Why American Ninja Warrior became the highlight of my night

August can be a rough month for TV.  We’re mostly waiting for September and the start of the fall slate.  I had heard on the radio that the new season of american ninja warrior was set to premiere.  Something about me, I had a small obsession with Japanese television a few years back.  I actually think everybody should, they have some very bold ideas on entertainment.  Anyway, American Ninja Warrior is based off the show Sasuke.  Competitors compete in a large and physically grueling obstacle course.

ANWposterWhat I expected was a semi decent way to burn some time.  What ended up happening was me being glued to my TV.  There is a great feeling when you get much more out of something than you expected.  The obstacle course is the star of the show, and its what really the only thing I cared about.  However, I found myself really routing for the competitors this time around.  I don’t even know why, but the stories and the attempts of each of the competitors were inspirational

American Ninja Warrior (Sasuke) is built around 4 stages.  Each stage gets significantly harder.  Sasuke has been around since 1997.  It’s getting pretty close to a 20 year run, and only 3 competitors have ever finished all 4 stages.  The first three stages tend to change from year to year, with popular obstacles always seeming to come back.  The final stage is generally the same as its some sort of climb.  Nobody knows the hieght, the time limit, or the method of climbing until somebody actually reaches the final stage.  The obstacles really feel like something out of a nightmare.  I could go into alot of detail about it, but i’ll just let you watch a video instead.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SEySfvCdrs]

The door knob arch became heel of the show last night.  Taking down a majority of the competitors that managed to reach it.  I personally find the devils staircase to be extra terrifying.  This is only a single stage of the course, it actually gets much more difficult.  By the time stage 3 rolls around, only a handful of competitors remain.  There is a cash prize for anybody who does finish the course, but you can feel the secondary nature of it.  Normally with reality shows like this, competition based, the thought of winning the prize is recurring item of conversation.  The competitors don’t talk about the money on this show, they dont say the generic “this money will change my life, it’ll mean so much to me”.  We have all seen that song and dance, and I’m not saying it isn’t genuine.  I am saying, it’s not all that interesting anymore.  The competitors on the show are really more interested in self achievement, especially the returning alumni.  They are normally haunted by whatever obstacle eliminated them the year before. Defeating the course is the goal and if they happen to make some money while doing it.  Thats a win win.

When I used to watch Sasuke, It wasn’t quite as popular and the production value was much lower.  We didn’t learn much about the competitors, just age and occupation.  The show was much more bam bam bam, bring on the next guy.  I mostly haven’t watched American Ninja Warrior because I knew the focus on the competitor would be much more involved.  Fortunately for me, I’ve turned around on this, and it takes the show to a new level.  I started caring about the people taking on this challenge.  I loved hearing their motivations, I loved seeing them train in what is usually homemade obstacle courses in thier own back yard.  We got to learn about Jon Stewart.  At age 52, was the oldest competitor of the night.  He was a returning alumni of the course, and he has failed on the wall in his previous year.  While completing the course is ultimately his goal, it meant alot for him to beat the wall.  Sure enough.. he got to the wall and struggled.  It seemed like he would once again succumb to the wall.  He finally makes it, and in a pure moment of bliss, before moving on to the next obstacle he gets down and kisses the top of the wall. He then goes on to finish the stage, the first person to finish the stage all night.  It was impossible not to route for “Grandpa Ninja”.  The night is filled with these people: Fathers, Mothers, Sons , Daughters, Service Man, Celebrities.  Each just trying to do it.

In the end, the show is just fun.  The commentary is kind of bad, but in the it’s so bad its good kind of way.  Competitors can wear whatever they want, while most settle on generic sports wear.  Some let their personality show, from something subtle as a cowboy hat to something more visual like war paint, or even full business attire.  I think fun and inspirational are two powerful sentiments for any show to broadcast.  Thats what I got, and I didn’t see it coming at all, the most pleasant of surprises.

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