American Gladiator Auditions the Best of the Worst

In the early '90s, Saturday Night Live owned my weekends, and I wasn't alone. Although there were other favorite prepubescent activities — soccer games, covering Lego men in rubber cement and then lighting them on fire — SNL was the focal point of any good overnight. I can still recall watching the first-ever "Wayne's World" sketch with my buddy Ryan. We sat with jaws dropped, not laughing once, and when it was over, we stared at one another in awe, both agreeing that outside of Elle McPherson on the cover of Sports Illustrated, that sketch was probably the best thing we'd ever seen. And the next morning, as we burned and shot Lego men with the BB guns that Ryan was allowed to have and I wasn't, our emulatory cries of "Excellent!" spilled into the air, followed by explosive laughter and the slow crackling of yellow, plastic flesh.

I can attribute much of my sense of humor to SNL, and I think my comedy is a reflection of that: occasionally brilliant but, for the most part, hacky, forced and obvious.

During that chapter of my life, I'd often catch a little of American Gladiators after SNL. But I wasn't tuning in because of any attachment to that show; I was tuning in because I was an eleven-year-old boy, still one, maybe two years from the realization that the Spice Channel showed scrambled porn, and at that point the mere act of staying up late was enough high for me. And so, with half-dropped eyelids and the dawning realization that life really is just a cruel series of let-downs, I would watch a bunch of bronzed, 'roided-out freaks with names like Nitro and Magnesium Permanganate beat the shit out of some yoga junkie from Pasadena with giant padded Q-tips. And I would think: "This sucks."

With the American entertainment landscape mired in a writer's strike, it's no surprise that the powers-that-be at NBC would go back to the vault, dust off an old piece of shit and say, "You know what? This piece of shit really doesn't smell all that bad now that it's petrified and everything. Hey, you know who I bet we could get to eat this? America."

And indeed, America showed up with our shit-eating shovels and Cracker Barrel sweatpants for American Gladiators, hosted by Hulk Hogan, which premiered mid-season and was a smash success. We're talking Dancing With the Stars/Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?/Let Some British Cunt Come Live With You and Tell You What a Shitty Parent You Are-level success. The show has been such a hit that NBC is now forced to harvest another crop of pill-poppers for season two. But where to find such people? Where to locate legions of wannabe beefcake, reality-star-fuckers willing to shamelessly trot through an archaic gauntlet of meaningless physicality — like actual gladiators, except without the noble death?

The University of Colorado campus in Boulder, of course. This past Saturday, the line outside the rec center stretched around the corner as hundreds of potentials waited in the cold for their shot at the limelight. Through chattering teeth, they told me why they wanted to be on American Gladiators, with reasons ranging from "Because I got that sex appeal!" (followed by emphatic whooing from everyone around them) to "Because I have a lot of heart."

Just no soul.

Inside, the situation was not much better. Potential contestants dashed between cones and banged out pull-ups, their actions dutifully recorded and measured by volunteers who didn't seem to give a shit. Then the potential contestants were told to wait in line for interviews by casting directors who told me not to write about any of the questions they were asking — and also didn't seem to give a shit. By far my favorite potential contestants were a husband/wife team that I noticed immediately because they were in impeccable shape, kind of plasticky-looking and wearing matching black short shorts. It turned out the wife was a former Gladiator in South Africa named Thunder (I can only assume that incarnation was called South African Gladiator, which, given the country's recent history, has a really disturbing ring), and the husband, as he informed me, was trying to get on the show to prove he was stronger than his wife.

"So, you're out to prove to America that your wife can't beat you up?" I asked.

"That's what I'm going to do," he said through perfect teeth.

And as he admitted that, I realized I'd finally heard a good reason to be on American Gladiators. If your wife is freakishly jacked and your friends think she can kick your ass, there's no shame in auditioning for a hacky reality show that isn't even entertaining in a throwback, kitschy way because it was never cool in the first place.

Otherwise, you're better off staying home and burning Legos.

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Adam Cayton-Holland