Stat of the Week: Fifth obstacle woes

Tyler Golden/NBC

American Ninja Warrior Season 9 is here! We kicked off with an amazing group of athletes taking on some crazy new obstacles and overcoming some of last year's favorites. As always, I recommend watching the episode before reading these pieces because a lot of what I talk about is results-based and I don't want to be the one who spoils the amazing successes and failures for you.

With my first Stat of the Week I wanted to bring up some big multi-season trends. Last season, I noted how the average city qualifying time appeared to be set for a 6th straight year of growth. Luckily I got that one right!


[This is an updated version of the average city qualifier times graph, I used last season which shows a steady increase in city qualifier completion times, will this year continue the trend despite a fast start?]

This year, I saw nothing obvious. As you can see above, the Los Angeles City Qualifier's average completion time was much faster than last season's average completion time (by nearly 46 seconds). However, some individual City Qualifiers last season had similar average completion times. For example Oklahoma City's was 161.85 seconds and Philadelphia's was 169.41 seconds. The number of City Qualifying finishers, 22, again falls close to what we've seen in recent years. There was an average of 17 finishers in city qualifiers last season, and an average of 19.5 in Season 7. So neither of those stand out as extreme stats.

The LA City Qualifier's 5th obstacle was the first fan created obstacle we've seen on the show, and it turned out to be the course's Ninja Killer. When I wrote up my Ninja Killer piece this week I noticed a pretty interesting trend, at least it wasn't a trend that's ever jumped out at me before. The obstacle 5th on City Qualifying courses tend to have the lowest completion percentage of any city qualifying obstacle.

I've defined completion percentage as the number of clears divided by the total number of attempts. The graph below combines all the aired/annotated runs across all 8 seasons, and includes the data from the Season 9 LA city qualifier. The 5th obstacle has the lowest completion percentage at 75.74%, nearly a full 9% below the next lowest completion percentage, which belongs to number 6 or in other words the Warped Wall. For this data I have not included competitors attempts on these obstacles as part of the city finals.


[A graph of the average completion percentage of each obstacle position, the fractions at the bottom of the bars represent the completions/attempts used to calculate the percentages, these numbers are all the aired/annotated attempts of these obstacles, city finals runs are not included.]

I'm sure you could come up with some good rationale to explain this trend. It could be fatigue from completing the previous 4 obstacles. Maybe it is just a coincidence because some of the show's most difficult city qualifying obstacles have been placed in the the 5th slot, Hourglass Drop - Venice Season 7, and Rolling Thunder - Philadelphia Season 8, to name a couple. Or perhaps this is an intentional ploy by the producers, lining up 4 easier obstacles so they can talk about the amazing backstories of their talented contestants, only to really test their might on the 5th obstacle.

Whatever the case may be, the 5th obstacle has had one of the the lowest completion percentage in all 9 seasons. The graph below has a lot going on but note how the light blue line is always hovering near the bottom. In Season 1 the Rope Swing had a lower completion percentage than the Pipe Slider. In Season 2 the Bridge of Blades had a lower completion percentage than the Jumping Bars. In season 3 the Jump Hang had a lower completion percentage than the Jumping Bars. Then in Season 4 the lowest completion percentage belonged to the Warped Wall. The fifth obstacle and the Warped Wall had similarly low completion percentages in Seasons 5 and 6, but then in Season 7 the completion percentage of the 5th obstacle plummeted and has remained significantly lower than the rest of the City Qualifying obstacles.


[In this graph the colored lines represent the obstacle position. As you can see the light blue line that represents the 5th obstacle is always near the bottom, and drops even lower around Season 7.]

Interestingly, I found a trend within a trend when digging into this a little deeper. The LA (formerly Venice) City Qualifier's 5th obstacle has an even lower completion percentage than the rest of the cities.


[Everyone has struggled with the 5th obstacle, but the struggle is even more exaggerated when you look at just the LA/Venice City Qualifiers]

I have no good explanation as to why LA/Venice has such a low 5th obstacle completion percentage, some skewing from Hourglass Drop, and the unfortunate nature of being the "guinea pig city" I guess. Intentional or unintentional, fatigue or just a higher skill threshold it looks like the producers put the Battering Ram in a place that makes historical sense.

Bonus Stats:

  • Rookie Zhanique Lovett and veteran Tiana Webberley finished in the top 30 this season. Even without the new women's rule they would have advanced to the City Finals
  • This is the second season in a row the LA City Qualifier saw two women finish in the top 30, last year it was Jessie Graff and Natalie Duran.
  • At least 3 ninjas banged their heads (and Daniel Moreno finished the obstacle with blood streaming down his face) when mounting the Fly Wheels this season, that didn't happen at all last season (maybe it did but it didn't get aired for sure)
  • 3 ninjas who competed in the LA City Qualifier had previously posted the fastest city qualifying time: Kevin Bull (Season's 7 and 8), David Campbell (Season 6), and Flip Rodriguez (Season 4) - but none of them got the fastest time. That honor instead went to Grant McCartney
  • 12/33 ninjas moving on the the City Finals were rookies, or were at least making their first TV appearance

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of American Ninja Warrior Nation's writers or editors, or of NBC.

Trending Discussions