Ref Kaplon Makes The Call: Q&A from the Arena floor.
Before each game, when you check if both the Gladiator and the contestant are ready, you use some unique gestures. What are the gestures? Can you describe them?
This has become my opportunity to use every signal and motion from every sport I have either officiated or seen officiated. Mostly they are my interpretation of "strike" and "out" calls from baseball and/or penalty signals and mechanics from all sports – like football and basketball made into a contender/Gladiator "ready" call. The styles are all inspired from very famous umpires and referees I've emulated over the last 30 years... even a few moves I did in the movie "Dodgeball"… and one gesture that Johnny C. Ferraro (executive producer and owner of the AG games) and I developed together. That one is named "The Johnny C. Roll" and seems to be the crowd favorite so far. Right now there are twenty in all, and I never know which one I will use or what I will do for each game until they yell "action"!
We've seen you calling out the American Gladiators when they break the rules. Are you afraid of them afterwards? Behind the scenes?
Not at all. I told them on day one that I intended to treat them like the big-name millionaire professional ballplayers I have dealt with my entire career, and that I am intimidated by nobody and I am nobody's TV prop, either. I also told them I expect the same respect they expect from me. I am happy to report that every single Gladiator has proven to be a world-class athlete in both sport and attitude. I understand intense competition and how things happen. We talk about it and then move on. We have some true professionals for sure. Oh, and the new Gladiators like Phoenix have learned quickly too. We had a thing on Hang Tuff with kicking, but after a couple of days of talking (heated at times) she accepted the reality of the contests. I was impressed with her approach. She is going to make an awesome Gladiator.
If you were to go up against any American Gladiator, who would it be and how would you show your superiority in your chosen event?
Ouch! Good question. I would have to say that I would choose Wolf or Titan – I've beaten one of the best if I win and I have the best excuse if I lose. Besides, who wouldn't want a piece of Wolf or Titan in the Arena? I would opt for the awesome event called Earthquake, gyrating over the water. Yes, yes… I can see this… mano y mano… I hate to give away my strategy (because I can see this happening one day), but I would try and use my big referee belly and belly-bump the Gladiator off the platform or at least use my weight to drag them with me into the icy water. It's the only equalizer I have.
What's better, baseball or the Gladiator Arena?
I love the Gladiator Arena. In baseball you have to beat elements like heat and cold and rain and snow and even mosquitoes and bugs. In the Gladiator Arena you have to beat the elements of catered meals, craft services and finding proper seating on the set. Lol, but in all seriousness… no travel, no steroid-induced brawls or bean-ball wars, and the only one in your face yelling at you is the executive producer and director instead of ball players and managers. This is sweet! I'm right where I want to be!
What personal character traits make you the ideal person to be the American Gladiators referee?
I truly believe I have been training my whole life to be the American Gladiators referee. Sports officiating has been my passion since I was a kid. After my professional baseball umpire career on the field, I parlayed my talents into an acting career, officiating in commercials, TV and movies. I have done major motion pictures and major ad campaigns as well as primetime network sitcoms and dramas. So American Gladiators was a perfect combination of my officiating career and my acting career.
I retired from umpiring in 1995. The old AG classic show ended in 1996. At that time I told everyone I knew that if they ever brought the show back, I wanted to be the new referee. It happened in 2008. It took all of about 10 minutes of talking with Executive Producer David Hurwitz and we both knew we were a perfect match!
What makes me ideal for the part is, I am used to performing in front of large crowds officiating live events and I am also very experienced with TV production and the acting craft. So doing a live event TV show with a little direction from Mr. Hurwitz is a dream come true for me, and I can't imagine anyone more qualified for the job.
You are marooned on a desert island. Which American Gladiator would you want on your team to help you survive on the island? And why?
I will tell you the truth only if you promise not to tell the other Gladiators… Crush, Crush and more Crush. I think no matter what question you ask, the answer is Crush! Incredible Gladiator, amazing person, caring hart and warm personality… because she is a real-life Gladiator she can also entertain me by cage fighting the wild boars on the island before we feast on them. (Just a little Crush humor there.) I'll do the cooking. We mud wrestle for dessert (I can't leave out the sexy part… it is Crush after all). But as long as I have any Gladiator with me on that island, we will survive.
What advice do you have for contestants when preparing to face the American Gladiators?
Number one: Quickness beats girth. Number two: A quick wit can do more damage than ya think! Both ways!
The best advice I can give contestants is to do the opposite of what you said you would do as you were watching the show before trying out. It's completely different when you're there in the arena and I am yelling at you, "Is the contender ready?"
If you were to be an American Gladiator, which name would you choose? Have the Gladiators given you a nickname on set?
Referee Al is what I am called most. Even on the Internet I can't tell you what they call me backstage! Just kidding. Hulkster is calling me Big Al a lot in Season Two, and it was pointed out to me that one fan on a message board called me Beach Ball. I chuckled at that. Not a very good Gladiator name. Let me see… I would say my Gladiator name would be Strike Three because every time the contender drew me (after I get into Gladiator shape and not as the Beach Ball I am right now), it would be, "Strike Three you're out!"
Have you tried any of the challenges? If so, which ones and how did you fare?
I have tried the Pyramid. I am 50 and fat; I lasted about three levels and about 15 seconds. I knew better than to try Joust at the Season One wrap party. Too many were gunning for me. I need to get in shape before I take this one on in front of everybody. I have wrestled with Wolf a bit backstage. I would say that's as close to trying the events as I have gotten so far. Besides, any time I do something like dance on my four-inch box or mess around, I am reminded that they have other Gladiators to bring in but I am their only referee. I did unwillingly participate in Altrasphere this season. My position is at the 50-yard line and when two of those big steel cages crashed against the side, it knocked me off the stairs I was standing on and I went face down into the side truss. Nobody said it was going to be easy. Note to self: Get new position for Altrasphere in Season Three.
