Lounging in street clothes in her Marina del Rey apartment, Raye Hollitt might be any winsome, blue-eyed fashion model. Believe that, and you're likely to be shopping for splints. When Hollitt, 26, steps into the American Gladiators dressing room and strips down to her skintight sequins-and-spandex uniform, it's like Clark Kent shedding his worsted grays in a phone booth. With ominous biceps, threatening thighs and the mood of a street mugger, Hollitt emerges onto the Gladiators battlefield as Zap—TV's leanest, meanest fighting machine.

In the L.A. studio arena, where spectators (ill the air with chants of "Zap attack, Zap attack!" it's clear why Gladiators muscled onto TV schedules last fall to become the highest-rated new, hour-long show in syndication. Each week, more than 6 million viewers tune in to watch Zap and seven fellow "gladiators" hit, shove, smack and clobber amateur "challengers" through killer, combative competitions. When the top women contenders compete in the finals on May 19 for $35,000 in cash and prizes, it is the 5'6", 145 lb. Zap they will fear the most. "I've developed a pretty nasty reputation," she says. "It was my attitude and muscles. My arms are bigger than those of some of the guys on the show."

A former legal secretary and onetime high school prom queen from Dallas, Pa., Hollitt was introduced to weight lifting by a boyfriend. They eventually split, but she kept the barbell habit and in 1983 headed for Los Angeles and legendary Gold's Gym. In L.A., she met her idol, movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger. "There's a parallel between him and me," says Hollitt. "He's very cocky, very arrogant, and I've always been that way."

While racking up brawn-and-biceps titles (including the 1988 Ms. Los Angeles bodybuilding championship), Hollitt began schmoozing with other Hollywood heavies like Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers. They steered her to acting bits—including a memorable turn as John Ritter's arm-twisting seductress in last year's Skin Deep—that eventually helped her grab the Gladiators role.

Thanks to her newfound fame, Hollitt now gets more than 100 fan letters weekly, mostly from men. They needn't bother, though. Married this spring to TV actor Ted Prior, 30, she is now pregnant and about to hang up her Gladiator togs to wait for momhood.

She plans to return to the show, but that may well depend on whether Hollywood offers up the meaty film roles Hollitt says she wants next. "I'd love to walk in Arnold's footsteps," she says. "I used to be afraid of getting stereotyped as Miss Conan or something. But now I've sort of gone the other way. I'd definitely do something like a Red Sonja." Ahh, Brigitte Nielsen, move over.