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Series / Gladiators

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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?
The lyrics for the opening theme of the show

Gladiators was a popular ITV Game Show that inspired Britain to get fit again from 1992-2000, based off the original American Gladiators. 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. This allowed the show to be framed as a serious sporting event, helped by Saturdays being the UK's traditional sports day each week.


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).

In July 2022, reports of a second revival broke which would potentially see the show air on BBC One in 2023, with Holly Willoughby mooted as the show's presenter.

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 (reduced to five in later series), the two Contenders (without any Gladiators) then competed in a race on "The Eliminator", an obstacle course whose features varied over the years 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 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:

  • '80s Hair: Despite it being the 90's, the original ladies all had big hair; the second series on played it down. The men's styles could be pretty out there too (especially Wolf's).
  • Action Girl: The female Gladiators and contestants, naturally. In particular the third season contestant, and eventual series winner, Eunice Huthart who was a kickboxing champion before entering. Her nailbiting final run at the Eliminator against Kerryn Sampey is considered one of the show's greatest moments. Eunice went on to become Angelina Jolie's favourite stunt double.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Look at the American version in comparison, and you'll see a dramatically different show: the U.S. version had a relatively tamer style more akin to a traditional Saturday afternoon sports telecast (although still stylized) and other sports-oriented competition shows such as Battle of the Network Stars and later Nickelodeon GUTS. The British version took the same basic format up to eleven by turning it into a Darker and Edgier primetime spectacle with elements inspired by Professional Wrestling. U.S. viewers were exposed to the British version during the international tournaments, while NBC's primetime revival would be modeled more after the British version than the original syndicated run.
    • And now, the series (albeit severely edited) appears on MGM-owned diginet Charge!
  • Anyone Can Die: Inverted; nobody died, but by the end of the run there were only four of the original Gladiators left (Wolf, Lightning, Saracen and Cobra). The others had left due to injury, lack of popularity, or having been fired for more controversial reasons. There were also several injuries to contenders over the course of the show which meant the backup contenders were required.
  • Ascended Fangirl: Eunice Huthart; probably the most well known of the female contenders over the years eventually became the gladiator Blaze.
  • Big Bad: Wolf. The song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" played whenever he lost. Conversely, Wild Thing played when he won.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Several Gladiators, such as Jet and Amazon, retired after suffering injuries during games. A number of contenders were also taken out of the running this way.
  • Catchphrase: "H'Gladiators....ha-readaaaaaaaaaaaaay!" for John Anderson, and Fash's "Awooga!"
  • Celebrity Edition: There were four celebrity specials produced between 1993 and 1997. John Fashanu and Sir Steve Redgrave were among the winners.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Pursuit became very popular soon as it appeared, it was essentially a mini Eliminator with Gladiators pursuing the Contenders, which added to the tension. However it mysteriously vanished in later series with no explanation as to why.
  • Clothing Damage/Wardrobe Malfunction: Some of the more contact-based games occasionally ended up with the contenders' uniforms either being stretched or completely torn. Wolf was a frequent offender, after being reprimanded for pulling down a contender's shorts on Hang Tough he claimed it was unfair as the man still had his underwear on. John Fashanu was particularly unlucky during a Celebrity episode when a tackle during Powerball completely ripped open the front of his shorts, forcing him to use a powerball to cover his modesty until he could go backstage to change.
  • Cool Old Guy: At 40, Wolf was by far the oldest of the gladiators even when the series began, and he stayed right until it ended when he was 47, yet he consistently proved himself as fit as any of them. At that age, in such a physically intense show, that was no mean feat.
  • Dare to Be Badass: The theme song.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Commentator John Sachs frequently made sarcastic (though good-natured) jokes at the expense of contenders, gladiators (especially Wolf) and even members of the audience. Ulrika Johnson, John Fashanu and a big chunk of the Gladiators would also make sarcastic quips here and there.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Always said at the end of the episode.
  • The Dreaded: Many gladiators had a talent for a given event (Shadow for Duel, Saracen and Lightning for Hang Tough, and so on), while others like Nightshade kicked arse no matter the event.
    • Some would argue that the Gladiators felt this way about the event Tilt, given that it gave near career ending injuries to two of them, and in Panther's case could easily have killed her.
