Series: American Ninja Warrior

American Ninja Warrior is a reality show inspired by the bi-annual competition in Japan, Sasuke/Ninja Warrior. In fact, for the first three seasons, the prize for the show was being a member of the 10 American athletes who were flown to Japan to compete among the Ninja Warrior All-Stars. The sole survivor of G4TV, it currently airs on NBC.

The show had its origins as a more straightforward competition prize offered by G4TV, who ran the English-subtitled Ninja Warrior. The opportunity to compete has grown to a large group of hopefuls who got the best time on an obstacle course.

It initially evolved into an elaborate competition after an preliminary elimination round. The contest set up three groups of five to go against each other in various obstacles, usually items inspired by Midoriyama and including a physical strain between obstacles. The team to have the lowest combined time has to send two of their members to compete against each other to determine who goes home. Unique to reality shows, and certainly in the spirit of Ninja Warrior, is that despite the spirit of competition all of the people involved rooted for each other and looked to build the strongest team to show off in Japan.

In 2012, the format of ANW changed. There are no longer bootcamps, just tryouts. Tryouts were held in regional competitions, first in qualifiers, then in City Finals. The top 15 from each region was guaranteed a spot in Mt. Midoriyama in Las Vegas, with the rest of the spots filled by Wildcards. The top prize is currently $1,000,000 (a sum that has doubled each season from the initial $250,000). The ANW Finals runs exactly the same way as the Sasuke version, with 100 finalists competing across four stages.

In January 2014, NBC aired a 2-hour special called "USA vs. Japan". Instead of a straight Ninja Warrior run, this takes elements from the earlier seasons of ANW. Both teams compete against each other in 1-on-1 races. All of the warriors get to run the stages, even if they wouldn't have been able to in normal competitions. However, the winner of each Stage was determined on a best 3-of-5 in 1 vs. 1 matches. The winner of the Stage got the equivalent number of points as the Stage number. So Stage 1 was worth 1 point, Stage 2 worth 2 and Stage 3 worth 3. Stage 4 served as the tiebreaker if both teams had 3 points at the end of Stage 3, and it is truly 1 vs 1. The winner of each match was determined in one of three ways:
  1. Whoever cleared the Stage the fastest.
  2. Whoever cleared more obstacles if neither cleared the Stage.
  3. If both competitors fell on the exact same obstacle, whoever reached that obstacle faster.
In that special, Team USA completely wiped out Team Japan 6-0.

On September 15, 2014, NBC hosted the very first "USA vs. The World", which included Team Europe. The scoring is slightly different. Instead of best 3-of-5, a victory in each of the heats scored them points equal to the stage number. There were three heats per round. In that special, Team Japan again finished without any points, and Team Europe eked out a win over Team USA by 0.31 seconds in the tiebreaker.

As of September 14, 2015, the show has had it's first ever winner crowned in Isaac Caldiero, the first competitor to complete stage 3 and the second to complete stage four, beating out his competition Geoff Brittin's time by 3.86 seconds.

It can be expected that a lot of tropes applying to Ninja Warrior can be applied here.

