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LAist Interview: Tee Sorge (American Gladiators Season 7 Winner)

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With the season 2 premiere of American Gladiators airing tonight, LAist caught up with Tiziana “Tee” Sorge, the last woman to win an entire season of the original American Gladiators series (season 7, 1995-1996). In the interview below, she shares insights into the toughest challenges of being a contender (including that annoying spandex), compares the new show with the original and talks about one of her passions—small dog rescue.

LAist: What led you to try out for the show?

Tee Sorge: My best friend, Carla Zeitlin, and I decided to try out just so we could say we did it. We actually auditioned for season six but didn’t make it, so we had to come back the next year. It all came down to the fact that I couldn’t climb the rope during my first attempt.

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What happened when you went back the following year?

That year, 2,000 people tried out and they cut it down to 20 men and 20 women. It was a boot camp tryout. You would run, do push-up and pull-ups, climb a rope, talk on camera, that kind of stuff. Once it was narrowed down to 20, they put you through tryouts on the equipment for a week prior to shooting, so the contestants were fighting really hard against each other just to make it on the show. During the second week, they cut the 20 down to 12 and immediately began shooting. They shot two shows a day, and because of the tryouts, we were already broken. Everything hurt, and the contestants got only one to two tries on each of the games before we shot our shows.

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What did you do to prepare/train for the competition between the year you originally auditioned and the season you made it on the show?

I learned how to climb a rope. (laughs) I was bodybuilding, so the strength was already there. I definitely did more cardio. I don’t really run, but with the Eliminator and the treadmill and all that stuff, it’s a lot of cardio output. You’re under stress anyway because you have all this anxiety, so if your cardio output isn’t good, that’s going to suck the strength right out from under you.

Is it true that you split the prize money with Carla?

It was something we had agreed on when we went into this—we said that if we ended up being in the finals against each other, we were going to split the prize money and the prizes. We went in 50-50 because we didn’t want it to come between us. It was great, because the days she shot were the same days that I shot, so we were there to support each other even though we were shooting on different shows. We didn’t do it for the money. We did it for the fun of it just to say we did it.

Were the finals the first time the two of you actually competed against each other?

Yes, other than the tryouts. She was doing a different show, so she had her own preliminary and semi-finals, and I did the same thing with my shows.

What was one of the toughest things about the whole process?

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It’s just so exhausting and emotionally draining, and then Cesar, my Doberman of 15 years, passed away the night before my semi-finals show. I was having a really hard time with the semi-finals because I had been up all night and was emotionally drained.

Then my sister’s boyfriend at the time came to me in the middle of the day and he said, “I didn’t come here to watch a loser.” And I was like, “All right.” I remember that line so well, because that made me really pull it together. I don’t think I would have made it through the semi-finals if I hadn’t had that in my head.

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What event was the most difficult for you?

For me it was the joust. And I hate to say it, but it was totally unfair. We had lacrosse helmets and the gladiators had football helmets that were fitted. So every time you got hit in the head while you were wearing a lacrosse helmet, not only did it spin around your head, but there was no fitting. So I literally saw stars. Plus each time you got hit, the whole helmet would shift and you lost your vision. Then you would have to shift it back, and by then you were getting smacked on the other side of the head.

When it came to the semi-finals and the finals, I thought, “I don’t need the points. I don’t need the headache. I don’t need to be knocked out.” So I would just take a couple hits, bounce right off and be done with it.

Which gladiator was the hardest to face off with?

They were all really hard. Ice and I were the closest in competition level because we were the closest in weight. With her, I could hold my own somewhat. I did beat Siren across the swinging rings, but had she got me, I couldn’t have held on. The gladiators would wrap around you—and they didn’t have the pool like they do now, they had mats. She had at least 30 pounds on me, so I was fortunate I made it across.

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What was the hardest part of the Eliminator?

For me, the Eliminator was really not the big challenge. The games were far harder. For whatever reason, with the Eliminator, I just got into this zone…

The balls were very difficult for a lot of people. With one girl, they had to stop the show and fish her out. There were 100,000 balls in each pit and they were nine feet deep, so you didn’t ever hit the bottom. The key was not to panic and to go slow. If you watch any of the shows that I did, everybody else was practically hyperventilating through them, and I was just really methodical. Cause if you dove in and went too fast, you just did yourself in and then you couldn’t get out.

Is it true that one of the actors from the show NUMB3RS was a male contestant during one of the shows you were on?

