Decked out head-to-toe in the official, patriotically colored, star-spangled spandex unitard (with, of course, the optional "Milita's Howitzer" crotch-pad) and clutching the bludgeon-at-home Joust cudgel we'd purchased from NBC's online store months ago in anticipation of the network's relaunch of American Gladiators, we took in every last minute of last night's two-hour premiere in gape-mouthed awe. Imagine our delight, then, that it took merely a handful of minutes for the ravenous new Arena to gobble up its first contestant: the plucky Jessie, who was hobbled by Stealth's knee-decimating Power Ball hit (click the thumbnail to watch the shocking—just shocking!—footage).
While in the previous incarnation of Gladiators, an injured player was allowed to opt out of their quest via a tear-drenched interview with the hosts, the vastly improved bloodsport now requires that a contender participate in the Assault before being discharged from the competition. Naturally, we found it difficult to watch as Jessie collapsed seconds after Hulk Hogan ignored her pleas to return to her family and shoved her into the line of tennis-ball-cannon fire, a spectacle made more disturbing each time her body slightly convulsed upon the impact of each 100-mph Slazenger ricocheting off her prone form. But a miracle of uplifting redemption immediately followed, when a suddenly compassionate Hogan ordered the cessation of the bombardment with a wave of his hand, and, inspired by the crowd's screams of approval when he dramatically reversed his initial thumbs-down call by pointing his life-sparing digit towards the heavens, carried the fallen Gladiator off-stage himself. If you looked closely enough at a shadow-obscured balcony overseeing the spectacle, you could almost make out Peacock Emperor Ben Silverman nodding his approval of the throng's generosity, knowing that any disappointment he felt over being denied the honor of a human sacrifice on the show's debut would be more than balanced by the ratings gain generated by the emotional, watercooler-worthy moment.