American Ninja Warrior provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Levi Meeuwenburg until season 4. He was the first competitor and had been to the actual course more than anyone. No one doubted that he would make it and was generally a fan favorite both here and in Japan.
    • Joe Moravsky in Season 5. He made it to stage 3 of Mount Midoriyama, a very impressive feat for even ninjas with years of experience, and it was his first year. Even more impressive is that he is a weatherman, not exactly someone you'd expect to be that good.
    • Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Brittin absolutely qualified when they became the first men to complete the entire course, with Caldiero edging out Brittin's time in stage four to become the first American Ninja Warrior.
  • Action Girl: Kacy Catanzaro, the only woman to ever clear a Regional Final.
  • Almighty Janitor: Isaac Caldiero, the first winner of the competition, works as a bus boy, a fact that was mentioned by the commentators several times during his run on Stage 3.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: The Wolf Pack can be seen as the American antecedent to the Black Tigers of Sasuke.
  • Badass Grandpa: Jon Stewart (no, not THAT one) in season 6 DESERVES to be here. He finally conquered the Warped wall. Upon the Arm Rings, he could not traverse across normally, so he took a risk and swung from one of the rings AND succeeded. To top it off, he became the first person over 50 to complete the City Finals course.
  • Bald of Awesome: 2014 saw the debut of Kevin Bull, who has alopecia. He set one of the fastest times in Venice qualifying, then in the finals became the first of only four contestants to conquer the Cannonball Alley obstacle (using his feet!), as well as one of only two to actually complete the course (the other being veteran David Campbell, who is also bald).
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Levi Meeuwenberg, one of the top competitors in the early years of American Ninja Warrior, no-showed Season 3 to do stunt work, showed up in Season 4 only to be eliminated by the first obstacle, and then retired to Michigan to become a farmer and was never mentioned again.
    • It could be said that much of ANW's early history has been retconned out of series canon. None of the 10 competitors who qualified for Japan in Season 1 are still competing today, and the few that competed in the later seasons were barely mentioned.
    • Speaking of the Season 1 qualifiers, Travis Furlanic was one of 100 to qualify for the Las Vegas finals in Season 4, but a background check revealed that he had a DUI on his record, which disqualified him from the tournament. His absence was never explained and he has never returned to the show.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: Many competitors will scream in triumph after hitting a buzzer, from the top of the Warped Wall, the tower of a city finals course, above the cargo net of Stage 1, etc.
  • Crack Defeat: Using your hands in a feet-only obstacle is an automatic disqualification, even if the competitor doesn't notice it at first. Happened with Jesse La Flair on Slack Ladder as he was about to finish the obstacle and Idoko Abuh when he touched the Dancing Stones as he was trying to clear it.
  • Cultural Translation: Despite the reality-show competition the only difference between the shows is that American Ninja Warrior has, well, American competitors. And the whole competition is more strength based than the Japanese version.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: In the 2014 special "USA vs. Japan", the Japanese all wiped out, with the final result 6-0 USA.
  • Darkhorse Victory: The "USA vs. the World" special had one.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: Stage 3 remained unconquered for seven years before finally being successfully completed by not one, but two competitors in September of 2015, with first Isaac Caldiero and then Geoff Brittin finished to advance to stage four. Both men would proceed to complete the final stage, with Caldiero edging out Brittin's time by just shy of four seconds, becoming the first ever American Ninja Warrior.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Mount Midoriyama", the name given to the Japanese course and later the Las Vegas national finals course, translates to "Mount Green Mountain".
  • Dramatic Unmask: David "Flip" Rodriguez, a competitor who wears a half-mask while competing on ANW and freerunning, during the Season 7 qualifiers. It worked, as he cleared the qualifying course, although perhaps subverted by the fact that he is for all intents and purposes a regular guy under the mask.
  • Down to the Last Play: In "USA vs. the World", Team USA and Team Europe competed in the tie-breaking stage 4. Sean McColl, of Team Europe, eked out a victory against American Travis Rosen by a very slim 0.31 seconds.
  • Ensemble Cast: Since there are so many competitors, no one competitor is really considered The Ace anymore. Generally, 1 to 2 competitors in each region get the most hype, but there are still many competitors who put on great runs and gain the respect and adulation of the fans, particularly walk-on contestants.
    • Possibly averted by Kacy Catanzaro in Season 6.
  • Filler: Some profiles. One particular example of filler was a two minute-long profile for someone who went out in three seconds.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Has been known to occur on several occasions, although most often the affected runs are re-taped and never mentioned on television.
  • Golden Snitch: Averted in the international team competitions. The round structure is 1-2-3-Tiebreaker.
  • Harder Than Hard: Despite nearly 1,000 people trying every year, it would be seven years before anyone complete the entire course, when Geoff Brittin and Isaac Caldiero finally climbed the mountain. You'd have to be as strong as a rock climber just to clear Stage One.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: One participant in 2014 said he honed his skills playing Dance Dance Revolution. Subverted when he went out on the second obstacle of the qualifier.
  • Last Of Its Kind: The only remaining program of G4TV still in production.
