American Ninja Warrior: Vegas Finals, part 1

After weeks of qualifying rounds, the hardest obstacle course in television history has moved into its last three weeks of gymnastic madness. The first half of the field faces off against round 1 of the unbeatable Mount Midoriyama in Las vegas.

A Gorgeous Addition
Every year, American Ninja Warrior gets tweaked a little, here and there (most notably: the girl on the ground who’s doing the before and after interviews with the contestants), and every year the result is a slicker, more professional and emotional season. New visuals, prettier lighting and the ever enthusiastic Matt Iseman, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and this year’s gorgeous addition Kristine Leahy (who, according to her Twitter feed, loves animals, rap and sports) – although former reporters Jenn Brown and Angela Sun weren’t half-bad either -, continue to create the most energizing show on television.

Cool Ridge
No one has so far beaten Mount Midoriyama in Japan or its replica in Las Vegas – the stage of the final straws of American Ninja Warrior, where, on top of the mountain, a million dollars await. But as we’ve seen in this first part of the final, even the seemingly most qualified ninjas – who’ve all devoted their lives to the course – happen to trip up occasionally – or should I say easily? One who made a huge impression during the Venice Beach finals, Nicholas Coolridge (you can’t go wrong with a name like that), didn’t get past the 4th obstacle. The guy who lives out of his van and other people’s garbage bins, jumped up, slipped and hit the water. That’s one of the clues you’re out of the competition; when your hair’s suddenly wet.

Coin Flip
Another surprising exit came from the man whose nickname is ‘The Godfather’, David Campbell. Keeping balance isn’t one of his stronger suits, and the new obstacle ‘The Coin Flip’ proved to be his Waterloo. It looks so easy when, for example, Daniel Gil (the lovechild of Kenny G and Paul Stanley) goes flying over it, but this course can’t be underestimated, just like Sam Sann will tell you. After a perfect run during qualifying, he – once again – didn’t get past obstacle no. 2.

The Graff Factor
Another favorite to at least make it to stage 2: Jessie Graff. Traditionally, women get knocked out left and right, but she looked like she could go the distance. Unfortunately, the Warped Wall got the better of her, which tied her with Meagan Martin, who got out last year at the exact same spot. Next week it’s time for Kacy Catanzaro to show America what she’s made of – and hopefully give the American Ninja Women a genuine victory.

The White Bull
The last runner of the night, Kevin Bull – the white hairless king of once-rookies – made it all just seem like a cakewalk. Last year a walk-on, this year favorite, veteran, superstar and role model; apparently, sometimes hanging upside down from a red ball can give you instant fame. He got the best time of the night, before Gil, Flip Rodriguez (who’s actually a very sympathetic young man without his mask on), Travis Rosen (the 41-year old stock trader who thinks he’s already too old to compete, so this might be the last time we see him – but how many times have we heard that before?), Geoff Britten (’s got talent, the guy with the Popeye arms), Brian Arnold (never did anyone get as far as he’s gone), Neil ‘gold paint’ Craver, Jojo Bynum, firefighter Mike Bernardo, Brian Wilczewski, Abel Gonzalez, Ryan ‘the Beard with Plaided Shoes’ Stratis, the little dude with grand spirit Dustin McKinney, Kevin Klein, Tremayne Dortch and David Yarter.

Could this be the year Mount Midoriyama gets served? The players look stronger and more determined than ever, but there are three more courses to go. Better get your grip strength in shape, because it’s a long, hard, crampy way to the top.

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