How to Beat the ‘American Ninja Warrior’ Obstacle Course
NBC received 7,000 submissions from people across the U.S. hoping to run the new "American Ninja Warrior" obstacle course. That's a tenfold increase from last season.
While the excitement comes from watching people succeed or fail, the obstacle course must walk a fine line between difficult and impossible.
"We would never put something so challenging that it could eliminate everybody," said Kristen Stabile, the executive in charge of production on the show, adding, "but there can only be one winner."
To achieve that goal, Stabile employs a variety of people, from professional stuntmen to "regular Joes", who run the obstacles both in a warehouse in an undisclosed location in Los Angeles prior to each of the five city-specific courses. They are also tasked to work with the build team, all of whom are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, as they know the exact specifications of each of the twenty eight obstacles.
A $500,000 grand prize is on the table for the winner of "American Ninja Warrior," but what's the key to success?
"The course is essentially balance, balance, arm grip to balance then arms before we do the warped wall and back to arms," said Stabile.
The "balance" obstacles, like the quadruple step, which requires contestants to jump from between five slanted steps of varying inclines, demand that participants be shifting their weight around constantly.
"The type of athletes that do very well are mountain climbers, gymnasts and guys who do parkour," said Stabile. "You've got to have low body weight and core strength," she added.
Although competitors must use their legs throughout the course, a majority of obstacles require them to propel themselves forward predominantly by using their arms.
Each of the four cities, Venice, CA., Baltimore, MD., Miami, FL. and Denver, CO., have six unique obstacles in addition to the quadruple step, the 12 foot high warped wall, the spider climb, where contestants must shimmy up between two pieces of plexiglass, and the salmon ladder, where competitors must throw a bar up the steps of several rungs of a ladder (made famous by Stephen Amell in the CW Network's television show "Arrow.")
"Each city has its own identity and we tried to find obstacles to compliment that," said Stabile.
They also chose to shoot completely at night this season, which meant modifying the city's landscape. Stabile said her crew switched out the Denver City Building's LED lights to match the show's color scheme, asked one of the hotels in Miami to leave its lights on throughout the night and added lights to the palm trees in Venice.
"Obstacles are obstacles and we've got to keep it interesting," she added.
It takes 10 semis and a staff of 130 to cart the course from city to city, 20 guys to light the course and 19 cameras to shoot it.
The finale, which is set in Las Vegas, requires 842 programmable LED lights and 1,440 square feet of programmable LED panels. The obstacle course is roughly the size of a football field with end zones, and this year it required trenching, or digging into the ground to create pools of water deep enough to absorb any impact.
The second season of "American Ninja Warrior" will air on NBC Monday. G4, recently rebranded the Esquire Network, premiered the show in America five seasons ago and will continue to run original episodes in conjunction with NBC. The show is a spinoff of the Tokyo Broadcast System series "Sasuke," and still culls its obstacles from that show.
"We're setting this season up to be more Olympic," said Arthur Smith, CEO of A. Smith & Co. Productions, which produces the show for both networks. "Everything is bigger, brighter and marketed to a broader audience."
Last season, the NBC finale of "American Ninja Warrior" scored 4.9 million viewers.