203 Capri Boulevard, Naples, FL
Annie Castellano of Isles of Capri says she is Goliath.
But can the 4-foot-11-inch mighty mite take on the likes of Steel, Helga and Siren on the American Gladiators, being aired on NBC 8 p.m. Monday?
Weighing in at a whopping 109 pounds, Castellano goes up against some gargantuan women who want to knock her block off.
“I like people, I want to make friends, but I found out right away that they wanted to knock my head off,” she said of her massive competition. “They were not messing around. There would be no Mr. Nice guy if I wanted to survive and move on.”
So she pulled on her spandex, tightened her helmet and went on the attack.
“I felt like a super hero with the Gladiator symbol on my chest,” she says.
Not able to reveal how she did, Castellano did say that another woman her size competed simultaneously on the show.
“Once we completed the first stage of events then we competed in an Eliminator Round,” she said. “The person with the most points in the early stage got a head start in the Eliminator. Overall points decided the winner. The Eliminator is grueling. Believe me, it is much more difficult than anyone watching can imagine.”
Although the show is taped, the competition was live. There were no “Stop, let’s do this over.”
“With my family there and the huge crowd screaming, I was pumped, the adrenalin was flowing,” she said. “I actually used my weight, height and speed to my advantage.”
Castellano can’t wait to see the show, which will be aired again at the same time July 11. She gets a reminder every morning as she has her Gladiator suit hanging in her bedroom.
“Some day I may be able to use this experience in an act,” she says.
She is a sophomore at Columbia College in Chicago, studying acting, hoping to be in shows like Saturday Night Live.
She takes comedy classes at Second City where many of the Saturday Night Live stars got their start.
Castellano got the casting opportunity for Gladiators while at college.
“My friend, Joe Shelby, said, ‘Annie, guess who is in town? The American Gladiators is doing open calls.’ I said, ‘No way dude, we are totally going.’”
Castellano says she has always been athletic, being captain of the St. John Neumann soccer team in Naples where she graduated in 2006.
“We waited in freezing rain as the line wrapped around the block at the Crunch Gym where I am a member,” she says. “I didn’t think we would get interviews, but a Crunch Gym employee scanned the line, asking if anyone was a member. It turned out anyone that was a Crunch member got to cut the whole line.”
The call consisted of a one-minute interview and some physical fitness testing.
“I totally had fun with it,” she says. “I just wanted to have the experience, I didn’t think they would pick someone so little.”
But they did.
She was called back the next day, Feb. 3, to return for an interview on Feb. 5.
Waiting too were some 150 others.
She did a one-on-one camera interview in front of the American Gladiator backdrop.
“They totally wanted me, not because of my acting ability, but for me and my physical ability,” she says.
She was given three days to do a video on herself, to learn about her and her physical abilities. She worked with Crunch Gym trainers.
“I did some Thai boxing and talked about myself,” she says. “They wanted to know about my family. I think that may have been why they decided to send me to Gladiator Boot Camp. Everyone there seemed to have some kind of huge life experience.”
For Castellano it was that the family moved from Stoneham, Mass., after buying the Capri Fish House in 1985. Hurricane Wilma greeted them, severely damaging the property. The restaurant is back and running fine today, with a new chickee hut. Her mother, Theresa, was diagnosed with breast cancer and is a cancer survivor.
Castellano survived Boot Camp and became one of 40 contestants for the show.
She’ll be back in college in the fall, and with a great new story to tell.
“My friend Joe is a stand-up comedian and we often go to open mike places,” she says. “Although I haven’ done stand-up I certainly have good material available from my Gladiator experience. It is something that will always be part of me.”
Maybe one day she’ll be seen in her Gladiator outfit, doing stand-up at Captain Brien’s Off the Hook Comedy Club.
Or go to dinner, Sunday through Wednesday at Capri Fish House where she may be your waitress. She smiling says, “I’ll sign autographs.”