What are some upcoming projects we can see you in?
Besides a few commercials like MLB Sony Playstation 2008 and Southwest Airlines and others, I did a really fun project with the E! Channel Network, a takeoff on the upcoming Olympics with the Olly Girls from the hit show "Sunset Tan." It is an eight-week series called "The Olly Games" where once a week, Holly and Molly compete in poolside games and fun summer competitions. I am the referee who explains the rules and officiates the games, gives the scores and declares a winner. Fun girls to work with. They start airing on the E! Network and website at the end of July 2008, just before the real Olympics start on 8-8-08.
I am also working on a new instructional video for my videoump.com website. I write, produce and distribute my own line of videos. This will be my ninth video in the series. My other titles include, "See a Balk Call a Balk," "Rules Made Easy," "How to Keep Score in Baseball," "Don't Show Me Up!," "Handle It!," "60' Diamond Mechanics," "90' Diamond Mechanics," and "Behind the Plate with John McSherry."
We've heard a whisper that Wolf is all bark and no bite. Is that true?
That bark is part of Wolf's game and in the end he is just a man, so it depends on the contender if it works or not. But Wolf is so consistent on all the events and has absolutely no fear of any event or man, so although he is not indestructible, knowing him like I do, I wouldn't whisper your question in his ear before a competition. If ya do, I would bet the farm on Wolf's bite every time!
What are some of the major issues that have come up this season? Have you had to stop a challenge while in progress?
Crush got her foot caught in the Rocketball net on the way up in one of the matches. We had to stop the match and cut her out of the net, stitch it up and re-set the match. A few on the Joust, a couple that were close enough I had to look at replays a few times and then make a ruling. You know, they stepped on the opponent's platform or dropped their sticks, stuff like that. Couple of skirmishes in Gauntlet and Power Ball that I had to stop before they escalated into a fight, and a bunch of safety equipment issues which is normal with contact. On the Gladiator side I had to call a few false starts and issue warnings because they jumped my whistle.
What has been the toughest call you have had to make in the Arena?
Cake or ice cream for dessert. No, just kidding. The toughest call I had in the Arena? I've had a few. On Hang Tough a contest came down to tenths of a second. On Joust a couple of decisions came down to replaying the tape over and over before declaring a winner. The Pyramid was extremely physical this season and kept me on my toes for sure. But the false starts over water where it takes so long to dry off and re-set unless we have a perfect start, those are the toughest calls for me.
The executive producers call you One Take Al. Why?
I did have the nickname One Take Al for a while. I seem to be able to do all the intros and rulings and score reporting that you see on TV (and a lot that you don't see on TV) all in one take, every time. It amazed me as well. Finally, one time while doing an intro in the semifinals in the Gauntlet, I said "are" instead of "is" the contender ready (only one contender at a time in that game) and I stopped in the middle of the take when I realized what I'd said. What happened after that was very funny and a big compliment. David Hurwitz, the executive producer, started yelling in my ear in a very endearing way, "Kaplon, quit screwing up, you're costing us money!" and I heard others in the background in the control room having fun with it as well. It was a hilarious moment and again I took it as a huge compliment.
Do you give the contenders a pep talk before they face the American Gladiators? Do you interact with the contenders or Gladiators at all before a taping?
I do interact with both. I try to at least introduce myself to the contenders and make sure they know I am looking out for them just as much as I am for the
Gladiators. I am out there to keep it safe and keep it fair for both. I also try and let the contenders know they can talk to me, ask me questions and even challenge me if need be.
It's a little more professional on the Gladiator interaction. We are both part of the cast of the show and I see them more, yet we both have our own jobs. Neither Gladiators nor contenders like losing, and it is real competition, so the pep talks come more after the matches with both the contenders and Gladiators. I do more calming down before the matches, especially with the contenders. I guess because I am out there for every match and so close to the action and the people, yet neutral, I am a good sounding board for both.
Can you describe your background as a professional referee? How did you make the transition into TV/movies?
I started officiating at the age of 13. Then, when I got my driver's license and began high school, I found it to be a better part-time job officiating all sports (year round) than my friends had working at fast food restaurants or construction sites (I made twice as much money too!) When I turned 18 I was awarded a scholarship from my local umpire's association to the Professional Umpire School and then was placed in professional baseball, but I was still working other sports in the off season. I was still in baseball when, in one off season, a ball player-turned-actor named Ken Medlock, who was working as a technical advisor, asked me to be the second-base umpire in a movie called "Talent for the Game." When I got out there, Ken had assembled two full baseball teams with some impressive names and ball players I had had worked with all the way through the minor leagues. They showed me the way to an agent and after learning the audition process, I have been a working actor with health insurance since 1992.
Can you provide some fun behind-the-scenes tidbits into life at the American Gladiators arena?
The Gladiators have threatened to throw me in the water. If not for the thousands of dollars worth of microphone and transmitters I wear, I would have already swam with the sharks in the icy cold water. As Van Earl would say, I better keep on guard!
Crush has a really awesome cooler that is also an electric motor scooter/car thing. So she whips around the Arena on it (nothing but Diet Coke inside!) And everyone is jealous except Wolf, who has one too! Very handy in a big Arena like that.
Sometimes a Gladiator might be in the first event of the day in the morning and not compete in another event until late at night. Not an easy task for a human!
The wardrobe department is a busy place and with everyone going into the water so much, it's hard to keep everyone's costumes intact.
Pat Ramono the stunt coordinator and his staff do some impressive things that make these events as good as they are. Three cheers for the Ginny Pigs!
The audio department is the coolest bunch going. Joe, Scotty, Goat, Bruce, Frank and Molly do an incredible job.