'Gladiators' Return to TV Arena

The '90s TV competition American Gladiators is back. Contestant hopefuls show off their physical prowess at auditions in Venice Beach, Calif., for a chance to square off against each other and the American Gladiators, famous for nicknames such as Zap and Gemini.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Here in Los Angeles, swingers, skinny boys and 98-pound weaklings have their run of the beach over the weekend.

That's because just about every muscle man and woman in the city was busy auditioning for the return of the TV show "American Gladiators."

ROBERT SMITH, host:

For those of you trying to block the early '90s out of your memories, I'll remind you. "American Gladiators" involved pumped-up bodybuilders in red, white and blue spandex doing a beat down on contestants for money. I went down to the auditions in Venice to ask why?

Mr. JESSIE REEDY(ph) (Resident, California) : Jessie Reedy from Hawthorne, California.

SMITH: Why do you want to be an American Gladiator?

Mr. REEDY: I used to watch it all the time when I was a little kid - enjoyed it. You know, a long time ago, my dad tried out for it. It's always been a kind of a dream of mine.

SMITH: The key to the program was that the gladiators had these names like Zap and Nitro and Blaze.

Mr. REEDY: Right.

SMITH: Have you thought up with your gladiator name would be?

Mr. REEDY: My gladiator name would probably be Ironhands, so I just like destroy everything I touch.

SMITH: What's your gladiator name?

Unidentified Woman #1: I was thinking Mercury because I'm on fire.

Unidentified Man #2: My fight nickname is always been Glory. For some reason, I don't know.

SMITH: Glory?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah. And my friends call me Ferret because I have a short attention span.

SMITH: Yes. Ferret, it's not going to work.

Unidentified Man #2: It's not really very intimidating so they were like, look, here comes Ferrett, yeah, not a very clever , I think.

Ms. KRISTEN ALFIE(ph) (Resident, California): I'm Kristen Alfie aka Christy Crash.

SMITH: Christy Crash?

KRISTEN: Yeah. I play a roller derby. It's my derby name.

SMITH: Do you remember the show?

KRISTEN: I watch it religiously as a kid. Every summer, like, every day.

SMITH: But what was the appeal of it? Looking back?

KRISTEN: I think the same thing that appeals to me about roller derby now -people beating up people, athletic competition. That's what it's all about, really.

Mr. CHAD HAYWOOD(ph) (Senior Casting Producer, "American Gladiators"): I'm Chad Haywood. I'm the senior casting producer for the "New American Gladiators" on NBC.

(Soundbite of grunting)

Mr. HAYWOOD: First up is our pull-up station. They have to do as many as they can at 30 seconds.

(Soundbite of grunting)

Mr. DAN CALPLESH(ph) (Wrestler): I'm fried at 280. You know, I do so many.

Unidentified Woman #2: Except.

Mr. CALPLESH: All right. Zero. All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CALPLESH: Sumo wrestlers going to do pushups there.

SMITH: Are you a sumo wrestler?

Mr. CALPLESH: I'm the U.S. champ, yeah.

SMITH: Are you really the U.S. champ in sumo wrestling?

Mr. CALPLESH: Yeah. I won the U.S. championships three weeks ago at the Open Weight division. My name is Dan Calplesh.

SMITH: Yet, you can't do a pull-up, huh?

Mr. CALPLESH: Can't do a pull-up but I can push around 500-pound guys. So…

Mr. HAYWOOD: Basically, "American Gladiators" started the reality competition genre. I mean, if you look at shows like "Fear Factor," they take things from what, you know, "Gladiators" was. And there really was nothing else on television when the show premiered in '89.

SMITH: Yeah, there have been so many reality shows over the last 10, 20 years, kind of makes being beat up by a gladiator look kind of easy.

Mr. HAYWOOD: Well, you would think so. But once that whistle blows, this is as close to a pro sport as you can possibly get. I mean, there were - we're unforgiving as far as, you know, the full contact sports would put these people through.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: All right. Erika(ph) Leyman(ph), you'd just went through the competition (unintelligible) tryouts. You just ran the 40 yard dash, you're still out of breath. But how'd it go?

Ms. ERIKA LEYMAN (Auditioning for "New American Gladiator): I think this pretty well. The pull-ups are a lot harder than I expected but they said I did comparably as well as some Ms. Olympian bodybuilder. So think I have a good chance.

SMITH: And I noticed at the end, you were showing off a little bit with your handstand?

Ms. LEYMAN: I was. They want someone that's nice to look at, easy on the eyes. Hopefully, you'll see me on the show.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: (unintelligible). If for some reason you don't make it into "American Gladiator," would you consider auditioning for our "Radio Gladiator?"

Ms. ALFIE: Oh, absolutely.

SMITH: Okay. All you have to do is read the end of our program for us. Can you do that?

Ms. ALFIE: Okay. Hang on. DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Christy Crash.

SMITH: I'm Robert Smith aka Static.

Ms. ALFIE: Nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Ecstatic? I'm Madeleine, uh, the Marauder, Brand.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

SMITH: And I'm Robert Smith.

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