Nothing is small in the Gladiator Arena. Not the light-soaked, 31,152-foot stadium. Nor the spandex-clad Gladiators. Even the 100-pound demolition balls used in the new Hit and Run event seem oddly huge.
Right now, the only small thing on the set of NBC's revamped American Gladiators (Mondays, 8 pm/ET, NBC) is, well, me. At 5-feet-9 and 155 pounds, "formidable" isn't a word often associated with my name. I didn't think it would be a problem — until I stood at the base of the Pyramid.
On paper, my mission seemed simple. Scale a set of stacked, giant foam-rubber blocks to reach the 35-foot-high apex. The problem? Off paper, a 6-foot-8, 290-pound Gladiator dubbed Justice (Jesse Smith) stands in my way. While Justice and his peers (whose backgrounds include black-belt martial arts, the U.S. Marine Corps and Cirque du Soleil) underwent a two-week boot camp, my only training comes from cohost Hulk Hogan, who stands nearby, grinning. "Don't do it," the wrestling star says. "But if you must, don't flail around when you're thrown. I've seen people get some hyperextended arms or twisted ankles."
Got it. Outfitted with pads and a helmet, I nod as the ref sets a minute on the clock. The smack talk begins with the bell: "My arm span is 7 feet across, so beware the hand of Justice," my opponent calls out. Undeterred, I scramble up the first step. Dive left, then right and scamper past Justice. The peak looms close, and suddenly I see nothing ahead but blue lights. Unfortunately, it's not from reaching the top, but from Justice reaching me. I'm lifted in the air and put down like Old Yeller. Tumbling legs over head, I tuck in (thanks, Hulk!) and crash into the padding 25 feet below. Winded and wobbly, I check for damage: No broken bones, but I appear to have torn a muscle… in my gluteus maximus. Great. Now on to Round 2: the Joust.
Whomp. Whompity, whompity, whomp! That's the sound of my head being pummeled by a pugil stick that looks like a giant Q-tip. My batterer is Venom, aka National Fitness Champ Beth Horn. It hurt my ego a little that she is, well, a she. (Apparently, Beth is the only Gladiator here in my weight class.) It [Whomp] hurts more [Whomp] that I can't get a good swing in.
Normally, the jousting platform stands high above a pool of water, but the Gladiators practice setup is just a few feet off the ground. So I don't make a "splash" as much as a "splat" when I hit the mat. I demand a rematch, then turn to Gladiators' other cohost, Laila Ali, for guidance. "Stay low," whispers the boxing champ and Dancing with the Stars alum. "And try to get in the first hit, or you'll always be the one off balance." Yes, ma'am. I leap back up, bend my knees and raise my stick. The bout lasts 4.6 seconds. Worst of all, this time Venom not only knocks me down, she actually knocks me out of my shoe — which she brandishes like a trophy while helping me up. "You take a hit like a Gladiator," she says. So why is it I want to cry like a baby?
Bruised, I limp out of the arena with my head high. I put my butt on the line for TV Guide. Even if it did get kicked by a girl.
Watch the Gladiators battle with clips in our Online Video Guide.
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