Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Best TV Show Ever

A few weeks ago, just before the holidays, a pair of very sheepish-looking sales reps knocked on my door. Those clipboards give them away every time; door-to-door types should really start dressing like distressed neighbors or something—people would be so much more inclined to talk to them. Anyway, turns out these guys were from our wireless company and had been calling repeatedly to offer a new, free service that made everything faster and better and—most interesting to me—cheaper. After grilling them for about twenty minutes about loopholes and contingencies, I decided that they were offering a pretty good deal (the service was actually going to LOWER my monthly bill), so I signed up.

Unfortunately for me, the service INCLUDED a free month’s worth of cable connection, something my wife and I have happily gone without for our entire marriage. They even threw in a DVR with the deal.

Like the heroin dealer who hooks the poor sucker by telling him that the first hit’s free, they totally nabbed me.

So I’m a junk-TV junkie now. But the real confession is yet to come. Having never seen “Lost,” or much of “The Sopranos” or “Nip/Tuck” or “Desperate Housewives,” or any of the water-cooler fare that I’m told is gripping and unmissable, I have become addicted to the latest iteration of….American Gladiators.

Yup, that show from going on 20 years ago with the WWF-types howling and trash-talking and gnashing their teeth while a gaggle of schoolteachers, retail managers and librarians with a fitness obsession and masochistic streak try to best them in variety of silly tests of strength, speed, agility, power and endurance.

The last show that really got me in the same way was “The Contender” (another show based around an athletic competition), and I watched an episode of “The Biggest Loser” last week and was instantly smitten as well. Likewise I can chalk my obsession with AG up to my interest in fitness, but really, who am I kidding? I’m watching it for the same reason the guys in my fraternity at the University of Virginia’s chapter of Sigma Pi used to watch it: to see the 225-pound Gladiator bash the contestant off the platform and into the water with the giant Q-tip and say, “Whoa! That dude just got creamed.”

This season’s winner will not only take home $100,000 bucks and a gargantuan truck that melts a cubic yard of polar ice for every half-block you drive it, but also a spot on the Gladiator team itself. You read that right: the show actually gives you the chance to leave behind your sorry-ass life as a CPA and achieve what every American dreams of : to wear Spandex, grimace at the camera, and go by the name of “The Reckoning Ball.” Just try not to think of the massive hit your professional credibility will take when the show is cancelled and you have to hitchhike back to Akron.

For those of you inexplicably not in the know about the show, it works like this: in each episode, two men compete for points in a series of three battles against the Gladiators. Typical match-ups include a race up a climbing wall with Gladiators in pursuit, or up a thirty-foot pyramid with Gladiators attempting to push you off, or a timed run through a gauntlet of Gladiators as they attempt to power-block you with huge padded battering rams. The events vary, but the points you accrue actually don’t count for that much, because all they do is determine which contender gets a head start in The Eliminator, the final, brutal obstacle course that concludes every show. Every single-point advantage earns you a half-second start over your opponent. And in an event where two minutes is an excellent finishing time, a five, or even ten-second headstart—meaning, a ten- or twenty-point lead-- can very quickly disappear.

So for all the hoopla that leads up to it, American Gladiators is really all about the Eliminator. And it’s tough: a lot of the competitors on AG are terrific athletes, and everyone is sucking wind at the end of it; many can barely speak.

The Eliminator is basically a test of upper-and-lower-body relative strength and strength-endurance, meaning, your ability to move your body weight at top speed for an extended period. Between the wall climb, the swim, the net-climb, the barrel roll, and the hand-bike, the advantage clearly goes to the competitors with exceptional upper-body relative strength, and that’s why the full-body fitness generalists like gymnasts, rock climbers, and firefighters seem to be faring pretty well so far this season, while more specialized athletes, among them football players, rodeo riders, and martial artists aren’t.

The most interesting thing from my standpoint, however, is that at a certain point, extra muscle appears to be a hindrance. The fastest male Eliminator competitors have been under 200 pounds, and the scrappy rock-climbing instructor who smoked the course record last Monday weighed in at just 165. The bigger guys may have power and absolute strength, but they aren’t able to muscle themselves around as quickly or as dexterously as the lighter guys who may not be able to bench as much but who don’t need to since they’re schlepping around about 40 fewer pounds of bulk.

From the looks of things, the winner of the contest—and thus, the newest American Gladiator—will be a lighter, quicker, probably shorter guy with great hand speed; something along the lines of a middleweight boxer.

I’m looking forward to seeing this guy alongside the 230-pound bruisers next season. He’ll probably be the best Gladiator of them all.

Which means I guess I’ve got to re-up my cable subscription. Heaven help me.


Hal Johnson said...

Ha! Great post, Andrew. Be sure to write about the intervention family and friends spring on you should that become necessary.

riverbender said...

Put down the remote and step away from the DVR.


Anonymous said...

On Holiday? Waiting for something new to read...