Written by on July 13, 2023

In the 1990’s the TV viewing audience was craving something new. The interest in sports was waning a bit as Monday Night Football wasn’t ruling the airwaves as it had in the past. Game shows were still something you only watched if you were a stay at home parent or were sick and recovering on the couch. Hollywood gave something that was the combination of the two. American Gladiators came on to the scene in 1989 and changed how game shows were viewed for the future. You got to see everyday regular Joes go to the gladiator arena and take on hulking warriors determined to stop them from winning at physical challenges. The show ran until 1996 before the plug was pulled and was considered one of the most successful shows to ever be shown in syndication. It first aired around here on Sunday mornings before moving to Saturday nights. As kids we thought it was a step up from pro-wrestling and The Price Is Right and parents found it to be a change of pace that didn’t take the many hours professional sports did. Watching made you feel like if you put in some work that you could end up at Universal Studios swinging from ropes and swinging pugil sticks at muscle bound warriors. As quickly as it came it seemed to be gone but the legacy it left spawned physical competition shows of the present like Survivor and others. The new Netflix series “Muscles and Mayhem: The Unauthorized Story of the American Gladiators” tells the behind the scenes stories that we’re not surprised by and those that may shock you.

This documentary really goes deep into the world and story of American Gladiators. Did we suspect they used steroids? Of course. Did they? Of course. I don’t think I’m spoiling much there. What we didn’t know is the pain and abuse they went through to put on these shows. We didn’t know how some got to be Gladiators and why some were no longer on the show and that’s where this documentary really shines a light. While they all started out as unknowns they quickly became famous and Zap, Lace, Nitro, Gemini, Blaze, Laser, etc. became names synonymous with athletics as much as Warren Moon and Joe Montana. They also became a good joke for the Purple Cobras in the movie “Dodgeball”. These athletes just felt like they were more accessible than the stars getting paid millions of dollars. “Muscles and Mayhem” gives you a great glimpse into their lives, struggles, and were they are now. At least for some of them. That’s where the documentary is a bit of a let down. While it focuses on some of the original and big names we remember it almost ignores and pushes aside some of the gladiators that were just as well loved. Lace was one of the mainstays on the show who wasn’t as built as the others but was as tough and athletic. Her name is barely mentioned. Siren was one of the fan favorites not just because of her abilities, but also because she was deaf. She was a weekly example of not letting a disability stop you from competing and that had to inspire some kids out there to keep working at their own dreams in sports. I think they only mention her name once in the five episodes and they don’t even mention the fact that she committed suicide. If this is so unauthorized then why didn’t they cover that? Unless they got told by her family that legal issues could arise I would think that her story would be a pretty big part of the worst part of their world wide fame. Other than the core group they barely mention any of the other Gladiators that were on the show and I felt that there was much more story to tell. I’d like to think they will have another season or set of episodes, but I highly doubt it. Until they do, we will just have to look at the legacy they left us as you watch Wipe Out, Survivor, American Ninja Warrior, and any other shows that physically challenge the contestants. If you were ever a fan of this show make sure you watch it and absorb what they went through and see behind the scenes video and contestant interviews of some of the most decorated competitors from the show. You’ll feel the nostalgia along with concern for how these once giants of the small screen are living now, or wonder about the ones they don’t even mention.

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