Written by Charles Moreland
Approx. read time = 16-20 minutes

Oh boy! It’s that time of the year again! The time of the year when some of America’s ninja-like people and ninja wannabes will be presented to America for their viewing pleasure the way it was always intended: under bright flashy lights, commentated by witty, comedic TV personalities, regular people and athletes alike bouncing along on top of soft, squishy, and brightly colored obstacles, and every failure is noted with a loud SPLASH! It’s American Ninja Warrior season!!!

I have a love/hate relationship with American Ninja Warrior.

Let me start off by saying that I genuinely love watching ANW. Everyone has a different reason why they may like it. Perhaps its because they love watching average Joes getting a spotlight for once in their life. Or perhaps it’s because unlike a sports game which is aired live, ANW breeches the gap between live action sports and YouTube – NBC edits hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of footage together to make an action-packed TV show from start to finish. Maybe you’re like me, someone who knows that this is a Reality TV show and find some of the fabricated drama they present to be equal parts heart-breaking, hilarious, or down-right frustrating – the emotion matters regardless of what it is. This process has become so ridiculous in the last couple seasons that SNL has even made an entire sketch out of it!

On the other hand, maybe you’re also like me and know what a tic-tac, cat-to-cat, kong-pre, or wall pass is and get frustrated that Matt and Akbar sometimes choose to make-up their own names for techniques while commentating instead of doing research and knowing that most of these techniques already have names that stem from either the Parkour or Climbing disciplines (I’ll be fair, though, they’re getting better!).  And yet, while I can appreciate American Ninja Warrior as an entertaining show, as someone whose livelihood is in parkour/movement based fitness, I hate what NBC has done to the Sasuke/Ninja Warrior franchise.

The worst hit victims of this fake-sport are kids – the ones who do not, or cannot, process the separation behind what constitutes a sport like football and a reality tv show with fabricated drama, like ANW. It’s an ongoing inner battle I have as an instructor of kids and youth on an almost weekly basis as my kids watch me (and many other gym members who do not get featured on ANW) scale our 14’6″ warped wall 8 times within a minute, lache (swing from one bar to another) 10′ gaps, balance on bars 8ft off the ground, and teach the kids how they can begin their journey to do the same. What am I, as their instructor, supposed to say to them when they ask me why I haven’t been on the show or why I’ve chosen to stop submitting applications to NBC to be on the show? Why has it become my responsibility to choose between letting them down as their role model or ruining their delusion that ANW is a sport that operates just like any other sport? (Hint: it’s not).

Let it be clear, a contestant’s physical fitness or movement aptitude is not a golden ticket to get featured on the show. In America, prospective contestants must submit a casting call to a casting agency that NBC has chosen. While I’m sure physical abilities are taken somewhat into account, most of the casting call is filled with questions that delve into your personality. Questions like: “What is the hardest emotional thing you’ve ever had to overcome?” These questions, which have nothing to do with your ninja like abilities, become the micro-dramas that NBC will edit into the final cut of the show that grabs the audience’s attention and, more importantly, their heart strings.

The show is a Reality Television series first and foremost and NBC has done an incredible job boosting it and making it the hit show it has become. We live in a sad reality (pun intended) where reality tv remains one of the top money makers for television studios. Sasuke (the original Japanese show that American Ninja Warrior is based on) has done an incredible job in its 30+ competitions at staying entertaining while also continuing to showcase their competitor’s physical fitness and skill. While I couldn’t find much on the audition process of Sasuke, I was able to discern that they have in-person auditions which includes a physical fitness screen. However, despite how well the Japanese show has done, Google Trends shows just how effective Reality TV actually is: