“Gladiators.... ready! Contenders.... ready!” This was basically the hallmark of a top-notch Saturday night in the early 1990s; the signal for my brother and I to race downstairs from our bedrooms and fight over who got the prime spot on our (of the era) salmon-pink settee suite.
We’d sometimes eat popcorn, our parents would sometimes even order us all a takeaway as an extra-special treat – it was Gladiators, after all. For some reason, thinking of the show now makes me think of Christmas, though that might just be a nod to the overpowering waft of nostalgia that descended I read about its imminent return, some 25 years later.
In my mind’s eye I can picture Ulrika Jonsson and John Fashanu presenting, I can practically see the muscles rippling on the bodies of the famed original line-up: Jet, Lightning, Cobra, Shadow and Warrior, to name just a few of our (then) favourites.
What a rollercoaster ride down memory lane it’s been to have news of both Gladiators – mainstay of my childhood, first faint flush of early teenage desire (I blame Cobra, aka Michael Andreas Willson in 1992, for that one) – and Big Brother returning too!
Big Brother – to me – heralds thoughts of my first year at university in Cardiff: sharing a flat with eight strangers-turned-friends (thanks to nights out at the student union downing snakebite and black). We watched, agog, at the hitherto-unexplored social experiment involving 11 “real” people, forced to share a house, with the entire series narrated by Davina McCall. Away from home for the very first time, it felt very much at the time like a case of life imitating art (or the other way around).
Later, as a journalist I got to visit the set of Big Brother 12 (in 2011) and sat in the hallowed diary room chair at Elstree Studios, which felt like a privilege – a “look behind the curtain”.
I even (somehow) managed to snap a photo of the winner of the first series – cheeky chappy Craig Phillips – in the bath.
And in a further twist of fate, I now live practically next door to one of the first contestants in BB – we see each other on the school run! I won’t mention her name but I’m dying to ask her what she thinks of the show’s return.
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The thing is... much as we may all have fond memories of these erstwhile-adored reality TV shows, the reason I think we love talking about them so much is because they’re in the past (just like anything labelled “white musk” from The Body Shop).
Big Brother and Gladiators have earned a place in our collective memories; have taken on a sort of wistful melancholy – not because of the content of the show per se, but because of a “where was I when I watched that” nostalgia.
That’s the reason I believe we love talking about TV, foods – even scents – we remember from our childhoods and from our teens. It is, I think, precisely because they’re of the past. And that means that bringing them back won’t work – it only risks ruining them.
And it’s not as if there isn’t a plethora of reality TV options out there to choose from, either. We didn’t remake Blind Date and sully Cilla’s dulcet tones with a 2022 version – we swapped it for something new: Love Island. So why not focus on new ideas instead of copying old ones? And (whisper it) isn’t there an argument that reality TV shows have had their day, anyway?
Though who am I kidding? I’ll still be racing downstairs to watch contenders taking on “The Wall” at 6pm on a Saturday. Only this time, rather than aged 11, I’ll be with my own children. Perhaps that’s a nice way to pass on the legacy?