In the world of reality television, some prefer to concentrate on dating drama, others feature home cooks while others showcase strength. When it comes to the latter, you’ve got “Strong” on NBC, “American Grit” on Fox, and “Ultimate Beastmaster” on Netflix and of course, “American Ninja Warrior” on NBC.
“American Ninja Warrior” is based on the long-running Japanese tv show, “Sasuke.” For this U.S. version, contestants go on to become ninjas and compete in a regional course before going to the finals in Las Vegas. If a ninja completes all four stages here, he or she can take home the grand prize, a whopping $1 million in cash. On the other hand, if no one completes the four stages, the “last ninja standing” wins $100,000.
And as we wait for more ninja showdowns, we thought it’d be cool some things you never know about “American Ninja Warrior”
1. THE SHOW DOESN’T HOLD CASTING CALLS.
Unlike other competition shows, American Ninja Warrior doesn’t hold traditional casting calls. Prospective contestants can send in a submission tape, then producers choose around 100 people to “run” in each of the cities they are visiting. If your tape doesn’t get you one of those handpicked spots, there’s always a walk-on line. But you’ll need a different type of training for that. “The walk-on line is like waiting for Black Friday sales,” producer Brian Richardson told mental_floss. “You sleep in a tent for a week or more outside the course, with no guarantees. We usually only have time to run 20 to 30 people from the walk-on line. Sometimes people spend a week camping out and never get to run the course.”
2. THE COURSE IS EVEN MORE INTIMIDATING IN PERSON.
Richardson admits competitors are caught off-guard by how complicated the obstacles are when trying to run them in the flesh, as opposed to from the safety of their couch. “For most of our competitors, they’ve practiced on similar looking obstacles at home or at their gym,” he says. “But when they step up to compete—under the lights, in front of a crowd, with a camera in their face—it’s a lot more intimidating.”
3. SMALL CHANGES CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN A COURSE.
While some of the obstacles on American Ninja Warrior come directly from Sasuke, the Japanese program upon which it is based, others are totally original to the stateside series and aren’t created overnight. “We work with the company that builds our obstacles, ATS, and brainstorm for months on ideas to test strength, balance, and agility,” explains Richardson. “It might start as a drawing on a napkin. Then we’ll build a prototype and test it in the ATS warehouse. Ultimately, if it passes all the tests, then we will make it part of our course. Even when it’s built on the course, we test it with athletes dozens and dozens of times to dial in the difficulty. Moving a rope six inches closer or farther away can make a world of difference.”
— Ninja Warrior (@ninjawarrior) June 1, 2021
4. CERTAIN BODY TYPES MAY HAVE A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.
Given the show’s title, you’d expect the competitors most likely to complete each course would be the big muscle guys with out-of-this-world strength, but that’s not always the case. “Typically, in most of the American sports, size and strength are a big advantage,” says American Ninja Warrior co-host Matt Iseman. “What we’ve seen in this, it’s really strength‑to‑weight ratio. So the less weight you have to carry on the course, the better your strength does on that. I think we saw that last year with the biggest story, Kacy Catanzaro, who is five-feet tall [and] less than 100 pounds. No one thought she was strong enough, but the reality is she was so light—and she is incredibly strong—that she didn’t have all this mass.”
5. NFL PLAYERS WANT IN ON THE ACTION.
Whether the leanest contestants have a competitive edge or not, co-host and former NFL player Akbar Gbajabiamila says pro football players often contact him to get on the course. “I get guys like NFL star quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, telling me, ‘I love this show,’” he says. “I get guys like Charles Woodson texting me, like, ‘Man, this is amazing.’ Other guys texting me or tweeting me, saying, ‘Look, give me your number. I want to get on this obstacle course because I think I could do it.’”
6. NOT ALL COMPETITORS HAVE A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH.
Since the start of the show, American Ninja Warrior has run some pretty inspiring competitors through their courses, like those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, and even recent open-heart surgery patients. “You don’t have an excuse when you see how hard some of these competitors work and the adversity that they overcome,” says Iseman.
7. STAGE 4 WAS THE TOUGHEST OBSTACLE TO BUILD.
When asked about which obstacle was the toughest to build, Richardson says it’s probably “Stage 4 in Las Vegas. It’s four stories high, and with the way the desert winds blow in Vegas, it can be scary to be up at the top.”
8. PRODUCERS ARE CHALLENGED BY THE NINJAS THEMSELVES.
Given that the show’s producers are dealing with people who consider themselves ninja warriors, these contestants are stealthy, recreating obstacles at home to figure out the best way to work the course. Which means that producers must always remain one step ahead of their competitors. “Our best athletes train year-round for ANW now,” says Richardson. “There are gyms devoted to Ninja training that are popping up all over the country, so people have a lot more access to obstacles like the Warped Wall. We want to test them every year, so we have to keep creating obstacles that are fun, and challenging, and entertaining to watch at home.”
9. VIDEO SUBMISSIONS HAVE INCREASED 50-FOLD SINCE THE SHOW’S DEBUT.
In its first season, producers received tapes from 1000 American Ninja Warrior hopefuls. Last year, producers were slammed with approximately 50,000 videos of folks vying for a spot on the show.
