American Ninja Warrior: Vegas Finals, part 3

It’s the doubled-sided sword that’s called marketing. You want to promote the show, get people watching, but you don’t want to spoil anything either. This year the buzz about the possible conquering of Mount Midoriyama was a little too loud to just be possible. It was going to happen. And it did.

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Makeover
American Ninja Warrior gets a small update every year, in terms of appearance. But the show still uses David ‘The Godfather’ Campbell in their blue-colored backgrounds. Maybe it’s time for a makeover next year and shift focus. I have nothing against Campbell, but there are a lot of newborn godfathers; this past season the show’s been packed with extraordinary talent. From Popeyes to Panthers, and from Cowboys to Bulls.

And Then There Were 8
So, the last one of the three-part finale has come. No less than 38 contestants made it to Stage 2. You always lose a few because of slipups, breaks of concentration, a wet shoe, cramped hand, but the obstacle responsible for kicking (or swinging) most out of the competition was the ruthless Roulette Row. In the end, only 8 were able to finish the course.
Almost everyone got through the first obstacle, Rope Jungle, easily. Brent Steffensen, however, not that easily. He grabbed the wrong rope, chose the wrong way, maybe tried too hard to live up to the expectations, whatever it was, he got hung up. Much of his energy and grip strength was wasted on swinging forth and back and forth again. He paid the price on the Unstable Bridge.
The only one who got out as soon as he got in, was Dustin ‘Hobbit Soldier’ McKinney. Such a driven guy, with a passionate personality, but on the third rope his hands slipped and his 5 seconds of fame were up.

The Ones Coming Back For More Next Year
There were more favorites taking plunges. I mean, most – if not all – of the 38 left standing were favorites, so each time one of them kissed the water it was a bitter goodbye. You’re really rooting for all of these guys (because Mount Midoriyama’s not particularly kind to women, pushing them all out in Stage 1). They’re not running against each other; they’re collectively trying to beat the course. And they’re all such nice guys.
The ones we had to say ‘better luck next year’ to: J.J. Woods, Lance ‘Ninja Cowboy’ Pekus, Flip ‘Unmasked’ Rodriguez, Jamie ‘Captain NBC’ Rahn, Anthony ‘Human Panther’ Scott, Tremayne ‘Black Hulk’ Dortch, Dan ‘Moves Like Yager’ Yager, Neil ‘Gold Paint’ Craver, Ryan ‘Call of the Wild’ Stratis, and the oldest runner tonight, Travis Rosen.
This would be Rosen’s last attempt. At 41 years of age, he felt there wasn’t a whole lot left in the tank. It was his last chance and that’s how he’d been running. But giving your all doesn’t guarantee victory. Standing next to Kristine Leahy, soaking wet from defeat, he said he’ll be looking for ‘redemption’ next year.

The Alpha Wolf
The contestant who held the record – he almost finished stage 3 two years ago -, who dedicated his life to and quit his job for American Ninja Warrior, Brian Arnold, couldn’t get past Roulette Row. Training doesn’t prepare you for everything, apparently, no matter how many hours of the day you put into it. I suppose that’s why this show is so great. The unpredictability of sports, the tiny mistakes an athlete can make. Tiny but causing huge consequences. The other two members of the ‘Wolfpack’ did go through, though. Ian ‘The Quiet One’ Dory and Isaac ‘Buddhist Ninja’ Caldiero.

Stage 3
Only 8 appeared at the starting line of Stage 3, but that’s still a record. With the stages getting tougher each season, the contestants get even better. They all reached the fourth obstacle, the Ultimate Cliffhanger, but it proved to be too big a match for many. Abel ‘headband’ Gonzalez, Jeremiah Morgan, Kevin ‘who’d ever thought we’d be cheering for a stock trader’ Bull, and also Joe Moravsky, who unsuccessfully tried to do a mid-air turnaround, jumping between two very narrow ledges, all hit the water. Drew Drechsel managed to get further – but only by a little. He took a leap of faith from off the Hang Climb onto the bar, but just missed it. Ian Dory got through all of that, to the point where the finish line was at his fingertips, but the horizontal Salmon Ladder got the better of him.

Recording Sporting Events
If you’ve counted correctly, you know there are now two contestants left. Isaac Caldiero went first and made it look so easy. As a rock climber, he had some advantages, but advantage doesn’t really mean anything on American Ninja Warrior. He did reach the finish – the first one ever to cross that excruciatingly difficult Stage 3 off his list. But don’t stop your cheering just yet. He showed Geoff ‘Popeye arms’ Britten how it’s done, and the cameraman who’s usually only recording sporting events also destroyed the course – by the skin of his teeth.

Stage 4
Caldiero had the fastest time and he decided Britten should take on Stage 4 first. ‘Stage 4’ sounds bigger than the rope that it actually is. One red rope, reaching into the sky. 30 seconds to get to the top and hit the buzzer. Britten climbs as fast as he can, but still needs the full 30 seconds to reach the end. He’s just in time, with only 0:00.35 left on the clock. Did Caldiero make the right choice to go second?
Damn right he did. Don’t ever challenge a rock climber to a game of rope climbing, because you’re going to lose. Caldiero, living a quiet, basic and peaceful life – not materialistic at all, suddenly has a million dollars to spend. When the excitement’s worn off, are the relationships within the Wolfpack going to change? Money can become a fatal attraction, like the ‘one ring’, especially in large quantities, but I think these guys aren’t in it for the financial payoff. They just want to have fun, get better at it, and achieve the ultimate prize, which is standing on top of Mount Midoriyama. With or without a bag of money.

