Tanner Stransky
January 18, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

Apparently, 12 years in purgatory took a toll on NBC’s American Gladiators. Once star-spangled sissies, the battle-ready warriors returned this winter with a matured, steely new look. We’re trembling — well, as much as we can tremble at someone who carries a giant Q-tip.

A former World’s Strongest Woman competitor, Robin Coleman says her Gladiator rocks ”a shepherd, schoolgirl, beer-garden vibe.” She doesn’t, however, take credit for Hellga’s fierce double L — ”Hulk Hogan asked for it.”
Team Spirit Even with the amped-up individuality, the band of warriors have been branded with a unifying AG insignia.
100% Natural There’s no padding here — or anywhere! Costume designers were under strict orders to protect the Gladiators’ natural attributes without any, um, enhancement. ”We didn’t want it to look slutty,” says costume designer Warden Neil.
Identity Crisis A strong persona is key in Gladiator-dom. Hellga was originally slated to sport a jagged skirt as an Amazon-type woman before producers decided on her gnarly Nordic look at the 11th hour. Now ”I’m like a gang leader from the fifth grade!”
”The original Gladiators seemed like these happy, cheery, all-American athletes. Now we are all ominous and dark. We’re off-limits!” — HELLGA

Don Yates donned his lupine persona with ease — ”I already had the hair and the chops,” he laughs. While not technically a bodybuilder, Wolf earned his tough-guy cred fighting bulls over the last 23 years. Yes, we think that qualifies.
Tiny Touches Little details, like Wolf’s dog-chain necklaces and silver yoke, are meant to play off his character. ”The crisscross is like a harness, holding me back until I attack,” Wolf deadpans. Please, release the hound!
Skin is In The directive was higher hemlines, lower necklines, and shorter trunks, which Wolf requested to flaunt his sinewy legs. (”Fortunately, this was the network that did Fear Factor,” quips exec producer Mark Koops.)
Orange Glow
Even with the switch from Stars and Stripes to black and chrome, one hue — the muscleman signature shade of pumpkin — made a return appearance.
”They dry easy, and they don’t shrink. You throw one on, usually by the time you’re done with the competition the other uniform is dry.” — WOLF describing their system for making it work with just two costumes

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