It’s one of the most exhilarating, emotional and brutal reality programs out there: American Ninja Warrior. Last year, for the first time ever, somebody actually won the competition. The perfect time to milk it and spin off: Team Ninja Warrior has been born. The same presenters (Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila) and a similar obstacle course, but with three big differences: Contestants are part of a three men team, there’s a new ‘girl at the sidelines’ (Alex Curry) and, most importantly, they’d better bring their sunglasses, because it’s all done in daylight.
And I must say, it doesn’t quite have the same class. A sunny day doesn’t hold the same flavor as a dark backdrop with lights shooting through the sky. It’s more like watching an instruction video or training exercise, instead of a serious competition. The scenery makes matter worse. It looks like they taped the series on the season 2 set of The Wire; lots of stacked up shipping containers behind the course, as if the show wasn’t allowed to be the center of attention and got put away somewhere in a corner like an unwanted child.
For this spin off, the ninja winter olympics if you will, only the best have gotten an invitation in the mail. These familiar faces/frequent ninja flyers could pick two other people to join them and come up with a team name. Four teams compete in a single episode. In the first round, Storm Team Moravsky runs against Average Jo Jo’s, and Team TNT runs against G-Force. In the second round, the winners run against the losers of the first round. Round 3 is called the ‘relay showdown’, where only one team can win and qualify for the finals later on in the season. You are allowed to touch the water, as long as you don’t fall in. If you fall, you lose, unless the contestant of the team you’re running against (simultaneously), doesn’t make it past the same obstacle. If you win, you get one point. When the two team captains go head to head (the so-called ‘anchor run’), there are two points for the winner, so it’s possible to tie.
Storm Team Moravsky has got captain Joe Moravsky, Rob ‘The Adonis’ Moravsky and Marybeth Wang. Average Jo Jo’s has got captain Jo Jo Bynum, Jimmy Bogle Jr and Caitlin ‘Shuks’ Shukwit. Jimmy wins against Rob, but then Shuks goes out at the Pole Grasper and Jo Jo can’t get up the Warped Wall, so Storm Team wins.
G-Force has got captain (and Hollywood stunt woman) Jessie Graff, Nicholas Coolridge and Travis Brewer. Team TNT has got captain Travis Rosen, Adam Arnold and Joyce Shahboz. Coolridge flies over the course, but fails to fly up the Warped Wall, so the two teams tie. Adam Arnold goes up against Travis Brewer in a decider, but the latter slides off the Dancing Stones. Team TNT wins.
Round 2 and the Relay Showdown
That means that Team TNT goes against Average Jo Jo’s, and Travis Rosen brings his team to victory. It doesn’t go as smoothly between Storm Team and G-Force. It’s another tie break, which eventually Joe Moravsky wins, because Coolridge jumps onto the cushion from one of the Poles, but is unable to hang on. In the final, or ‘relay showdown’, each contestant has to complete three obstacles, including three more obstacles than in the previous rounds – the Salmon Ladder, the Tilting Ladders and the Tower Climb -, fist bump his team mate, until the last one reaches the top of the tower first. Because Travis Rosen is able to climb a little bit faster than Joe Moravsky, his team wins.
Although I love the original series, I’m not too crazy about this one. You’re watching the same people over and over, for one, and because of that, the powerful backstories that come with new contestants, which emotionally charge American Ninja Warrior, are absent from Team Ninja Warrior. What makes that show so great, is the connection between running a brutal obstacle course and each contestant’s personal motivation to do so. This spinoff takes away that correlation and what’s left is a somewhat enjoyable exhibition class. It’s not uncommon for spinoffs, whether it’s reality or drama, to forget to incorporate that one thing that made the original such a success. Unfortunately, Team Ninja Warrior is no exception to the rule.