While I admit it isn’t the most mentally stable way to live life, I’ll often try to make a boring situation seem more interesting by pondering the ways I could turn it into an event from American Gladiators, one of the most endlessly engaging game shows to ever exist. There’s nothing that would make a dentist’s waiting room more tolerable than contemplating which other patients would be the easiest to maul in the Gauntlet, and I may or may not have spent a small bit of time this weekend wondering how Gladiators could make an Easter egg hunt a more captivating affair.
And because there’s no time like the present – The Present would obviously be a Christmas-themed segment – I’ve put together a list of the 10 best American Gladiators events, informed both by which ones were the most entertaining to watch, and which ones I think would be the most enjoyable to take part in. Because thinking of those rings in Hang Tough immediately makes my arms cramp up to the point that typing is impossible, you won’t be finding that one on here.
A goofier, grade-school take on the “climb something while people are trying to take you down” concept that I just couldn’t fully enjoy through The Wall for some reason, The Pyramid was a blast to watch, as it often involved watching full-grown adults taking huge tumbles down giant crashmats. To me, that would be the perfect way to get into bed every night. And yes, the flamethrowers would be a part of it.
If only the gladiators in ancient Rome had bungee cords to assist them in their competitions. Swingshot was a perfect combination of exhaustion-inducing bouncing and mid-air collisions, and completely proved that “snatching” is a real skill. While the somewhat similar Rocketball was also fun, the button launcher was cheap, and the event took away that guilty pleasure moment in watching a contestant grab one of the colored balls, only to clumsily drop it at the last second before making it back to the basket.
8. Sky Track
Like watching a super-sized slot car race with 100% more flailing limbs, Sky Track is one of the only competitive events I can think of where Velcro is a necessary material. There’s something so gloriously awkward about watching people scamper around while upside-down. Plus, it’s one of the rare times when the 2008 revival changed the rules for the better, making it more of a chase than just a race against a Gladiator.
7. Human Cannonball
It doesn’t get much simpler than Human Cannonball, in which one contestant uses their swinging body to try and knock a Gladiator off of a platform, and that’s precisely one of the reasons why it’s such a great time. The best examples of the event gave viewers a chance to watch Gladiators get extremely pissed off after getting slammed to the ground, but even the most boring instances were over in just a few seconds. It’s also one of the only ones that I think my unathletic body would excel at.
6. The Maze
One of my favorite portions of a haunted house or a carnival fun house is the maze, and so watching a bird’s eye view of a competitive version always gave me a strange sense of delight. It was sort of like watching a horror movie without shitty main characters or an interesting killer, and it seems like a post-Saw version of the game would be even better, with needle traps and things to be found therein. Where’s a good pool of alligators when you need one?
As soon as American Gladiators introduced its contestants at the beginning of each show, it was immediately obvious who would and wouldn’t do well in Powerball. Sure, agility could sometimes be better than bulky brute strength in getting the balls to their goals, but this was the event in which the Gladiators showed the least amount of restraint, and viewers were almost always guaranteed to see increasingly frustrated contestants getting the dogshit knocked out of them.
While it would have been more fascinating to see a medieval-style version with mechanical horses and suits of padded armor, watching grown people use giant cotton swabs to smack each other around was bliss. More so in the latter half of The Joust, when the contestant had burned through energy reserves and was just swinging that pugil stick for all it was worth. Adding the pool of water to the bottom just felt like weird torture, because who wants to have to dry off?
Another event that I have fooled myself into thinking I might be good at without the proper amount of fitness, Atlasphere’s appeal is unmistakable, as you’re watching people roll around in giant balls like hamsters with a vengeance. But it wasn’t just about the visuals, as the sound of the metal spheres smashing into each other was unavailable in any other sporting event. The way to make it more interesting? If knock-out gas came out of the pods when points were scored.
The non-Eliminator event with the most variation, as well as one with a pretty solid balance of skill and luck, Assault was never boring, and it never failed to draw hatred towards the Gladiator behind the tennis ball gun. I sometimes wished the show hadn’t changed the lifelike safe zones used in the first chunk of Season 1, but it didn’t stop the enjoyment of seeing someone dodging projectiles while trying to work the worst crossbows and rocket launchers known to man.
1. The Eliminator
Was there ever any doubt? The final event of every American Gladiators episode, The Eliminator, pit the contestants against each other in a rapid-fire series of physically enduring and ever-changing tasks. For instance, there was scurrying up a downward-moving conveyor belt, maneuvering those godawful hand-bikes, dodging medicine balls, climbing a net wall, and making it through a mini-gauntlet, to name but a few. It was the best way to end each show, although it perhaps wasn’t the wisest tactic to interview the winners as they were gasping for breath.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.