American Ninja Warrior: Vegas Finals, part 2

It’s the second part of the three week finale on the Mission: Impossible of obstacle courses, American Ninja Warrior. The rest of the lucky few who were either qualified (90) or given a wildcard (10) to take a stab at Mount Midoriyama, take their first steps on stage 1.

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The Ninja Knack
It’s a reality competition like no other. It’s games, it’s sports, it’s heart pounding and at times highly emotional. I’m sure the tears running down every viewer’s cheeks during the qualifying rounds weren’t part of the initial pitch for the show. American Ninja Warrior has a knack of showing a short homemade video, or only giving one small piece of information about the contestant, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Whether it’s sons running for their fathers, brothers, women willing to prove something – for themselves, for all women -, or husbands running for their terminally ill wives, it’s very powerful stuff that makes you weep, then jump and cheer for each player when they touch the first Quintuple Step.

Brutal
After the first rounds, the show takes a minor dip with the semi-finals (which are more of the same, but without the moving backstories), but the second Matt Iseman, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Kristine Leahy pack up and move to Vegas, it’s game on. It’s all about conquering the course – the most brutal one of them all. Also the prettiest one, but those two things tend to go hand in hand, not just when it’s obstacle courses concerned.

Unwatchable
After a few rookies, who all loved the water too much to stay dry, another rookie appeared at the starting line: Grant ‘Curly Lips’ McCartney (no relations). After only three obstacles, the flight attendant seemed to be completely fatigued, but in the end finished in time. As did Jamie ‘Captain NBC’ Rahn, sporting his infamous hairstyle; the most unwatchable shade of green imaginable. Usually he wears a colorful costume, this time he went shirtless. He could’ve fooled me, though, with practically his whole chest covered up by tattoos.

Propeller
The year 2047 called. They want their glasses back. Brendan Couvreux made a big impression this year, by tackling the course almost mathematical, but Vegas proved to be a different kind of animal. The propeller got the better of him. Human Panther Anthony Scott ran into trouble at the same obstacle as well – he took the propeller a bit too literately, going round and round and round and round again, until getting a hold of the rope and finishing the course.

Role Models
It’s okay to be this, do that, you have to move on, never quit, get up if you fall… It’s amazing the amount of life lessons Brent Steffensen and Kacy Catanzaro work into their interviews. Just be happy you hit the button with the fastest time of the night (Brent), or extremely disappointed and pissed off because you missed the trampoline (Kacy). Don’t take the whole ‘role model thing’ too seriously, guys. Just be.

Jumping Spiders
Brent did set the course on fire, credit where credit’s due. He got the fastest time of both nights, outrunning rookie Jake ‘footloose’ Murray and weather man Joe Moravsky. The latter and Elet ‘The Natural’ Hall were the only ones last year to finish stage 2, but Hall wasn’t natural enough this time. He slipped on the Jumping Spider.
Meagan Martin eats jumping spiders for breakfast. Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, she failed to get up the Warped Wall. Her response: ’At least I’m not getting wet in Vegas, so I’m really happy about that’. I mean, can she get any more adorable?

Last 38 Standing
Others who are going through to the next round are Lance ‘Cowboy Ninja’ Pekus, who left his jeans at home, J.J. Woods, who’d gotten leaner and meaner by switching to the Paleo diet, Drew Drechsel and rock climber Isaac Caldiero. There’ll be 38 contestants (all male) in total, trying to jump, lift, climb, run, catch, pull, sweat and flex their way up to that million dollar prize. This week we separated the men from the boys. Next week we’ll separate the men from the ninjas.

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.

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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.

Grip
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.

The Thrill Ride That Is Gymnastics

Forget the blood pumping adrenaline rushing edge of your seat sitting nail biting action packed seasons of 24. There’s isn’t a show that comes close to wanting to jump off your seat and go ape like this one, and it’s back May 25th.

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I’m talking, of course, about American Ninja Warrior. As far as reality shows go one in the ‘B’ category, but nevertheless very entertaining.

A thin format
An obstacle course, that’s it. That’s the whole format. What does that have to do with being a ninja? Nobody knows and nobody cares. Just get through it without getting wet and on time, and you’ll exceed to the next level: another obstacle course! So what happens when you reach the final? Four obstacle courses!

It’s kind of dumb, kind of thin, in format terms, but it seems to work. Six season can’t be wrong, with a seventh on the way.

Characters
One of the aspects is the return of beloved characters. Veterans of the show. Either barely clothed (and fully shaved) or dressed up like the poor man’s Captain America, there’s someone for everyone. The thing is: every contestant is able to fail miserably. The courses leading up to the final aren’t that hard, but aren’t easy either. A number of famous Warriors® have previously underestimated the run and went under the waterline on the first or second obstacle.

Commentators
Matt Iseman, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Jenn Brown do great jobs. Iseman has the difficult task of introducing his co-presenter Gbaja-Biamilla every week and never ever fails. It rolls off his tongue like sweet sushi.
The three of them are really committed to what’s basically a carnival attraction. They’re professionally hyping it up all along the way. There are no so-called funny wisecracks like we see on Wipeout; this is serious business.

The thrill
If you’re watching on your couch or chair, I dare you, no, I double dare you to keep sitting down during this show. It’s physically impossible. Your own body will be transported into the bodies of the contestants, you feel the pressure, you feel the fatigue. After an hour your muscles have had a complete workout. All you want to do after the show’s ended is build a course in your backyard and go crazy until the morning light.

A better promotion for gymnastics doesn’t exist.