungee cords. Some of the new gladiators brought new energy to the show. Laser and Turbo were pretty dope, and when you brought Elektra on, well, she was just frackin' hot. Even when things got a little stale, Mike Adamle always kept me entertained.

But somewhere along the way, my feelings started to change. You brought in all of these new gladiators that had lame nicknames like Hawk and Sabre and no personality. And while you did your best to innovate by introducing events like Sky Track or Pyramid, they just weren't as interesting. Maybe the contenders just got too good and figured out how to beat the gladiators at their own games. All I know is by the time you got canceled, I wasn't all that broken up about it.

Now that we've had all this time apart, I understand you so much better. You always portrayed yourself as a serious show, but never took yourself too seriously. It was a game, but it was first and foremost entertainment. These days, half the shows on TV these days are reality programs of some sort, and all of the participants have an agenda and a sense of self-importance. But not you. Your participants were there for the glory of competition. They weren't looking for celebrity, they wanted a challenge. And the gladiators willingly played the foil. There was no tribal council, no boardroom, no rose ceremony. Only muscle-bound jocks beating up on hapless weekend warriors with wannabe Bobby Brown fades.

Maybe we can't have the same kind of relationship like we used to. But I know there's a place for you in my life. On my TiVo. Late night, you, me, and Human Cannonball. I hope you'll take me back. I think this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

American Gladiators originally aired from 1989 through 1996. Since its rights were acquired by ESPN in March, it can now be seen on ESPN Classic on weekdays at 4 pm and 10 pm and on weekends from 6-8 am.