15 Surprising Facts You Didn't Know About "American Ninja Warrior"

Have you ever watch the ABC TV show Wipeout? It was fun right? Well American Ninja Warrior is nothing like that. It’s the adrenaline pumping version for extreme athletes. It’s not for the faint of heart. Each week courageous people tackle the difficult course in the hopes of claiming the top prize. Some of the fittest people around make the decision to step onto the course and try to claim the title of American Ninja Warrior.

It’s one of the most grueling obstacle courses imaginable but athletes flock to compete and viewers crowd around their TVs to take it in. The general set up of the show sees competitors run through a course in qualifying cities. Those who make it through move on to the city finals. Anyone who gets through this course (the qualifying and final courses are the same) is given the opportunity to move on to Mount Midoriyama. This takes place in Las Vegas and is the final step before ultimate victory can be claimed.

There are four stages competitors need to make it through before they can claim the title and the $1,000,000 grand prize. This is definitely edge of your seat TV. Almost all of the competitors have heart felt back stories. We as viewers can’t help but cheer them on and hope that against all odds, they make it to the next level.

Have you ever wondered what goes into designing the obstacle courses? Or where the show even came from? Well here are some interesting facts about the show that you may not have known about. From its origins to how to become a competitor to how the show tests the obstacles before filming starts. Prepare to be amazed!

15 It’s Based On A Japanese TV Show


Sasuke, which is filmed in Japan, has a similar premise. Competitors sign up to take part in a grueling four-stage obstacle course. Unlike American Ninja Warrior which airs weekly for an hour, Sasuke airs three-hour long TV specials two times a year. Each TV special shows competitors maneuvering their way through all of the obstacles until one victor emerges. On the day of the competition, the show runs late into the day, basically until the competition is complete. It doesn’t even matter if the weather changes, cameras keep rolling. All of the action is then edited and condensed into a three-hour special. Much like American Ninja Warrior, the course (all four stages that is) has only been completed five times in 32 seasons (that’s eight years in total). It goes to show just how difficult the course it. The majority of the competitors on this show are at the top of their athletic peek.

14 There Aren’t Drug Tests


Considering the amount of physical strength and exertion needed to compete on this show, it’s somewhat surprising that they don’t test for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Keep in mind, American Ninja Warrior is technically a game show (folks are competing for $1,000,000) and therefore it isn’t the same as an athletic competition. Regardless, there’s absolutely nothing stopping someone from resorting to enhancement drugs. The level of competition amongst those who try to make it to the end is no doubt intense. To be fair, competitors train extremely hard in order to compete. Because they’re typically Average Joes who have day jobs as well as athletic interests (ex. rock climbing, stunt person), they may not be able to even afford the high cost of drugs. This barrier alone might be enough to curb drug use. No one knows if any competitors have ever done this but let’s hope that in the spirit of fairness everyone is competing on an even playing field. That’s possible, right?

13 Winning Is Rare


This fact is a testament to how difficult the course is. Despite months (or even years in some cases) of training, some of the best athletes are unable to make it through to the end. Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten are the only two people to ever successfully complete all stages of the final challenge. Once the best of friends, they’re no longer on speaking terms. Why, you ask? Britten was officially the first person to ever conquer Mt. Midoriyama. Caldiero conquered this stage of the competition after Britten but did so three seconds faster. At the time, there could only be one winner (based on the fastest time) so Caldiero took the title and the prize money. Fans agreed that Britten had at least earned the title of American Ninja Warrior but the network, NBC, and Caldiero disagreed. Talk about bad blood. We all know that athletes are super competitive but this “beef” took it to a new level. American Ninja Warrior has since changed its rules. If more than one competitor makes it to the end, they now have to split the prize money.

12 Akbarr Gbaja-Biamila Played In The NFL


Akbarr Gbaja-Biamila signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2003. He played well for two seasons but was released after a series of injuries. It must have been devastating because he didn’t play for any team in 2005. He got back in the saddle after this and played for the San Diego Chargers in 2006 and the Miami Dolphins in 2007. He eventually re-signed with the Raiders and was able to eventually retire as a Raider in 2008. Like many athletes before him, he moved into sports broadcasting (did you know that there’s a Broadcast Boot Camp for retired players?) before finally making it to American Ninja Warrior in 2014.

Coincidentally, his older brother is Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. He also played in the NFL and did so for eight seasons. He spent his entire career with the Green Bay Packers and was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2013.

