Since 2009 American Ninja Warrior has been growing in popularity. Originally aired on the esquire network and then relegated to a late night slot on NBC, it now inhabits primetime on monday nights. For all its red,white, and blue motifery, ANW is actually a western spinoff of a popular Japanese program called “Sasuke”. Unlike Sasuke, which usually has one massive event per year, ANW operates like a normal tv program with different rounds each week of a summer-spanning mega tournament.
The contest in question consists of various courses containing obstacles that test speed, balance, strength, and agility. The course is an innately eastern idea and could only have originated in Japan, but only Americans could be so brazen as to cover it with their own flag and call it their own.
The contest has only been completed by two Americans and won by one. In 2015 competitors Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten finally finished the ordeal by climbing a massive 75 foot rope. Britten — a father and husband with a real job — has apparently realized the folly of such a competition and moved on with his life and Caldiero — whose strategy for victory in the final round consisted of “becoming one with the rope” — presumably has used his $1,000,000 in prize money to purchase a lifetime supply of marijuana and left for the wilderness, never to return.
The sport’s two main trailblazers before 2015 were Brent Steffensen and Brian Arnold, who set records in their day but failed this year to breach even the second stage of Midoriyama. The show has experiences a shift in domination, with most of the show’s longtime veterans delivering lackluster performances. Of the three competitors to reach Midoriyama’s stage three, the only one with any relative experience was Joe “The Weatherman” Moravsky, who was on his fifth season. The other two; Najee Richardson, and Sean Bryan a.k.a. “The Papal Ninja”, are fairly greenhorned with three and two seasons under their belts respectively.
The show’s entertainment value borders on camp sometimes with the very worst puns imaginable delivered by commentators Matt Isemann and Akbar Gbajabiamila (the only trap here is trying to pronounce that last name). The pre-run mini-docs usually tap into a sense of falsified sadness, seemingly asking us to care about the pettiest of difficulties.
Still, there is something poetic about a game show with no winner. After longtime veteran Drew Dreschel’s impressive but ultimately insufficient run on stage two, Christine Leahy interviewed him on the “Pom post-run interview” (the show wears its corporate sponsorship on its sleeve). “I know how much you want this” she said.
“No you don’t” he replied, shaking his head. Like Drew, these contestants are motivated by some invisible desire to achieve what logic says they cannot. This is why they will be back next year in droves; and when none of them succeed, they will be back the year after that; and on, and on, and on, until they reach total victory.