We Want Answers: Stealth from American Gladiators

Tanji Johnson, one of the new breed of beefy battlers, shares tips for staying in shape, and what to expect from the newly amped version of the show. (Fingers crossed for deadly snapping turtles!)

So how does the new American Gladiators match up with the one we remember?
A lot of the events are the same, but everything has been taken to a new level. There’s now water involved, some of the events are going to be higher, and we have a couple of new events. The excitement and competition is still there—there’s just going to be more personality and character.

What can you tell us about the new events?
One of the new events is called “Earthquake,” and it’s basically like a grappling match on a Plexiglas surface that’s suspended 12 feet in the air and teeters the whole time. You’re wrestling, but you really have to keep your balance. It kind of makes me feel like Indiana Jones.

How did you become a gladiator?
I’m former military, and I have been competing professionally in the International Federation of Body Building. One of my peers, a trainer on The Biggest Loser, recommended me to the network. I’d always been a huge fan of the show. I thought I was a really good fit, and went for the audition.

How brutal was the audition process?
The initial audition consisted of a physical fitness test and on-camera work. Once they narrowed us to a group of finalists, they sent us to a seven-day training camp. The days started at 7 A.M. and ended at 6 P.M.—it definitely felt like a boot camp. Then we went home for Thanksgiving and came back and shot the show.

We couldn’t muster the requisite energy for a dump after Thanksgiving. What kind of training do you do to stay in shape?
My training is extremely diverse, and I’m doing more based around events from the show. I’m going to become a pro at rock climbing, and I’m going to take jujitsu and grappling lessons. I’m going to get with some football player friends and learn some efficient tackling techniques, too.

If we decided to get off the couch, what would we have to do to be a contender on American Gladiators?
Fifty percent is mental: projecting confidence and putting your mind in a place to be competitive. But of course, that’s not enough. You’ll need strength training, but you also want speed. Our gladiators are really big, and once they hit you, you could definitely go down. But if you’re fast with your feet they might not even touch you. Agility drills, speed work, sprinting, combined with power lifting is the way to go.

What about our hot wings and beer?
[Laughs] You’ll want to make sure you have a diet that supports your activity. So if you need the muscle, you’re going to want to have a high-protein diet filled with complex carbs to give you the right energy. And of course, you want to stay away from the simple sugars and fat.

Damn. So what’s your best event?
My favorite event is “Power Ball.” I’m very quick, and also very powerful in terms of quick bouts of strength, and “Power Ball” is sort of like football. I never knew I had that in me, but after playing the first few games I realized that seldom does a competitor get by me. Plus, I like hitting people. [Laughs.]

That’s really it isn’t it? You like beating up on average joes?
[Laughs] I definitely don’t want to hurt people. It’s just an opportunity to force my will. The thrill I get is the exhibition of explosiveness and strength, and a little bit of that domination. I don’t want to hurt ’em, but I do like hitting people.

If you could challenge one former gladiator, who would it be?
I guess I shouldn’t say a guy, but Nitro trained us. He’s still in great shape, and he’s still very aggressive. If I could take down Nitro from back in the day, I’d feel pretty tough.

So can we expect any guy-on-girl spats on the new series?
No, but I would say the ladies this time are kind of a different breed. One of the things that I want to achieve deeply in this industry is changing America’s response to women with muscle. Nowadays, women want to sport the six-pack abs, and more and more ladies are getting toned arms; so fit is in. Fit is the new sexy.

Now she tells us.


The original American Gladiators talk about their spandex-clad stardom!