Do you feel the power of the Gladiators? Can you face the challenge of the champions? Do you have the courage of a hero? Do you have the will and the skill? Do you have the speed, the strength, the heart to be a winner? It's not for beginners. Deep down in your soul. Are you a Gladiator? Gladiators
—The lyrics for the opening theme of the show
was a popular Game Show
that inspired Britain to get fit again from 1992-2000. There were Australian, Finnish, Swedish, South African, and Russian versions too, an international crossover series and a couple of Ashes series between England and Australia
. The show was presented by Ulrika Johnson and John Fashanu for most of its original run. John Sachs, son of Andrew Sachs (Manuel)
, provided commentary. John Anderson was the referee for the original series.
A small group of contestants (usually two men and two women) would compete each week in a bunch of physical contests against the "Gladiators"- a group of very strong and fit men and women who were all known by a single word descriptor (e.g. Lightning, Warrior, Panther, Wolf). Since all these Gladiators were professional athletes and were very prominent and skilled in their fields, this meant they had a distinct advantage (though generally the games were not designed to be unwinnable). The series followed a type of knockout format which resulted in the winners of each show going into a semifinal and then a final. The final episode of the original series pitted Gladiator against Gladiator.
The appeal of the series (and of the franchise globally) could be put down to many factors. For one thing, it was a highly competitive and tense show involving some very hard games. The contestants were regular people who went up against the aforementioned trained and professional athletes, who weren't known for being soft-hearted. As a result, the Contenders were often the underdogs, which added to the stakes- and to the popularity. it was also a very adaptable show: while many a Game Show
relies on the same proceedings each episode, the variety of events on display meant no two episodes would be the same. It also allowed for new events to come and go over the years, ensuring less predictability. One thing the UK version amped up was the theatrics, making it more like a drama or soap opera; as a result there were quite a few Professional Wrestling
tropes present, but this was usually kept subtle, in order to ensure that viewers would continue to take it seriously.
The show was revived in May 2008 (probably to due to nostalgia) on Sky1
, where an all-new team of Gladiators took on a new group of Contenders. It was based on NBC
's American Gladiators
revival, which was based on the original British version, which was based on the original syndicated American Gladiators
. (Got that?
) The show brought back some classic events, replaced crash mats with water tanks, and included its own version of the Eliminator (complete with Travelator). It was presented by Ian Wright, with Kirsty Gallacher in 2008 and Caroline Flack in 2009, also included John Anderson as the referee for Series 1. It also hosted some Legends Specials, pitting the old Gladiators against the new Gladiators, which also saw the return of fan-favourite Wolf. Lackluster ratings and a lukewarm reception saw this show sent the way of a contender to the crash mats (or water tank).
It's hard to really describe the popularity the show had, but to put it simply, it was the Game Show
of its time! As has been stated in in other articles, if Bullseye
was the UK's favourite game of the 1980s, then Gladiators
was the choice of the 1990s. There were tons of merchandise seen in shops, the Gladiators became national celebrities- it was everywhere, an institution unto itself, so much so that when the revival did a Legends Special, the returning Gladiators were given a very warm and enthusiastic reception. Despite the poor revival it's still regarded very fondly by a lot of people, even if it was a bit cheesy. It rode the peak of the UK's Game Show
craze of the 1980s and 1990s… and followed it down, too.
The more popular events included:
- Atlaspheres: The first event of the series shown. Two Contenders face two Gladiators and all are caged in large Atlaspheresnote that they have to propel from within. The contenders' task is to roll the spheres onto any of four scoring pods. They were given 60 seconds to score as many points as they could in this fashion, while the Gladiators must block the contenders from scoring.
- Duel: The most iconic event of the show, where a Gladiator and a Contender fight using Pugil Sticks (think oversized cotton buds, and you're nearly there) on raised platforms and try to knock the other one off. 10 points were awarded if the contender knocked off the Gladiator, 5 if they lasted the whole 30 seconds. Women's versions were mostly defensive affairs, the men's one could have the end happen at pretty much any moment.
- Gauntlet: One of the tougher events, this event has the Contender running a gauntlet of five Gladiators, all armed with either power pads or ramrods. Points were awarded for completing each section, though completing the entire gauntlet would get the most points.
- Hang Tough: Another iconic piece. The objective was for the Contender to reach the opposite platform by swinging on a grid of rings. 10 points if they made it to the other side, or 5 if they were in the scoring zone after 60 seconds. Most of the time the Gladiator would manage to latch onto them and bring them down.
- Pendulum: Where a Contender and Gladiator participate in a game of "Hide and Seek" on a giant swinging ball suspended above a catch net. The Gladiator needs to reach the Contender and steal their tag from their back.
- Pyramid: Where the Contenders have to try and scale a pyramid guarded by two Gladiators. 10 points were awards for the first contender to reach the top and 5 for the runner up. Notorious for ending Jet's career on the show, the result of which caused the event to be suspended for a year.
- Skytrak: A spectacular event which was a 40ft in the air, upside down Scalextric track. The Contenders race each other around a figure of 8 while the Gladiators try to catch up to them and press a button to eliminate them. The winner is awarded 10 points.
- The Wall: The Gladiators need to pursue the Contenders up a wall after a head start and try to drag them off. 10 points were awards to the first Contender to scale the wall and 5 for the runner up.
After playing six of these events, the two Contenders (without any Gladiators) then competed in a race on "The Eliminator", an obstacle course whose features varied but always finished with a dash up a 45° moving floor known as the Travelator; this quickly became the most notorious obstacle in the show, due to a lot of contenders finding themselves being unable to run up it thanks to fatigue. Most matches could be won or lost here, and several Contenders who would've had no chance of winning thanks to a huge gap could find themselves overcoming the deficit. The game was won or lost solely according to who finished the Eliminator first; the six preceding events were played for points, the leading Contender having half a second's headstart on the Eliminator for each point they led by.
Has a few Professional Wrestling
Tropes present, due to some degree of Kayfabe
in the off-stage stuff.
The 1992-2000 version provides examples of:
The 2008-09 version provides examples of:
- Badass Grandpa: Wolf, by the time of the revival was pushing 60! Yet still had a physique that could rival people half his age! he had also lost none of his temper and ferocity.
- Hotter and Sexier: Skimpier outfits and stuff taking place over water...
- Heel: Wolf wannabe/Expy Oblivion, now seen in TNA as Brutus Magnus — where he is more often than not a Heel. Tornado too.
- Ms. Fanservice: Inferno. Really, any female gladiator that isn't Battleaxe, who still counts to a lesser degree.
- Mr. Fanservice: Spartan
- Hulkspeak: Goliath