    • Hang Tough was the most likely event for Wolf to kick off: he would usually end up being disqualified, getting a yellow card, lashing out at the contender, arguing with the referee or yelling at the audience.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Mike Adamle showed up in the series 3 celebrity special from 1994 as a teaser for the International Gladiators event later that year.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first series only featured six games - Atlaspheres, The Wall, Danger Zone, Swingshot, Hang Tough, and Duel - in that order in all episodes except Heat 6 {which played Danger Zone first, followed by The Wall, Duel, Atlaspheres, Swingshot, and then Hang Tough. This was due to Warrior suffering an injury in the Atlaspheres event, which was filmed after he had already faced the heat contenders in Duel, therefore requiring Duel to be aired first to maintain continuity). The Eliminator also went straight from the zip lines to the Travelator, rather than having the balance beams before it.
    • John Anderson did not wear his signature black cap in the first series, and he was also more subdued when doing his event introductions.
    • The uniforms the contenders wore in series one varied in colour from show to show. Afterwards, the female contenders generally wore pink and yellow (except for a brief period in series three when they wore a different shade of pink {almost red-like} and light blue, respectively), while the male contenders wore red and blue (with series two having a lighter shade of blue, and the contenders wearing black shorts with red/blue tank tops early in series three).
    • Gauntlet was introduced in the second series, and was RIDICULOUSLY easy - the contestants only had to make their way past three Gladiators who were spread further apart, and was changed to the more standard five Gladiators in the next series. The scoring system was also based on who got the faster time of the two, whereas from series 3 onwards, 10 points were scored if it was beaten under 20 seconds, and 5 if they completed it within 20-30 seconds.
    • The Wall in the first series - female competitors were given a 20 second head start, with the males getting 15. From series two onwards, they both only get 10 seconds which increased the tension and made it less of a guaranteed points haul.
    • The title sequence for the show qualifies for this too - in the first series, the announcer introduces the contestants, along with their occupation and where they come from, which leads into him reading off the names of the Gladiators. The second series onwards adopted the more familiar title sequence with the rotating logo in space, with images of the Gladiators flying by during the theme song.
    • The closing titles for season 1 didn't feature the warning about not trying any of the stuff on the show at home. A wordy version of it was played halfway through the season 2 credits (More or less saying don't try this at home, both contestants and Gladiators are well trained, and that safety equipment is mandatory), and from season 3 onwards, a simple "For safety reasons, do not attempt to recreate any of the events you have seen on “Gladiators”." message played at the start of the credits.
    • The theme song for the credits kept changing in the original run - the first season used a shortened version of the full theme song, season 2 used "The Power Rap", and season 3 used "Tussle With The Muscle" (Which was slightly remixed for season 4). Later closing themes include a Gladiators cover of "The Boys Are Back In Town" and "The Gladiator Stomp". In comparison, the revived series only used one piece of music (That of its title sequence) for its short run.
  • Fanservice: The whole damn show. Reasonably attractive and extremely muscular and athletic people competing in a variety of games while wearing leotards and other barely-there clothes? If it wasn't for the strict focus on the games, you'd wonder how the show got to keep going.
  • Foil: Vulcan was brought in from the Australian series to be this to Wolf.
  • Golden Snitch: The Eliminator in general but specifically the Travelator. Several contenders would go into the Eliminator with a massive lead, hold it throughout the course and then stumble at the Travelator as their opponent zipped up with no problems. While this was no doubt disappointing it did make for some dramatic finishes.
  • Irony: Cobra and Lightning entered as contenders, and were only called up as reserve gladiators when they were short of numbers. They are two of the four (Saracen and Wolf the others) to have appeared throughout the show's run.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Whenever Wolf lost an event, they'd play "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" over the PA system just to rub it in.
  • Heel: Wolf played this for all it was worth: (playfully) shoving contenders, ripping up banners and generally being the "nasty one". It actually helped to make him one of the most popular Gladiators. He did occasionally drop the theatrics and decide to play nice, but only for an episode or two at a time.
  • Large Ham: John Anderson.
  • Laughably Evil: Wolf. Obviously.
    "Quiet! QUIET! (beat) I'm trying to do an interview.."
  • Kayfabe: Some things on the series, like Wolf's personality, was just part of the act and part of the fun. Then again, Ulrika did have an affair with one of the Gladiators (possibly Hunter).