11 The Oldest Person To Compete Was 72


In order to even be considered for the show, competitors have to be at least 21 years of age. There isn’t an upper limit on age so as long as a competitor is fit and healthy (and meets all of the other requirements), they can compete. Chuck Mammay, competed in 2015 and became the oldest competitor ever. His daily workout routine would put the majority of people to shame. He’s up by 5 am every morning and works out for several hours afterwards. His list of activities (ex. trip to the gym, hiking, kayaking and biking) is exhausting. He’s extremely active and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. He went out of his way to get cast (he went to an American Ninja Warrior event to meet producers) for the show to highlight that you can be fit and active no matter how old you are. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it past the first round of obstacles during the qualifying round. Despite this, he was a fan favorite.

When it comes to finishing the course, Jon Stewart who’s 52, is the oldest person to ever finish the finals course.

10 There’s A Spin-Off Show


Team Ninja Warrior launched in 2015. It pits teams of fan favorites (as well as newcomers) against each other. Teams consist of three competitors (two men and one woman) with 24 competitors in total. Unlike previous competitions, team members compete at the same time. This means each member runs the course alongside another competitor. The two teams with the fastest times move on to the next round. Despite a change to their formula, the hosts from American Ninja Warrior are also part of this spinoff. They make an excellent combination so why mess with a good thing, right? A new version of this format will be hitting the airwaves soon. College students can now sign up to compete against rival schools. We all know how competitive colleges can be so the fact that have another way to compete (other than basketball or football) is exciting.

Overall, this spinoff has been incredibly successful. This is likely due in part to the popularity of American Ninja Warrior. Stay tuned for season two!

9 Becoming A Competitor Isn’t Easy


The “audition” process starts with interested applicants completing a really long questionnaire online. Once complete, producers decide who they want to move forward with. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be given the chance to submit an audition video. Be sure to make it a good one! In the past, competitors have submitted videos that show them scaling walls, basically showcasing their athletic abilities. It also doesn’t hurt to have an exciting backstory. If you’re interested, make your video fun, put on a costume and show off who you are. After all, you’re basically auditioning for one of the most popular shows on TV right now so make it memorable.

Before you get ahead of yourself and start dreaming of cheering crowds and legions of adoring fans, you have to be a resident of the United States, in good physical shape and at least 21 years old. 100 people are chosen to compete in regional qualifying rounds, those who complete the obstacle course move on to the next level. If you want to skip all of this then you can try to get on the show as a walk-on competitor. Simply turn up early at one of the regional cities (these change every year) and cross your fingers you’re selected to compete.

8 The Grand Prize Is Where It’s At


It’s only happened twice in American Ninja Warrior history, but any one who makes it to the finals and conquers Mt. Midoriyama receives $1,000,000. In the wake of recent controversy that saw two competitors complete the entire obstacle but only one person receive payment, the show has decided to split the winnings going forward. It must have stung Geoff Britten to work so hard to get to the end and walk away empty handed. Fans who were appalled by this probably had a hand in forcing American Ninja Warrior to change their payment rules. They know that they have to keep their viewers happy and more competitors coming in. In addition to this change, competitors who place first, second, or third at any of the regional finals will receive between $1,000 - $5,000. Not bad considering how much time, effort and money goes into training. American Ninja Warrior is technically a game show for extreme athletes but there isn’t base pay like there is for some shows.

7 Canada Might Get In On The Action


The concept of Canadian Ninja Warrior was launched in Canada in early 2016. While registration for competitors is now closed, not much has been said about which network is involved or when filming will officially begin. It remains to be seen just how successful this version will be. Despite the lingering questions, the general premise is going to be very similar to American Ninja Warrior’s. Competitors who think they have what it takes may eventually be able head to one of five qualifying cities to accept the challenge. The National Finals will possibly take place in Toronto with the first Canadian Ninja Warrior walking away with $100,000. The top 200 people in the qualifying cities will have a chance to move on to the semi-finals. The top 30 competitors in each city will move on to Toronto. Unlike American Ninja Warrior, the minimum age to submit an application is 18. We’ll see where this goes.

6 First Woman Qualified For Finals In 2014


Although the show has been around since 2009, it wasn’t until recently that a woman took center stage in a big way. In 2014, Kacy Catanzaro became the first woman to complete regional finals. She was able to do this by making it up the very intimidating warped wall. This opened the door for her in a major way. She’s appeared in a commercial for Fairfield Inns where she uses her Ninja skills to get to the front desk.

