Before American Ninja Warrior and almost all other reality-competition shows, there was American Gladiatorsa television program that ran from 1989-1996 and pitted everyday people in physical contests against extremely athletic, muscular warriors (the Gladiators, of course).
A Netflix documentary, Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators, takes a look at the cast and crew as they enjoyed the dizzying heights of successand suffered the subsequent fall. The limited docuseries features interviews with many of the Gladiators as well as the producers, and even a couple contestants.
Lori "Ice" Fetrick was one of the best-known Gladiators, although many may not have known at the time that she was (and still is, of course) a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Fetrick recently talked about the show's pros and cons (as well as a very interesting time in Chicago) with Windy City Times.
Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length. There are also spoilers.
Windy City Times: I, like so many other people, was such a fan of American Gladiatorsand this documentary really shows people what happened behind the scenes. I had no idea that 90% of this stuff happened.
Lori "Ice" Fetrick: I knowand I love the documentary, too. My sister called me and said, "Oh, my God! I didn't know how popular you guys were." Thanks! [Laughs]
WCT: I'm going to start with a couple of the "down" things I found out about from the documentary. One of them was the lack of safety precautions on the set.
LF: Yeshowever, you have to think of the time. Growing up, my parents would throw me in the back of a truck, and I survived.
I can't really say we thought about [safety] too much. We were such athletes who were into the games themselves. I would say, "Tape it or shoot it with cortisone. We're going back out there! We're athletes and we're going to play."
Also, you saw in the documentary that if we didn't play, we weren't paid. Believe it or not, I was a little upset when they put a helmet on me when we had to play Powerball. I said, "Lookthis is going to mess up my hair!" [Both laugh.] We could also look at a game and go, "No, I don't want to do that one." But it was a different time. Nowadays, it probably wouldn't fly.
WCT: Andlike so many other peopleyou all were taken advantage of in terms of profit and merchandising.
LF: Yep100%. It's unfortunate and, more than anything, it was [bad] that we landed with the Samuel Goldwyn Company. Because Samuel Goldwyn was known for absolutely not negotiating contracts. So, unfortunately, we got stuck with that company. If we had been with someone else, things probably would've been differentbut we just got stuck with a very greedy company.
If they had taken care of their principals and put a little more money into [the show], I believe that it could've lasted 20 years. And even today, people are, like, "Bring it back!"
It's interesting how these companies could just bring back a few of the principals if they're going to redo a show. [It was rebooted in 2008 for two seasons.] They're all doing it now, like That 70's Show or 90210.
WCT: I'm calling from Chicagoand I love the story in the documentary about what happened with you here. [Fetrick ended up spending the night with a woman who was being pursued by three male Gladiators.]
LF: [Laughs] That was fun. By the way, that story is spot-on [in the documentary]. There were a couple little things that were taken out but, yes, that time with all the boys… Having my gaydar, I knew there was no chance in hell they were going to get that girl. [Both laugh.]
WCT: And I really liked when you talked about the support you received from the other Gladiators regarding being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
LF: Yes. The team was extremely supportive of me. We were such a family, and we all supported each other. They didn't care that I was gay or that I brought my girlfriends in.
But, at the time, [people behind the scenes] tried to literally scare me into not coming out or bringing my girlfriends. There was a situation in New York making a personal appearance, and I was at a gay club playing pool. I was with some girl and [the Gladiators] were at the height of our careers. Andby the way, this shows how paranoid I wasthis girl had a video camera and she was videotaping me. My heart dropped and I turned white because I was thinking, "If this gets out, my career is over." I think I bought that camera off her for $100. [Laughs] That's how badly they scared me. That really sucked.
WCT: I remember seeing in the documentary when the executive producer said you couldn't bring your girlfriend on the set.
LF: Yesexactly, although it was the executive director at the time. Every season, it seemed that we had a different director or producer. The one consistent thing that remained the same was Johnny Ferraro, the creator. But even he and the executive director at the time said that bringing my girlfriend to the set "was not a good look for the show." They wanted to keep that wholesome, apple-pie, all-American image.
But here's something I've said all along: I never wore my sexuality on my sleeve. I honestly didn't carebut don't tell me I can't bring her along. That's what made me mad. Once you put restrictions on me, let me decide. I was never one of those girls who made people uncomfortable by holding hands with my girlfriend. But the timing… [Ruefully laughs]
WCT: It's interesting that, even in athletics today, so many more women than men have come out as LGBTQ+. Do you think the Gladiators would've been as supportive of an openly gay male Gladiator?
LF: I would say "yes" but at the same timeknowing my Gladiatorsthe males would've been … cautious. I don't know. That's a great question; I've never been asked that before, after all these years. I would hope that they'd be super-cool about it but I can tell you right now: Nobody would dress in front of him in the locker room, although they'd probably say "bullshit" to that.
WCT: If you could go back and do American Gladiators all over againknowing what you know nowwhat would you do differently?
LF: You are so funny because I ask every Gladiator that question on my podcast, Chillin' with ICE. I even word it exactly the same way you just did.
Nothing… I wouldn't change a thing[except for] our pay. Every single Gladiator feels exactly the same. The pay scale was terrible. The fact that we were treated like we were items… We put our bodies, hearts and souls on the line for that show. You would think that we'd be secure and stable enough where we wouldn't have to work nine-to-five jobs right now and be struggling financially. That show was so damn popular.
But, overall, we wouldn't change a thing. We were close, we were family. We competed together and we got hurt together. We cried and laughed together. We had an incredible journey together.
Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators is currently on Netflix.