Why I love watching the Gladiators reboot with my kids - from reminiscing about my own childhood to finding a connection with my family, it's about more than the nostalgia

90s kids, are you ready?

The cast of Gladiators 2024
(Image credit: Nick Eagle/BBC/Hungry Bear)

A great big dose of nostalgia was just what everyone needed heading into another uncertain year, and I'm loving every second of the resurrected Gladiators.

It's fair to say that 90s kids up and down the country were shocked and reminiscing hard when the announcement of a Gladiators return was made back in the summer. The original series ran from 1992 - 2000, with a couple of specials popping up in the years afterwards. The show was top of the playground talk at the time - everyone had a favourite Gladiator (mine was Jet) and picked out the contender they were most rooting for. Now, 24 years later, the muscle machines are back, and us fans of the original can relive our best childhood memories with our own kids.

The arrival of Gladiators back on our screens marks a brilliant year for those who think wistfully back to great TV gone by. Wheel of Fortune returned at the start of 2024, and Byker Grove and Deal of No Deal reboots are set to join TV schedules later on. Tuning into Gladiators once again has been more than just something fun to do with my children on a Saturday night. It's prompted a serious trip down memory lane, and brings my family back together at a time we are fragmenting as the kids break away to start venturing off to do their own things. Here's why I love watching it with them so much.

Why I love watching Gladiators with my kids

I was eight when Gladiators first started and, along with my brother, we didn't miss an episode. If we weren't keeping an eye on the time to head home ourselves, our mum would just go to the back door and shout "GLADIATORS!" into the abyss of places we could be playing and hope we'd hear.

We always heard and were usually in the unused bit of land near our house that nobody knew who owned it, but it was often mysteriously re-fenced. We ignored these frequent attempts by a faceless person to keep us out, and always found a way around, over, or under their obvious signs we weren't welcome.

Sometimes, we'd pile into someone else's house to watch it, or they'd congregate at ours. My mum would hurl down bean bags for us to sit on because we were never allowed to sit on the best sofa (the only sofa), and our Saturday night would get underway. We were mesmerised by the superhuman bodies, the theatre of it all (pantomime bad boy Wolf, looking at you) and edge-of-your-seat competition (The Travelator alone is enough to give any viewer anxiety palpitations).

I hadn't thought about any of this in years. But as soon as I heard the announcement of a Gladiators reboot, I messaged my brother with the news ("Have you SEEN THIS??!!") and promptly needed to make my own children excited about it too. I ran to their rooms and said all in one breath "There's a series coming back that I watched as a kid, and you'll LOVE it, and we need to watch it and here's what it'll look like," while I showed them first-look pictures. They were nonplussed. There was abject disappointment on my part.

For me and my brother, there were only four channels to choose from, and even then only a small selection of shows for kids. My own children have multiple streaming services at their disposal, and even then tend to favour easily digestible content like YouTube shorts. It's hard for them to muster enthusiasm among so many choices, especially for something their mum watched years before they were born. But I managed (possibly with bribery) to get them to watch the first rebooted Gladiators episode with me.

And they LOVED it. I also loved it, but it took me on a trip down memory lane that I really wasn't anticipating. As soon as the theme tune started, (exactly the same as the original), I felt unexpectedly emotional, and I wasn't sure why. I put those feelings on hold at the time, to just enjoy doing something with my children as a family (my husband was a little old for the original Gladiators, but he's joined our family viewings with gusto).

Nia Rutter competing against Gladiator, Fire

(Image credit: BBC/James Stack/Hungry Bear Media Ltd)

We have our family favourites - we all love Nitro because of the immense fun and energy he brings, and I reckon he'd be the best company on a night out. My youngest is a keen rugby player, and Fury is one of our faves. I like her because she strikes the right balance between staying in character but having a good connection with the audience and competitors, and now my little boy knows she's a ruby player, she's rocketed to his top Gladiator.

Giant's thighs have to get an honourable mention, because, WOWZERS. Anyone with the dedication to grow their thighs to the size of a Mexican Cypress tree trunk deserves a massive round of applause. The kids find Legend hilarious ("Here's the one that trash talks everyone") they say seriously, with the wisdom of small people who've watched too much rubbish American YouTube. Meanwhile, I hope he's not like that in real life, because he uncomfortably reminds me of all the dubious men that hung out in clubs I frequented in the noughties that I'd really rather forget.

Circling back afterwards to how watching Gladiators made me feel and that stab of emotion brought about some sort of existential crisis. Hearing Mark Clattenburg yell "Gladiators, ready!" and sound so much like John Anderson, brought back vivid recollections of my childhood. I almost felt I could reach out and touch the spiky fence I almost impaled myself on once, in my haste to get home to watch. The tree my brother once fell out of and nearly broke his hip, the bang of Eddie at number 25's silver garage door as we tripped and fell into it so many times because the ground by it was so uneven.

They're memories of a life unencumbered by adult worries, that I don't usually think of. Reminiscing sometimes makes me want so much to be back there in that time. Not thinking about the best time of your life is sometimes easier - it was confronting to have these feelings forced on me by a kid's TV show. There was also the emotion of finally having shared ground with my kids. They both love football, rugby, and would generally choose to watch sport-based TV. Gladiators is the only sport-related series I've ever liked. I show the obligatory enthusiasm in what they generally like to view, but would secretly prefer to watch something altogether different. 

Gladiators Giant, Steel, and Apollo

(Image credit: BBC/James Stack/Hungry Bear Media Ltd)

To have a real, bona fide shared interest, has been a game changer. I think the children, sensing my enthusiasm, have upped their own. Having previously not shown any intrigue in my life before they arrived, they're now full of questions about the Gladiators of my day, and the games I played as a kid. This offers me relief that they're finally venturing into the development stage of demonstrating awareness that life doesn't revolve around them. They won't be lifelong miniature narcissists that young children are, and want to know about our life and history - I wonder when this would've happened without Gladiators to prompt it.

I also often feel a pressure to have conversations with my children about what they're watching. Modern parenting often means picking out themes from what's being shown to your children, and trying to make them better people because of it. I'm always searching for the broader conversation around equality, gender roles, consent, body shapes - it's exhausting.

I don't want to minimise the importance of such communication with my children, but sometimes I just want to eat handfuls of popcorn and switch off from them for a bit. That's why I love watching Gladiators with my kids so much - the only big question I've had from them, is "How do you get a body like that?" Hard work, dedication, and a generous dose of winning the genetic lottery, darling. What a beautifully untaxing answer, free of will-I-get-this-right-have-I-said-the-right-thing self doubt.

Saturday afternoons are my new favourite time. I take the children to the shop where we all choose our Gladiators snack. I clock watch, in a similar way that I did over 30 years ago, and shout "GLADIATORS!" in the same way my mum did. Then, we all sit down for some unadulterated, harmless fun and entertainment - there's absolutely nothing better.     

For more on kids' TV, we looked at why Bluey is different to other shows for young kids, and how Netflix's Leo movie tackles the anxieties of modern parenting so well. Also on the streamer, Orion and the Dark encourages kids to face their fears, and we spoke to a therapist about how parents can do the same. 

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.