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'American Gladiators'

Knockoffs Battle of the Flexes

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Forget that intellectual Jeopardy! crap. Americans want real game shows — some full-contact, bone-crushing, sweat-inducing competitions. Or so it would seem from this season’s offerings. Following the success of American Gladiators, where helmeted contestants do battle with a handful of muscleheads, the little screen is now crowded with imitators. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Gladiators 2000 (syndicated)
The Idea: Gladiators meets Saved by the Bell.
Sample Games: Prepubescents build a skeleton and race to collect giant rubber fruits and veggies.
The Getup: Helmets and pads — just like Mom and Dad would want.
Filler: Biology lessons — such as why we have two ears.
Fun Bonus: Wielding a Paul Bunyan-size toothbrush, a bursting-out-of-her-top Gladiator instructs the kids on dental hygiene.
Bottom Line: Get your education out of my entertainment, please!

Beach Clash (syndicated)
The Idea: Gladiators meets Baywatch.
Sample Games: Hard-bodied contestants have a midsurf tug-of-war and drop from a parasail onto a floating target.
The Getup: R-rated bikinis.
Filler: Learn about contestants’ career goals while watching them frolic in slow-motion.
Fun Bonus: Gratuitous shots of swimsuit-clad women in the shower.
Bottom Line: This T&A fest would make Aaron Spelling blush.

Blade Warriors (syndicated)
The Idea: Gladiators on wheels.
Sample Games: Rollerbladers zip through an obstacle course and balance on a seesaw platform.
The Getup: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers look.
Filler: Skating tips (”When you go downhill, lead with your belly button”).
Fun Bonus: Contestants’ insights (”Blade Warriors makes me a stronger person in a lot of things in life”).
Bottom Line: More messy spills than a Bounty commercial.

Legends of the Hidden Temple (Nickelodeon, weekdays, 4:30-5 p.m.)
The Idea: Gladiators meets Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Sample Games: Kids scoot over a moat and search for, say, the Blue Pearl of the Dragon Lady.
The Getup: Helmets and pads.
Filler: Bits on ”fact-based legends,” like Billy the Kid, who ”shot a man because he snored too loud.”
Fun Bonus: The Mayan icon Olmec narrates at James Earl Jones’ octave.
Bottom Line: George Lucas might call it blasphemy, but kids’ll praise it to the moon.

Sandblast (MTV, weekdays, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.)
The Idea: Gladiators meets Baywatch meets Spike Jonze.
Sample Games: Gen Xers bowl in a pool and slam-dunk a basketball on the beach.
The Getup: PG-rated bikinis. Filler: Learn whether players prefer Green Day or AC/DC!
Fun Bonus: Host Peter King uses phrases like ”pee-pee wa-wa.”
Bottom Line: Once a day would be plenty.

Wild West Showdown (syndicated)
The Idea: Gladiators, John Wayne style.
Sample Games: City slickers try to drag ”outlaws” from a saloon and halt runaway stagecoaches.
The Getup: Hats, boots, and other Blazing Saddles wear.
Filler: Footage of fuzzy-faced outlaws wagerin’, robbin’ banks, and generally raisin’ hell.
Fun Bonus: Announcer’s insights (”The only thing she likes better than a good man is a good horse”).
Bottom Line: A kitsch cocktail as delightfully potent as two fingers of whiskey.