Though the contestants are technically competing against each other, they're rarely matched against one another in the various events, which have friendly names like "joust," "hit and run," "gauntlet," and "assault." Instead, they must face off against the gladiators in these challenges, which are heavy on the wrestling, tackling, and mock combat. The contestants are all in great shape, and some of them -- including a professional skateboarder and a New York fire fighter -- are certainly above-average specimens, but most of them are just average folks (including a toilet paper sales rep, a bartender, and an aviation engineer). They're clearly outclassed by the gladiators, whose roster includes a four-time Mr. Universe, a 6'8" former European professional basketball player, and a veteran kickboxer.
There's plenty of action, and a fair bit of trash talking between the contestants and gladiators, some of which seems to straddle the line between fun competition and real hostility. The hosts sometimes egg them on with their pre- and post-event interviews, and the studio audience amps up the aggression, cheering when the gladiators take someone down and jeering the pummeled contestants. All of the events are grueling, and several can be fun to watch, but this show certainly doesn't rate very highly on the cultural scale. Watching these people bash each other for our pleasure is basic, escapist entertainment -- a classic guilty pleasure.