  • Loophole Abuse: In the first series, a contender greased up her legs and took the laces out of her shoes during the Wall event so the Gladiator would not be able to hold her. She got away with this as there was technically no rule against it; but such a rule was immediately put into place, and the Gladiator (Scorpio) was later given a rematch with her when the contender made it to the semi-finals.
  • Market-Based Title: Duel was renamed from Joust in American Gladiators. A different game called Joust was brought in early in the original run, but was axed for safety concerns.
  • Mighty Glacier: Some contenders were very strong and did well in strength-based events, but did poorly in those requiring speed - including, crucially, the Eliminator. The most extreme example was Roland Hill, a strength athlete who dragged cars uphill for fun and held the world record for tearing telephone directories in half; he went into the Eliminator with a huge points lead giving him a massive 15.5 second headstart. He lost to Steve Quick. (Steve's victory in the next round was similar, though less extreme on all counts.)
  • Nintendo Hard: Subverted, quite a few events didn't have a "win" condition so much as score as many points as you could. Hang Tough however was notorious for being exceedingly difficult however, especially if were up against a Gladiator who specialized in it.
  • Put on a Bus: Whenever a Gladiator left the show.
    • Shadow was sacked after it emerged that he took steroids.
    • Warrior was ousted after he was found guilty of a firearms offence.
    • Phoenix, Flame, and Hawk were fired after a poll voted them the least popular. Flame came back for the reunion show during the reboot.
    • Scorpio was gone after injuring her back during pantomime season.
    • Nightshade, Jet, Zodiac, and Amazon left after injury.
    • John Fashanu was replaced as presenter for Series 6-7, only to be brought back for the final series.
  • One-Steve Limit: Well and truly averted with a presenter, commentator, and referee (and a few contenders) all named John (though the presenter often went by his nickname of Fash). Four of the gladiators are Mikes (Cobra, Saracen, Warrior, and Wolf)
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The Gladiators' uniforms (before they were redesigned for series 7) followed this pattern. Female Gladiator uniforms had a pink background while the male Gladiators wore blue.
  • Precocious Crush: Every boy in the country on Jet.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: In season 7, new games Vertigo and Dogfight had their own unique composition for the first couple of times they were used. After the third or fourth time, the music for those events were replaced with the music from Pursuit and Pyramid, respectively, as those two events had been scrapped.
  • Running Gag: Cobra's inflatable sheep, Larry, which he brought out regularly at the start of the show from series 2 onwards. He was the joker of the bunch after all.
  • Rule of Cool
  • Scary Black Man: Shadow
  • Serious Business: Despite the theatrics, it was treated as a highly competitive sporting event, the Gladiators were all professional athletes (some had competed at the Olympics) meaning the contenders had to try harder to even stand a chance. Interviews, commentary and even the presenters and referees having a sporting background helped a lot.
  • She's Got Legs: Well, they all had nice legs really. Jet stood out (as usual) since her signature pre-event move was to pretend to play Air Guitar using one of her legs.
  • Special Guest: See Celebrity Edition.
  • Spin-Off: 1995 brought the children's version Gladiators: Train 2 Win, which was a Foreign Remake of the U.S. children's version Gladiators 2000. At first, it was basically a scaled down version with two teams of kids, along with educational content and questions shoehorned into the games, much like its U.S. equivalent. However, by the second half of its run, the format was changed: the educational stuff was expunged, and each pair also had a Gladiator on their team who participated alongside them. This meant that the Gladiators were now competing against eachother!
  • Sunglasses at Night: Given its timeslot, Trojan and his trademark specs qualify.
  • Take That!: When a contestant effectively cheated to get away from Scorpio during The Wall, new rules were introduced, and said contestant got Scorpio again the next time she appeared. Needless to say, Scorpio got her revenge.
  • Temporary Substitute: When John Fashanu had to leave the show after the first five series due to allegedly fixing football matches, Jeremy Guscott took over his spot as co-host for Series 6 and 7. After being found not guilty, Fash would return for the final series.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Usually when Wolf lost his temper. One time he stole a foam hand from a child spectator and ripped it up. The kid did get an autographed replacement, though. Wolf's temper accounted for his popularity, since he was one of the only Gladiators with any kind of personality.
  • The Worf Effect: Nightshade's only loss in Duel on her final appearance; she'd been ill for a while before then.
  • Worthy Opponent: All the Gladiators would say this of the contestants win or lose...well, except for Wolf.
    • And even Wolf would admit this on occasion. During events though everyone was highly competitive.

The 2008-09 version provides examples of:

  • 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
  • Hulk Speak: Goliath