10. The Show First Aired On NBC As Part Of A Deal For Free Publicity
One of the show’s hosts, Matt Iseman, told GQ, “During the third season, G4 said [to NBC], ‘Listen, we’ll give you our finale for free. Just air it on NBC to tell people G4 exists.’ It ends up winning the night with no publicity.” The show became popular. After that, it went back and forth between cable and network television.
11. If You’re Not Ready To Try Out As A Contestant Yet, You Can Be A Tester Instead
Tester Jaysen Saly told American Ninja Warrior Nation, “There’s usually a posting [online] from the ninja challenge producer and we just email him. He’ll give you some forms to fill out. If you feel that you’re athletic enough or they feel that you can, they’ll send you a confirmation email to say ‘Hey you got the spot to test!”
12. In Preliminary Courses, The Goal Is For 20 Percent Of Contestants To Finish
According to a report from Men’s Health, “The obstacles need to have just the right amount of difficulty — the goal is for only 20 percent of contestants to finish the preliminary courses held in six cities across the country. Ultimately, only 24 new obstacles will make the cut.” From then on, the chosen contestants will make their way to Vegas.
— Ninja Warrior (@ninjawarrior) May 25, 2021
13. The Hosts Can’t See Some Parts Of The Course
Iseman told Reality Blurred, “We usually can’t see the first or second obstacle. We can then see most of them up to the warped wall and then we’ll have monitors in front of us. We’re watching the monitor trying to get a better sense of it, particularly on stuff where it’s hand placement—where’s their grip going?”
14. Near The Course, There Is A Trampoline Available For Practice
Broadbent told Insider, “That allowed us to get a feel for falling from that height, hitting the trampoline, and then launching.” As you may know, there’s a part of the course where contestants are expected to jump on the trampoline and then, bounce right back up. Being able to practice allows them to get better at it.
15. Before You Go On The Course, You Get Informed Of Rules Regarding The Use Of Your Hands And Feet
Neuman told Insider, “I remember when I was watching the show, before I competed, I was like, ‘Why aren’t they using their feet?’ It’s more awkward, maybe, but no one was attempting it. Now I know why.” He also said that someone from the show’s crew would walk contestants through each obstacle and “tell you how to accomplish it.”
16. Some Scenes Get Cut Out Of A Contestant’s Introduction Video
Former contestant Akiva Neuman told Insider that the part of his video about being a CPA was omitted. He said, “My main story from their perspective was my rabbinic aspect, because that had the most appeal. It’s not that I wasn’t anything else; they just chose to focus on what they thought would be most appealing.”
17. Once Selected, Contestants Only Receive A Two-Week Notice Before Going On The Show
Logan Broadbent, who served as a contestant on the show, said that two weeks before he was supposed to appear, he got a call from the show’s producer. Although, he wasn’t really expecting to make the cut. He told Insider, “I figured there were 75,000 applying to this thing, so I didn’t really expect a call.”
18. NFL Players Have Been Itching To Participate On The Show
According to Mental Floss, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, who has been co-hosting the show alongside Iseman and Zuri Hall, revealed, “I get guys like Charles Woodson texting me, like, ‘Man, this is amazing.’ Other guys texting me or tweeting me, saying, ‘Look, give me your number. I want to get on this obstacle course because I think I could do it.’”
19. The Course Is First Built And Tested Inside A Warehouse
Richardson told Mental Floss, “We work with the company that builds our obstacles, ATS, and brainstorm for months on ideas to test strength, balance, and agility. It might start as a drawing on a napkin. Then we’ll build a prototype and test it in the ATS warehouse.” If it passes their test, the obstacle makes in on the show’s course.
20. The Show’s Age Limit Was Lowered After Teens Revealed They Were Already Training To Be On The Show
Smith told Deadline, “We started to hear from people who were 14 or 15 when the show first went on and had been training for this moment. We’ve received so many letters and so many requests to get on the show that we said, ‘You know what? Let’s lower it this year to 19.’”
21. The Obstacles Keep Getting Tougher To Stay One Step Ahead Of The Ninja Gyms Opening Up In The Country
Smith told Deadline, “When it comes to the obstacle course, every year you see dozens and dozens of new obstacles, and we do that for multiple reasons. One, we keep it fresh, and two, because the athletes are getting better, and three, because they’re building gyms in their backyards, and there’s Ninja gyms spreading across the country.”
22. Some People Get Cast Because Of Their Backstory, Not Necessarily Their Athleticism
James Preston, who got on the show after a third attempt, told IndyStar, “The first two years, I didn’t have a unique story.” During his third attempt, he had just suffered a personal tragedy. Preston’s grandparents had died just months apart.
23. Contestants Can Spend More Than A Week Camping Outside Hoping For A Chance To Audition
Producer Brian Richardson told Mental Floss, “You sleep in a tent for a week or more outside the course, with no guarantees. We usually only have time to run 20 to 30 people from the walk-on line. Sometimes people spend a week camping out and never get to run the course.” He compared it to “waiting for Black Friday sales.”
24. The Show’s Executive Producer Used To Produce The Olympic Games
Smith told Deadline, “I always enjoyed the story that went along with the athletic competition. When we first started Ninja, I remember having a meeting with the producers, and I said, “Just like people care about sports that they wouldn’t think they’d care about, like bobsled or whatever, we’re going to make our people care.’”Note: This Site may earn an affiliate commission if you sign up via a link on this page