Yeah, Dylan Bruno [who plays Colby Granger in the CBS series] was on the show with us.

What was your favorite part of the experience?

I loved competing in front of so many people. It really made me feel alive—I can get very competitive when put in the right arena.

After winning the season, were you absolutely sick of Spandex?

I haven’t worn Spandex since the show. Never again. Spandex and I are not friends.

What are your thoughts on the new show?

It’s pretty much the same as far as the games. I love the pool aspect, but I would hate to be wet for the rest of the day.

I did notice that the new Travelator has a rope. They didn’t have a rope when I did it. The thing with the Travelator was, with every show, it got faster. So in the finals, when I got over the wall and jumped down, I looked at that thing and I knew Carla was coming down the zip line…and I just took a moment to rest. I knew that if I didn’t make it the first time, I wasn’t making it, period. That thing was slamming fast.

They also increased the incline every time. So every show it got taller and faster. When I practiced, it took me 3-4 minutes to do it. But during the finals, I was doing it in 1-2 minutes because the adrenaline was kicking in.

Any advice for people who will be competing on the show this season?

Make sure your cardio strength is there. The physical strength should be there, but your cardio is what’s going to save you—because your physical strength, in time, will dwindle.

What have you been up to in the years since American Gladiators?

I was a photographer during the time I did American Gladiators, and I still do that, though not professionally. I’ve also become a personal trainer. In addition to that, I’ve been very involved in dog rescue and started up a rescue foundation. And now we’ve opened up a doggy day care.

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What led you to devote so much time to small dog rescue efforts?

It’s one of my passions. So many dogs and cats are put down each year in U.S. shelters—and 60 percent of the animals are given up due to very correctable behavioral problems. It’s just that nobody spent the time to be with them.

At any given point, we have 3-4 small fosters. We have a nice network of of people who will look after the dogs anywhere from two weeks to three months depending on how long it takes us to place them.

Adoption fees are only around $200, which includes spaying or neutering, all their shots, a health checkup and microchipping. Most of the time that doesn’t even come close to our fees—we recently paid $3,500 out of our own pockets to save two of our puppies who were sick—but it helps offset some of the costs. People often don’t realize the investment that rescue groups make. And we’ll always take dogs back no matter how much time has passed. We just don’t want them to be put back into the system.

What gave you the idea for the name of your doggy day care, “Barkingham Palace”?

My partner and I had just visited Buckingham Palace in London. We were bouncing some names around with our friends one night and when I said, “Barkingham Palace,” everyone said, “That’s it!”

Did you have the small dog concept since the beginning?

Yes. It’s a market that’s somewhat untapped. As a small dog owner, I’m just not comfortable leaving my dog anywhere where there is a big dog, so we just focus on the little guys.

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What other services do you offer?

We have aromatherapy massages, spa days (including dog-safe “pawdicures”), doggy pick-up and delivery, and obedience training.

Small dogs have their own quirks. Most of them have a Napoleon complex, so they walk in like “I own the place.” It’s nice when they walk in with a Napoleon complex and there are a bunch of Napoleons staring at them.

There’s also grooming on-site. Some other day cares outsource that service, but we have a full-time person on-site. And we groom any size, because the big dogs can come in through the back entrance.

Barkingham also offers “Pooch in a Pouch” time. So if your dog is having an anxiety day, we have little pouches that we wear and we’ll just literally walk around with a dog in a pouch.

What are the “group exercises” like? Any inspiration from your American Gladiators days?

(laughs) It’s mostly toy-related. Today we had an oversized tennis ball and we played soccer with them earlier.

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Any general advice for small dog owners?

Socialize them. That’s the biggest thing. Small dogs usually aren’t very well socialized because they end up being in your arms a lot—so they don’t really know how to be dogs. If they run to you and want to be picked up every time something scares them, small dog owners usually do so because they’re our babies. But that just breeds insecurity and makes them less balanced. You just want to allow them to be dogs and let them know that it’s OK.

And that’s what works great here, because they get to be socialized. They’re all the same level, so it’s not like a big dog is going to chase them. They’re all about the same size.

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Tee! It's been great to hear how someone with big muscles and a big heart cares so much for small dogs.

For more information about Barkingham Palace, visit:

Barkingham Palace Doggy Day Care
8023 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782.1922
www.barkinghampalacedoggydaycare.com

More Photos:

American Gladiators

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Barkingham Palace

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Photos courtesy of Tee Sorge as well as some by Michele Reverte for LAist