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Pumped up over ''American Gladiators''

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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.

NEXT PAGE: Obsessed with Oprah’s omnipotence, The Five video, and Reader Mail!

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

As a thirtysomething heterosexual male, I never really understood Oprah worship, but she came one step closer to owning the world yesterday when it was announced that she would be getting a whole TV network titled, coincidentally, OWN (short for Oprah Winfrey Network). The network in question is actually the current Discovery Health Network, and will be renamed in 2009. No big loss, I suppose. The only time I ever watched Discovery Health was when my wife was on once with son Dale describing how she gives him baby massages because ”he’s a little gassy.” I informed her how if there is one thing you never, ever do as a parent, it is go on national television to announce your son really, really digs breaking wind. What’s next, an hour-long exposé on bedwetting in the Ross household? Is it time for Diapergate yet? Okay, sorry, got a little sidetracked there, but back to Oprah. She now has the biggest talk show on the planet, her own production company, own magazine, own satellite radio channel, and now her own TV network as well? How much is enough? You know what? I better be nice to the lady. Because when Entertainment Weekly one day becomes Oprah Winfrey Weekly (OWW?), I want to make sure I’m on the boss’ good side.

THE FIVE

The Five Most Bizarre TV Shows Ever

READER MAIL

Last week I gave you my new year’s resolutions, put out an A.P.B. for Sixteen Candles‘ Michael Schoeffling, and continued on with the great celebrity charity anthem debate. This week, you responded.

Good resolutions! I’ve long since given up on feeling bad for seeing the movie without having read the book. At least in terms of Atonement you can watch this year’s Oscars (if they air) having already seen at least one of the front-running films. Sure, it’s annoying to have to say ”no” when someone asks you if you’ve read the book, but I find it even more irritating when the big winner at the Oscars and/or the Golden Globes is a movie I haven’t seen (and until it started getting major Oscar buzz, had no interest in seeing in the theaters.) — Kelly West

True. I may sound dumb by admitting I didn’t read the book, but at the same time will sound smarter for being able to pontificate on such an artsy-fartsy prestige film. I suppose in the end, it’s kind of a wash and I’m back to being my average, middle-of-the-road self.

I give ”Sun City” credit for best use of the phrase ”constructive engagement” in a pop song featuring five or more artists, but points off for not finding a rhyme for Boputhuswana. (I might have pointed out that Wikipedia seems to think that it went to #38, but I would never value the information of an unreliable Internet resource over a respected entertainment journalist like yourself, so I won’t. — Daisy James

Respected entertainment journalist? Where?!? Does he want my job? Is he younger, hungrier, and better looking than I am? Crap! What can I do? Steroids! This clearly calls for steroids. Let me get my boy Stallone on the line and see if he has a vial — or 48 — to share.

Don’t forget about Michael Schoeffling’s role in Mermaids as ”Joe,” the swoon-worthy crush (and eventual deflowerer) of Winona Ryder’s ”Charlotte Flax” character. I always wondered what happened to him. Glad I’m not alone! —Lindsay Allen

Mermaids. Never saw it (again: heterosexual male), but into the Netflix queue it shall go. I would watch it with the family, but then my daughter Violet will start freaking out if Ariel doesn’t flop on to the screen at some point, so maybe this will be a solo viewing.

i noted that you are trying to gain weight, and then watched some vids, and just thought i’d comment on the effectiveness of the layered look. i noticed at least 3 (visible) layers on the one, and you didn’t especially look like the guy who would get sand kicked in his face. so maybe you could wear like 3 or 4 tank tops when you go to the survivor place. also, i believe ”do they know it’s xmas” was written about ethiopia, not any of the other countries daisy mentioned. i realize that they mentioned the continent as a whole, but it sounded catchier than the alternative. i think it might change the meter of the song or something. just thought i’d add my 2. — lorrkour

Lorrkour, your name and stance against uppercase letters both frightens and intrigues me. I appreciate the tips on layers, though. Unfortunately, layers are difficult when you find yourself on a beach in the South Pacific, but I like to think this time I didn’t look as embarrassingly emaciated as some of my previous Survivor trips. When that piece came out in the magazine with pictures of me shirtless on an island by myself, Jeff Probst even e-mailed me to say, ”I knew you were skinny, but not THAT skinny!” I suppose if I made up some sort of skin condition that required me to bundle up in even the most tropical of climates, I could get away with a few layers, but then people might assume me to be a leper. Hmmm…leper or straight-up weakling? Kind of a toss-up.

FYI, the comedian who impersonated everyone in ”We Are the World” is Andre Philippe Gagnon. I found it on YouTube), just for you. — Liza Muftikian

Believe it or not, Lisa, this is actually not the guy I was thinking of. The dude I remembered would just lip-sync the words and break out lots of stupid props along the way. That said, this person is horrible. What’s saddest of all is that in 1992, after performing this song for seven years, he still has to hold a lyrics sheet! Can you not remember the words, man? Are you mentally challenged? (You know what, don’t answer that.) I do love how confused and frightened Lionel Ritchie appears while listening to him, even though he tries to keep a straight face in what might be his finest acting performance since playing the teacher with a thing for hooking up with blind students in the ”Hello” video.

Do you think the Gladiators of American Gladiators are a little too pumped up? More importantly, do you care? What are some of your favorite bizarre TV shows of yesteryear? And how long would it take you to memorize the words to ”We Are the World”? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to theglutton@ew.com, or just fill out the handy-dandy form below. See ya next week!

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