I am anti-sports. I don’t care much for feats of strength. But when you tell me that the aforementioned 130-pound woman, nicknamed “Pitbull,” has a sister who survived bone cancer, minus a leg bone, and is in the audience cheering her on, well, OK you have my attention, and my tears. Same, times a million, when that aforementioned single dad wins a trial and goes running up to his teary-eyed 9-year-old son in the audience, swoops him up in his arms saying, “C’mon baby! Come on! I did this for you.” Then there’s the young roofer who hits the gym every night and always visits his mom’s headstone in the cemetery afterward, and who announces, “I’m absolutely competing for my mom.” (Just a lil journalistic note here: When someone phrases something in that way—I absolutely am—it’s often because they’re prompted by an interviewer.)


Without further ado, here is a much-condensed list of some things I genuinely yelled at the screen—and at my husband, who was in the other room declining my invitation to watch—during the first episode of Titan Games:

Titan Games, which airs its second episode tonight at 8 p.m., has the absurdity factor down with its battering rams and tombs and relics. But what it really has dialed is the formula for making the show about more than athleticism, which is actually what made me scream at the screen. It’s about the personal backstory, the one that has driven these “everyday people” to spend their evenings in the gym building their insane bodies and, now, to scale a wall and play midair tug-o’-war with a massive golden pole 9.5 feet high off the ground. There’s much talk of reaching one’s “full potential” and rising “to the challenge.” As The Rock puts it in the show’s opener, “The people who inspire me are those who dig deep, they get back up, and they keep fighting.” The show, he says, is the “ultimate test of athleticism and heart.”


Titan Games is a perfect reflection of The Rock’s precisely honed brand, which is built on his own triumph over adversity (namely, his poor upbringing in Hawaii) and his oft-repeated motto of “blood, sweat, respect—the first two you give, the last one you earn.” He’s an over-the-top muscle man who we care about in no small part because he shows us what drove him to become an over-the-top muscle man, and because he represents the exaggerated possibilities of that drive. At the end of the first face-off on Mount Olympus, he tells the victor, with a hearty pat on the back and that dang smile again, “I’m proud of you, buddy.”

It’s enough to make me think about going to the gym, ever. More likely: I’ll watch another episode.