If you've already been a fan of G4's popular competition series "American Ninja Warrior," you'll be happy to know that the fourth season of the competition series is bigger than ever not only in scope but also by the fact that it will be airing on both G4 and NBC beginning this weekend. A spin-off of the Japanese sports entertainment series "Sasuke," "American Ninja Warrior" kicks off this new season with 100 competitors pulled from six regional tryouts in three host cities across the country who try to run the world's toughest obstacle course and, if completed, walk away with $500,000.
During NBC's recent summer press day, our Jim Halterman sat down with hosts Matt Iseman and Olympic Gold Medalist (for freestyle skiing) Jonny Moseley to talk about the new largeness of the show, what they saw in terms of competitors across the country and, for stand-up comedian Iseman, which is tougher - telling jokes or running the "American Ninja Warrior" course?
Jim Halterman: The show is airing on both G4 and NBC for the first time. Compared to past seasons, is the show itself different?
Matt Iseman: No. The show has an exponentially increasing scope. Last year was 10 episodes, and we only had 10 Americans running in the final. This year it's 26 episodes, 16 on G4, 10 on NBC. We're having hundreds of Americans run through six different regional qualifiers. We only did one in Venice last year, this time we're doing Miami, Dallas, LA, two in each, and we're going to have 100 Americans running on the final course. It's huge.
JH: Were you guys in all the different cities, when you go in?
Jonny Moseley: Yeah. We've seen every run.
JH: Do you see different types of guys depending on the part of the country, or does it all kind of seem the same to you?
JM: You know what I noticed was rock climbing was very big in the Northwest...
MI: That's right. We had a lot of semi-pro sponsored rock climbers coming out of the Northwest but, yeah, in the Southwest we saw more football players, a lot of football players. You know what we saw a lot of in the Southeast? A lot of track and field, pole-vaulters, high jumpers, those types of people. So, you can kind of track which sports people did in high school, and which ones were popular in high school and you can sort of see which ones come out. And in Dallas we saw a lot of track and field, a lot of football, as you would expect.
JH: Now, you said during the panel that there was a pastor, a fisherman, a shoe salesman... so is this a mix of professional athletes and maybe the every day guy who's very fit?
JM: There are very few professional athletes. The reality is that most of these people are everyday people. People who are your doctor, your lawyer, the stockbroker, the guy who is working at the supermarket, a student, because there isn't money involved. There's a half a million-dollar prize but no one has claimed it and if you look at the statistics, mathematically speaking, no one is likely to. They're not doing it for the money. This is not a profession for them but it becomes an obsession.
MI: There's a source of pride there too. I feel like, for the guys who are really into it, they all have day jobs, some of them are really bright guys and they're out there spending all their free time dragging their family around to compete in these ninja warrior competitions and I feel like it's because they've been beat by the course. You know, the guys who have been to Japan before, the guys who have faltered here and there, they're fighting against their own demons. I think that's what makes it exciting, I feel that's what connects it to the Olympics and makes it seem intriguing to me, is that these guys are obsessed with trying to get to the next level and frankly be the first American. There's a good question somebody asked me, 'why is it that these Japanese guys can finish but not the Americans.' That's a tough one to answer. What is it in the mainframe? Is it experience? Is it just that they've had enough time on the course? I don't know, but it's an interesting dynamic.
JH: How much mental strength goes into it as well as physical strength? What's the balance there?
MI: It's huge. It would be hard to quantify but I think we've seen some phenomenal athletes, some of the best competitors go out on the first obstacle, one they've done a thousand times in practice and you realize that you can't have a mental lapse in this course; it's so unforgiving. So it's kind of a controlled chaos. You can't be obsessed about it in your head but you still need to be aware of every step, that something can go wrong. So, there really is a strong cerebral component to it, and the thing that Jonny can really talk to is, this is the moment. You get one shot. So you have to rise, the lights are at their brightest, the stakes are at their highest. So, you have to be able to handle that pressure. That's without the training, because they don't know what they're getting into and there's no training for it.
JM: That's the tough part. They don't really know how to train for it. There's no formula. I used to say that about the Olympics too. There's been no American champion, so who do you call to say, 'How do you do this?' There's no one to call. There's no way. So they're all just guessing on what to do and that's what makes it hard.
MI: We have a competitor who was running because his sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer and he wanted to honor her and show her support. We've had people run to try to get healthy. We had a kid who left school to go support his family and this was his only relief. It's these amazing stories that I think connect you to them and the other thing is, my fan boy thing that I keep talking about is, I remember in '98, watching Jonny's Olympic gold medal run. I remember sitting at home and the elation on his face when the stars aligned for the perfect run, and he knew, and it crossed in the joy in his face and for us it's so great to see somebody get to that finish line and to do something they thought maybe they could never do. That's what competition is about and this show gives the everyday person the chance to experience that.
JH: Jonny, do we get to see you on the course? Is that part of the show?
JM: You know, I did so many obstacles, I don't know, they did shoot some of it, I don't know if it will make the show or not, but...
MI: My wipe out certainly will be. I looked like Shamu breaching. It was ugly.
JM: We've been banned from the course mainly because of Matt's wipe out. They thought there was going to be serious spinal injuries so that was it. They were like, "You're done."
JH: How surprised have you been at what you're seeing from the contestants?
JM: We're always surprised at results, good and bad. I will say without naming names, one of the most storied competitors in the history of our contest went out three seconds in. Three seconds in, he went out. And then we had some people who came to the starting line and you know, you're kind of wondering like, this...what are you doing? C'mon, just end it already.
MI: Yeah. They get costumes on.
JM: And they make it through, and they make it all the way...
JH: And the final course in Vegas sounds insane.
JM: Three football fields, it's massive.
JH: Matt, I know you have a stand up background. Which is tougher? The course or doing stand up?
MI: Oh, my gosh. Listen, I've bombed many times in stand up and I didn't get wet and nearly kill myself. So, this course is the most difficult physical thing I've ever seen, or personally, I've ever undertaken. It's a beast! And that's why I love being up in the tower talking about it. I just get to watch these amazing athletes do their thing.
"American Ninja Warrior" airs Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on G4 and Mondays at 9:00/8:00c beginning this weekend.