The Calm Before the Storm

Just a few short days before launch of American Ninja Warrior 4 this Sunday night on G4, followed the next night by its network debut on NBC, I find myself in a reflective mood about the state and fate of this quirky crazy fun obstacle course competition as it perhaps stands on the precipice of mainstream awareness.  This season represents the moment when American Ninja Warrior gets called up to the major leagues of network NBC as a prime-time summer series from its previous minor league status as a cult favorite the past three seasons on the niche G4 network otherwise notable only for its video-gaming and Cops-rerun-watching audience.

Like a lot of competitors who have been longtime fanatics of Ninja Warrior in Japan, I feel a sort of possessiveness about this competition and some sense of ownership of it.  Whether there is any merit to it or not, I perhaps feel more ownership than most because I envisioned this very moment, this very threshold, of when American Ninja Warrior might be embraced by the mainstream American public and become a cult phenomena, driving kids and adults alike to jump, climb and swing around on any obstacle they could find.  I envisioned this even before American Ninja Warrior was created, rushing out to buy the domain name for $10 from GoDaddy in a moment of inspiration 5 years ago when I was SURE it would one day be a hit here in America, thinking “how could it not?” because it was so transparently awesome to me.  And I wasn’t buying the domain name for financial speculation, I was buying it because as a middle-aged guy I wanted a platform to voice my passion to compete that would hopefully translate into a ticket onto the course so I could measure myself against those unforgivable obstacles I grew to love sitting on my couch.

Now with American Ninja Warrior three seasons into its existence with a growing fan and competitor base it’s poised to take a quantum leap into the mainstream awareness with its extensive coverage on both NBC and G4 this summer, and I find myself wrestling with a mix of excitement and concern.  This was the moment I foresaw 5 years ago, so you would think I would be gratified by its arrival, but I fear that this is also the moment where it might cease to be the private obsession of mine and my small cadre of ninja brethren, and we irrevocably lose our ownership of it to network producers and the teeming masses.

While I am sentimental (clearly), I am also a realist.  If ratings disappoint, NBC will not hesitate to kill American Ninja Warrior in the cradle, and I might not ever get to run again or see my beloved ninja brothers again.  If it is a success, which I believe it will be, NBC will wrest control of it away from us and whip it to whatever frenzied success it can create, leaving we early competitors behind in its wake.  And make no mistake about it, we competitors (with the exception of a small group) are largely just rats in the maze to the producers and are totally replaceable and interchangeable.  Maybe that is the root of my anxiety, my fear that if American Ninja Warrior blows up in popularity and becomes a big mainstream success there were be a tidal wave of applicants battling to compete and myself and my early ninja buddies will no longer be invited to play, kicked out of the party right when it really starts to get roaring.  Yes, that is the root of my fear, and the thought of it makes me sad.

But all weepiness aside, I’m still proud of American Ninja Warrior and proud to be a three-time competitor in this awesome competition, and proud to be called friend by the amazing people who I have met that share my passion in this crazy quirky fun obstacle course that maybe, just maybe, America is about to fall in love with as well.

The very first moment I ever stepped onto the American Ninja Warrior course. Quad Steps in ANW2 in Venice Beach, 2010.

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  • Housegabel

    I understand your concern, but you can’t stop change, and change brings growth.  While the potential for failure  and death of the series is at stake, or the potential for it being whipped into a trash talking series does exist it also means we may get a twice a year competition.  We may see it grow into a 175 pre-approved group per region.  We may see the growth of an all new type of gym like Iron Sports Gym in Houston and Tempest Academies across the US.  The chance for destruction is there and the chance for Awesomeness is there.  I can only hope to help guide it with my continued presence as a competitor.  But until I own it, I can’t control it.

  • Anonymous

    Wise words, thanks for your thoughts.  It would be pretty awesome to watch people ninja-ing around on playgrounds and see the rise of more specialty gyms like Tempest and Apex that we all get to play at!

  • Christian Chris O Okruhlik

    Great write up brother! Really hits close to home for us competitors!!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks you my fellow ninja, I appreciate that!