  • Le Parkour: Practiced by numerous competitors, not surprisingly.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Isaac Caldiero, the first American Ninja Warrior. In his debut, two years before he became the first man to win the compitition, he actually showed up dressed as Jesus.
  • Marathon Boss: The Third Stage, an untimed stage made up solely of upper body obstacles, has been known to take upwards of 10 minutes to attempt, compared to the relatively quick nature of the other stages. It's never been beaten on American Ninja Warrior, and only one competitor in six years got to the last obstacle. However, it was defeated four times in USA vs. The World in Season 6, although those competitors didn't necessarily have to clear or even attempt the First or Second Stages to get there.
    • Perhaps with the longer city finals courses in recent years; most competitors take upwards of 5 minutes and some take nearly 10 minutes to complete all 10 obstacles.
    • In September 2015 stage 3 was finally conquered by Isaac Caldiero, who managed to beat the stage on the regular show, and he managed it in less than four minutes.
  • McNinja: All the competitors, especially when their real-world occupations or gimmicks are emphasized, such as "Cowboy Ninja" Lance Pekus, or "Ninja Weatherman" Joe Moravsky.
  • Naked People Are Funny: When one competitor, Nate Mitchell is up, a streaker who goes by the name, Johnny Rocket goes onto the course, and does surprisingly well making it to the ramp. The commentary between Matt and Akbar is hilarious with Matt laughing and cracking jokes and Akbar being disgusted and wanting the guy off the course. Naturally, security grabbed him and took him off the course before he could finish.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: During "USA vs. The World" one competitor ran straight up the Warped Wall from the transition off of the Halfpipe Attack, effectively extending his running space by several feet. When the Halfpipe Attack was replaced by Sonic Road in Season 7, the transition was redesigned to prevent this.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Kacy Cataznaro, who was 5'1" and weighed only 100 lbs. While she had one of the slowest clear times on the Regional Final, the fact that she cleared it is impressive.
    • Jon Horton, who is also 5'1", became the smallest man to scale the Warped Wall.
  • Platform Hell: Rare real-life example.
  • Recurring Element: The Quintuple Steps (previously the Quad Steps) and Warped Wall have been in every city qualifying course (although they are modified for Vegas: The steps are smaller and there is only half the run-up length for the Warped Wall), and the Salmon Ladder has been in every city finals course since Season 2.
    • Otherwise, this has been averted over the years, as many obstacles change over time. In Season 4 (the first season with multiple qualifying courses), only a few obstacles on each course were changed, compared to Season 7, where only the above three obstacles and the Invisible Ladder were constant on each course.
  • Sequel Series: Evolved from American Ninja Challenge, a segment on G4's Attack of the Show, in which a few Americans were chosen to go to Japan to compete on SASUKE, the Japanese version (making this a Spiritual Successor as well). Obviously turned Up to Eleven when 10 Americans went to compete in Japan in Season 1 and later 100 went to Las Vegas for the American-specific finals starting in Season 4.
  • Shirtless Scene: Many of the men run the course with bare torsos, giving viewers a lot of delicious eye candy. Some shed their shirts while running.
    • Lampshaded in the season 7 premier, where one of the commentators says "fear not, ladies, we have no shortage of man-candy here tonight!" after one of the more attractive contestants failed the second part of the course.
  • Soft Water: The reason the course is constructed over a pool. Unfortunately, this was subverted in the 2012 season. One contestant fell from an obstacle, hit the water, and ruptured his eardrum.
  • Spin-Off: Jump City: Seattle, a competition between Freerunning teams which featured many ANW alumni. Possibly subverted when several competitors from the former (namely, Drew Drechsel and David "Flip" Rodriguez) became elite competitors on the latter.
  • True Companions: The competitors are extremely good sports, and are supportive of each other when they fall. Heartwarming when they are there for the competitors who take their losses hard.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Many Walk-Ons (competitors that were not selected through scouting and wait in line and hope they make it in) actually do surprisingly well despite trying the course for the first time. Kevin Bull is widely considered a hero for Walk-Ons for his 2014 performance.
  • Wham Episode: Arguably the Venice qualifiers (and subsequently city finals) from Season 7. A particularly devastating obstacle, the Hourglass Drop, caused competitors to fail at never-before-seen rates. Only 7 people cleared the qualifier and only 1 person (who obviously Took a Level in Badass) cleared the city finals course, both record lows. The hourglass took out so many people that several competitors who failed to clear it the second time were still able to move on to Vegas.
    • September 14, 2015. Not one, but two men finish a course that has been unconquered for seven years, with Isaac Caldiero being crowned the first American Ninja Warrior.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Many veterans are given greater focus than the rest, but the "Ninja Couple," Brent Steffenson and Kacy Catanzaro stand out the most, especially after Kacy skyrocketed in popularity for being the first woman to climb the Warped Wall.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Andrew Lowes seemingly cleared the First Stage in Season 5, only to be told after a commercial break by co-host Jenn Brown that the judges ruled that he had ran out of time.
  • You Go Girl: Kacy Catanzaro, and how! She is the first woman to EVER complete a city finals course and qualify for the Las Vegas finals, and the fact that she is just 5 feet tall and 100 pounds takes the trope Up to Eleven.
    • Before that, the first woman to conquer the warped wall.
    • Another woman is Jessie Graff, a stuntwoman who was the first woman to sit on top of a leaderboard, and only one of six people who completed the devastating Hourglass Drop.