The question answered by the first episode of Spike TV’s new pseudo-educational program Deadliest Warrior (premiering Tuesday, April 7, at 9 p.m.), is pretty simple: “Who would win in a fight between a Roman gladiator and an Apache warrior?” The questions not answered, however, are infinitely more worthwhile: “Why?” “Who asked to know this, and how much off-brand grain alcohol had they ingested beforehand?” Instead of taking the bolder approach of suggesting some better topics for drunken debate, Spike has decided to answer this potential bar fight to the fullest extent modern technology will allow, which to them means computer models and plenty of weapons-efficacy testing on ballistics-gel dummies and sides of beef.
Not surprisingly, most of the show’s scientific method is highly suspect, but, considering this is the same channel that broadcasts World’s Most Amazing Videos, TNA Impact, and Real Vice Cops Uncut, we should probably be thankful they didn’t just stick feathers and helmets on homeless dudes and pay them to fight to the death in the parking lot. Many in Deadliest Warrior’s target demographic (I’m guessing the same people who read books written by professional wrestlers) probably would’ve been ecstatic with exactly that, but the show instead takes the lab-coat-and-clipboard approach popularized by Discovery Channel mainstays Mythbusters and Future Weapons, which poorly conceal their arsonist’s glee and an unmistakable air of doing-shit-just-to-see-what-happens with technical explanations and “trained professionals” caveats. Gladiators and Apaches led notoriously explosion-free lifestyles, relying instead on physical strength and weapons of the flesh-ripping/skull-cracking variety, so Deadliest Warrior compensates with plenty of fake blood and organ chunks.
The show’s testers use dummies created by injecting red syrup into a ballistics gel mold shaped around (hopefully) fake skeletons, so they can determine that a direct blow from an Apache club wouldn’t just shred the skin on a gladiator’s face, it would crack his noggin something fierce and come accompanied by a bitchin’ sanguine squirt. All for the purpose of complete scientific accuracy, of course. “If you see brain matter,” one of the show’s “medical experts” helpfully advises after an Apache tomahawk splits a fake skull, “you’re basically dead.”
And these aren’t just any regular bozos wielding the weapons: Martial-arts teacher/weapons expert Snake Blocker stands in for the Apache warrior in the tests, and none other than UFC champion Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell plays the part of the gladiator. The two never actually fight — the shamefully kick-ass conclusive battle, supposedly staged based on the results of those computer simulations, is fought by two no-names — but they don’t let that prevent them from talking plenty of trash. After Lidell goes Rocky Balboa and damn near splits a side of beef, Blocker retorts, “Cows don’t move.”
Interspersed among the tests are what Spike would probably term “historical reenactments” of the two contenders in action — gladiators battling in an arena, and Apache warriors slaughtering herds of clueless bovine white soldiers. The Apache, Deadliest Warrior reminds us, was a “scalp-taking master of death.” Nothing beats a combination of 21st-century technology and 19th-century ignorance. Regardless of the tests’ validity, the show fails to mention that the Apache wasn’t ultimately bested in fair combat, but systematically murdered through rudimentary germ warfare and an appalling lack of human decency, and the gladiator was a slave, forced to kill or die for the entertainment of the Roman masses. Throughout history, it seems the most lethal killers stay far away from the battlefield, and no warrior’s blade is any match for some cigar-chomping fuck with a sack full of money. •