You might be surprised to know that she’s only 5 feet tall and weighs about 95 pounds. Very small compared to her male counterparts. The fact that many of the obstacles are designed for competitors of a certain height, her achievement is all the more incredible. After 2014 there was understandably a lot of attention and pressure put on her. In the years that followed she’s made it through to National competition in Las Vegas as a wildcard but she hasn’t been able to make it past the first stage of competition there.

5 One Of The Hosts Was A Comedian


Before taking on hosting duties in 2010, Matt Iseman was a stand-up comedian. He eventually moved into performing comedy professionally, performing in places such as Afghanistan and South Korea. He’s even appeared on the sketch comedy show MADtv. His prime time experience doesn’t stop there. He’s also appeared on TV shows such as NCIS and General Hospital. American Ninja Warrior isn’t his first time on live action TV. He appeared on the eighth season of The Celebrity Apprentice. Here’s an interesting side note: he had aspired to become a doctor but decided comedy was more interesting. He hasn’t completely left his medical roots behind though, as a comedian he often worked this experience into his acts. As a host he’s clearly a funny guy. His career in comedy has definitely served him well, often working in humorous commentary and observations when he can.

4 They Hire People To Test The Course


It’s one thing to design the various obstacles that trip up even the most athletic person but the course has to be “doable,” it can’t be impossible to complete. Designers, viewers and competitors alike probably ask, “Is it safe?” or “Can competitors actually make it to the end?”

To answer these questions, the show hires folks to test the course for them. It makes you wonder what happens if the course is indeed too dangerous. Side note: If you don’t make it onto the show as a competitor and you don’t mind risking life and limb, this just might be the job for you. While you won’t be on TV, this could be your chance to try running the famous course.

Before you start searching for a city near you, keep in mind that this is a volunteer gig. Most course testers from the past seem to love the thrill and the chance to run through the course. With that being said, proceed at your own risk.

3 Celebrities Are Hooked


If you’re a fan of the TV show Arrow, you may be interested to know that Stephan Amell is interested in competing on American Ninja Warrior in 2017. He recently sent out a tweet letting the show know he’s interested and they accepted (well…based on host Matt Iseman’s response there may be some interest there). The show hasn’t actually confirmed yet but fingers crossed this goes somewhere. It would be great to see him put his athletic skills to the test. Of course his contract on the show may have rules regarding taking part in activities that could lead to injury but it’s still worth thinking of the possibilities. You may remember that he took part in a professional wresting match (he teamed up with Neville) against Stardust and King Barrett in 2015. He got the green light for that so a stint on American Ninja Warrior might be next. Arrow is already a hit TV show so just imagine what the additional exposure could do for it.

2 A Stuntwoman Has Competed


Speaking of superheroes, another female competitor recently made history. Not only was Jessie Graff the first woman to ever complete stage one of the finals in Las Vegas, but she’s also a stuntwoman on the hit TV show Supergirl. She’s also appeared in a few movies, most notably Iron Man 2, Knight and Day and Bridesmaids. An athlete to the core, she studies Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, among other forms of martial arts. She’s even competed competitively in gymnastics and as a pole vaulter. As a competitor she appeared on the comical obstacle show Wipeout before moving on to American Ninja Warrior. She made her first appearance on the show in 2013 but it wasn’t until 2016 that she made history. After making it past the first stage, she was in fifth place. Very impressive considering she was in a pool of 90 people. Stage two proved to be too tough and she was eliminated.

1 A T-Rex Competed Once


Some avid viewers may remember this but for those of you occasional viewers, this was an impressive feat to watch. A competitor, dressed up as a dinosaur, managed to make it to the fourth obstacle in the Atlanta qualifying round. His short arms were his downfall on the “spin cycle” obstacle since it required tremendous upper body strength. Despite being disqualified after falling into the water, T-Rex made an attempt at the infamous warped wall. Surprising everyone, he made it up on his first attempt! So who was the man behind the “mask”? It was Reko Rivera who had competed on the show (as himself) in the past. This attempt showed the fun side of the show (competitors often dress up but never in something so extreme). Even the commentators got into it and added to the fun. Akbar Gbaja-Biamila even made reference to how much T-Rex weighs (five tonnes for you curious folks) and how that could hinder his progress through the course.


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15 Surprising Facts You Didn't Know About "American Ninja Warrior"