Gladiator Moments

American Gladiators: Season 3, Part 2

As a show, American Gladiators works best in the moment. The series does its best to get you invested in the contestants, giving you little biographies for them, interviewing the contenders during key moments of the episode. The show wants you to care about the people playing but, at the same time, we're really only there to watch weird events played by big, muscled behemoths. The contestants change from episode to episode but what really matters to the show is the Gladiator part of American Gladiators. Thus, one episode to the next does feel rather interchangeable.

I noticed this while watching the back half of the third season (on what has o be my third time through the show over the course of thirty years) because I found it really hard to get invested in the players, especially in the early going. The show would give you a long bio for someone and then, five minutes later, they'd get injured and have to drop from the competition. This ruins the flow of the show, to a certain extent, because its hard to get a feel for the rhythm of the players and their "plot lines" (for lack of a better term) when they could be gone just a few events later, replaced by an alternate that has to be introduced all over again.

The back half was slightly more interesting that the front half of season three, if only because a couple of the contestants managed to shine bright all on their own, even without the help of the show itself. Joseph Mauro stood out from the rest of the contestants for two big reasons. One, he had probably the most luscious, ridiculous power-mullet to ever grace broadcast television. He looked like he walked off the set of a Stryper music video. His mullet had to be a sentient alien sent from another planet. It was wondrous and horrifying. Oh, and also, he was just such an awful person.

Mauro was good at the games, there's no mistaking that. He handily bested all the competitors put before him during his half of the season, making it all the way to the Grand Championships without issue. In the process, though, the series revealed just how much of a bad sport he really was. Every time he got knocked down by a gladiator, or didn't eke out a substantial win over his competitor, he'd throw the biggest tantrum. This is a show where everyone is supposed to be good sports and put on a solid game face and Mauro, meanwhile, acted like a petulant child. Every episode I wished he would get defeated and every episode, save for the last, he'd win again.

That's actually what makes the Grand Championships such a solid watch: Mauro finally gets some real competition from the first half finalist, Mark Ortega. Now, while you can spoil the championship for yourself (Wikipedia has a full write up of the series along with the winners and loses of each season) I won't here. I will say, though, the whole competition was great, beginning to end, and it has one of the closest finishes in the history of the series. Plus, Mauro gets some mud rubbed in his face, which is satisfying all on its own.

The women's side was less interesting, if only because you didn't feel the need to hate-watch any of the competitors. The eventual winner of the first half, Kathy Mollica, also dominated her competition. A firefighter at the time (and the only female one at her fire house), Kathy clearly had to be fit not only for her job but to make it in the competition. Through it all, though, she was a good sport, playing the games with a smile on her face. Win or lose she was there to cheer on her competitors, and the gladiators, and her wins felt good because she was just a genuinely happy person during the whole series.

It actually makes for one of the more memorable seasons of the show. The wins, the hits, and the consistency for the players does mean that I'll remember certain people, and their accomplishments, even after I've moved on to future seasons. At the same time, though, I won't remember the rest of the season. Who did Mauro play against? I think there might have been a baker? He lost a finger on the rings which is the only reason I remember him at all. As for Kathy's foes... one of them was an alternate who played through all the finals. Everyone else, though? Not a clue, and that's my bigger point, really.

This show is solid in the moment. The competition is great, and the events can get you sucked in. But when you have twenty-plus players going through and, in the end, you know only two of them really matter, it is hard to get invested in them. It's not like with team sports, where you cheer for your local club, and it's not like the Olympics where you're motivated by some kind of national price. For American Gladiators you have players dressed in interchangeable. colors and, unless you care about their stories I doubt you'll pay attention to anything other than their performances in the events.

Frankly, I think that makes the show ideas for the current YouTube way of viewing things. I watched this show (twice through) on regular TV back in the day and that meant sitting through every segment, whether you cared about them or not. It also meant commercials as well, just padding out the time. Now, though, if you wanted you could block the ads in your browser and you can skip ahead in the episode past any talk you don't care about. if you have a short attention span and just want to watch a few minutes of weird sports being played my muscle-y people, the American Gladiators YouTube channel does provide.

Is hat the best way to watch the show? Well, that really does depend on what you want from the series. If you can get invested in the players than all the segments about them are probably right up your alley. But if all you want is to watch Laser pull another person off the wall, or to see Saber bash heads in the Joust, then skipping through the episode to get a clean 30 minutes of action is likely what you'll do. I don't think there's a "right way", really, to watch a show like this because you only really have to invest in so many people. Who you care about, and how you watch, really is just up to you.

Or just be there for the Gladiators, who are the consistent presences through these episodes. At least until next season when some of them go on strike and are never seen again. But we'll touch upon that later...

Evaluating the New Gladiators:

  • Viper: Poor Viper, you only show up in the finals for one episode and barely make an impression. We will see more of Viper in the next season when he gets to be a regular, but here, in this first appearance, man, Viper kind of sucks. It's not fair to put a new gladiator up against seasons competitors, but the show does it and Viper is simple outmatched. Hopefully he performs better when he returns next season.