The Glutton

Pumped Up Over 'American Gladiators'

Plus: Dalton on Oprah's power moves, the weirdest TV shows ever, and more

American Gladiator Toa
American Gladiator Toa

Pumped up over ''American Gladiators''

If anyone should be on steroids, it's me. Seriously, I am a scrawny weakling who has to fight each and every day just to keep my weight up at 145 pounds. When I was a youngster, other kids would tease me by calling me the ''Ethiopian Poster Child,'' which was both cruel and horribly offensive. Steroids were made for guys like me! I'm like the loser in the old comic strips who had sand kicked in his face one too many times before he went and bulked up to ridiculous proportions to wreak revenge on his tormentors. But I never did bulk up. And I have yet to stick needles in my butt or administer anything with sketchy names like ''the Cream'' or ''the Clear.''

In fact, I am one of the harshest critics of athletes who have juiced to gain a competitive advantage. Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, McGuire, and yes, even Clemens — if guilty, all should pay the price by having their records and trophies tossed. How ridiculous has baseball become? Consider this: The most trustworthy voice in the game over the past 5 years is Jose Freakin' Canseco. We know cycling as well as track and field are jokes at this point, thanks to scores of riders being kicked out of the Tour de France and Marion Jones now heading to jail. And then there is football. Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers was suspended for 25 percent of the 2006 season after being caught juicing, and still was elected to and allowed to play in that season’s Pro Bowl, What the hell is that? Dude missed a quarter of the season and was caught cheating! No problem, said the NFL. I simply don’t get it.

But I also don't get what to make of the recent rash of non-athletic entertainers whose names have been linked to steroids and human growth hormone. For some reason, I am unable to feel much indignation or revulsion. I just kind of laugh at the absurdity of it all. Sylvester Stallone was the first big name to get caught when he was busted last year for bringing 48 vials — yes, 48! — of human growth hormone into Australia. (He pled guilty in May, saying that he was ''ignorant to your official rules.'' Can anyone figure that quote out? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?) First of all, one had to appreciate the irony: In Rocky IV, great pains were taken to show Stallone's character as the pillar of good old-fashioned hard work and integrity. We saw Balboa grow a silly beard and train in a log cabin while trudging through 2 feet of snow to the sweet, sweet sounds of Survivor. USA! USA! His opponent, Ivan Drago, however, was a product of science and technology. In one scene, we even see the Russian being stuck with a very suspicious needle. Yet here was Stallone acting a little too Sly for his own good, caught with a luggage bag full of artificial enhancers. It wasn't a shock, of course. The dude is ripped beyond belief. I mean, I actually laughed when he first took his shirt off in last year's Rocky Balboa. His upper body was just absurd. But what did I care if he wanted to look like a cartoon character? It made him equal parts silly and sketchy. But it didn't make him a cheater.

Now word comes out of Albany that rap stars like 50 Cent and Timbaland may also be on the juice. I suppose if they are in fact guilty of such activity, it was done to make them look more badass or something. I don't know. But I also find it hard to really care. Sure, one could say that they are acting as poor role models for their young fans, and that these fans may try to emulate their heroes by bulking up as well, but seriously, if someone is really looking to carbon-copy 50 Cent's lifestyle, I would be more concerned with them having a cap put in their ass, than them taking a little HGH. (Hasn’t 50 Cent been shot like 312 times or something?) Maybe that's just me. Now in an industry like hip-hop, where street cred and authenticity are everything, these two do look pretty stupid right now, but again, it seems to elicit more snickers than real outrage. (Speaking of snickers, what the hell is Mary J. Blige's name doing in that report? Or Tyler Perry's, for that matter? Is Madea on the juice? And, if so, how disturbing is that?)

One area where the 'roids debate gets a bit fuzzy is when it comes to American Gladiators. Look, I truly believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But this is far from a court of law, and characters like Militia, Mayhem, Titan, and Toa appear to be ripped beyond recognition. If you do a side-by-side comparison of the 1980s Gladiators with the new ones...well, there is no comparison. The new crew is bigger, bulkier, and with significantly stupider hairstyles. It should be noted here that NBC claims they tested the competitors for steroids prior to filming. It should also be noted here that there currently is no urine test available for HGH. I remain highly unconvinced that there aren't possibly some funky foreign substances floating around in their bodies — once again, judging solely by visual evidence and the prevailing bodybuilding culture. But do I care? On one hand, these guys are not taking part in any truly legitimate sporting event, so it's difficult to muster much outrage over any performance-enhancing drugs they may or may not be taking. But on the other, it would give them a ridiculous advantage in many of the physical bone-crushing events that take place on the show if they were on the juice. You know what? I just decided. I don't care. I just don't. American Gladiators is first and foremost a comedy (at least, it makes me laugh, thereby meeting my definition of a comedy. Then again, so did Hack, that 2002 CBS drama about a cab driver who also kicks ass and solves crimes), and I'm not going to get all holier-than-thou over a bunch of reality-show bodybuilders who could possibly be sticking needles in their tushes. The only thing I know for sure that they're guilty of is making me laugh every time they scream, flex, or, best of all, howl into a camera.

Frankly, the bigger potential Gladiators scandal to me is whether that tribal dance Toa does before he takes on an opponent actually means anything or whether it's pure phony-baloney. According to the NBC website, ''Drawing on the power of his ancestors, Toa has the strength of a thousand warriors flowing through his veins,'' yet the site makes no mention of what or who those ancestors are. I believe Toa is from Hawaii, yet he appears to be doing a Maori Haka dance from New Zealand. Not only that, but Toa (real name Tanoai Reed) is actually a Hollywood stuntman who also happens to be a cousin of The Rock. The whole thing is rather murky and confusing, much like the link between steroids and celebrities to begin with.

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