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American Ninja Warrior National Finals recap: Was there a winner this season? You’ll need to tell us

Season nine closed by reminding us how uniquely personal this show is to each Ninja and fan.

David Becker/NBC

It all came down to this. With the pressure running high and nervous fans biting their nails all over the country, we watched to find out if we would have an American Ninja Warrior champion.

41 Ninjas, more than in any other season, survived Stage One of the National Finals and moved into Stage Two. There, one obstacle, Wingnut Alley, mowed down half of that field, including many fan-favorites picked to go all the way.

Three downright incredible Ninjas managed to survive and moved on to the next stage. But once again, the course upped the ante and forced the season to close with no million dollar winner.

Which brings us back to the conversation fans have needed to have every season except for one: Does that mean the Ninjas lost?

Stage Two:

Course completions: 3

Ninjas taken out by Wingnut Alley: 23 (Including Kevin Bull and JJ Woods, who’s runs were released online prior to the episode.)

The Course:

  • Giant Ring Swing
  • Criss Cross Salmon Ladder
  • Wave Runner
  • Swing Surfer
  • Wingnut Alley
  • Wall Flip

Quick Highlights:

  • Ian Dory was the first to go out on the new obstacle, the Swing Surfer, after a small miscalculation in direction.
  • Lance Pekus was the first to reach Wingnut Alley, giving us a glimpse of the chaos it was about to bring to the competition.
  • Brent Steffensen ended his season at the Wave Runner.
  • Ryan Stratis exhausted himself on the Ring Swing.
  • Jamie Rahn made an incredible one handed save on the first leap of Wingnut Alley, but was unable to complete the obstacle.
  • Sean Bryan’s heavenly season continued when he was the able to survive the Wingnuts and reach the buzzer before his time expired, moving on to Stage Three.
  • Adam Rayl and Brian Arnold were both unable to answer the demands of the Wingnuts.
  • Najee Richardson flowed through the course. He became the second person to finish Wingnut Alley and prepared himself for Stage Three.
  • Allyssa Beird, the last woman left standing in the competition and only the second woman to reach Stage Two, ended her historic run on the Cross Cross Salmon Ladder.
  • Flip Rodriguez and Daniel Gil both fell at Wingnut Alley, taking out two more big names from the competition.
  • Joe Moravsky made the course look simple. Without even a struggle at Wingnut Alley, he moved on to Stage Three.
  • Drew Drechsel was the last to run Stage Two and a popular pick to go all the way this season. After an awkward grab on the last Wingnut, Drew came up short on his lache to the landing pad. Fans were totally shocked to realize he was done for the season.

Stage Three:

Course completions: 0

Ninjas taken out by the Ultimate Cliffhanger: 2

The Course:

  • Floating Boards
  • Keylock Hang
  • Nail Clipper
  • Ultimate Cliffhanger
  • Curved Body Prop
  • Peg Cloud
  • Time Bomb
  • Flying Bar

Quick Highlights:

  • Sean Bryan went first. He showed off his perfect gymnast form on the dismount from obstacles like the Nail Clipper. But the fourth obstacle, the Cliffhanger, tested his grip strength to the max, ending his bid for Stage Four there.
  • Najee Richardson was up next. He actually fell on his dismount from the Keylock Hang, but grabbed the mat and managed to save himself. With all our hearts in our throats, he moved on to the Ultimate Cliffhanger, but he also fell there.
  • Joe Moravsky was last up. He moved cautiously through the course, making sure a silly mistake like Najee’s near-miss wouldn’t end his season. Once Joe passed the Ultimate Cliffhanger, the audience was on the edge of their seats. Joe didn’t even look fazed by the Curved Body Prop.

The new obstacle, the Peg Cloud, was the first to offer Joe some trouble. But he battled his way through. Just before he moved on to the Time Bomb, he hung upside down for a long moment, trying to rest his arms. With only the Time Bomb and Flying Bar between Joe and Mount Midoriyama, he gave it his all.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Joe peeled off the Time Bomb just after starting the obstacle. For the second time in his Ninja Warrior career, Joe was the last man standing. But the mountain was left standing beyond that.

Heart-Pounding Moment:

Let’s go right back into talking about Joe Moravsky’s performance. When Kristine Leahy first introduced the Stage Three obstacles, our hearts sank.

Done. This season was done. How would those eight obstacles be possible back to back? How would they be possible after the Ninjas had just survived Wingnut Alley? The stage looked totally unmanageable.

Of course, we knew that the Ninjas would still put on impressive runs. Sean is an incredible athlete. Najee is an incredible athlete. And while we loved seeing them progress this season, and watching them on Stage Three, it was not a shock when they weren’t able to complete it. For both, it was their first trip to that stage. There was no way they could have been 100% prepared for what was waiting for them.

Then came Joe. The weatherman has been to Stage Three in three previous seasons. He had the physical strength but also the mental understanding of what was about to happen. When he passed the Ultimate Cliffhanger, it was like a light in the darkness. This course looked unsolvable, but just maybe Joe had the answer.

The Peg Cloud had Joe upside down for a ridiculous amount of time. But he seemed to always find just a little more energy to put into the obstacle. Before he began the Time Bomb, he took a long break to recover. No matter how impossible we previously thought the course, we now believed Joe would somehow pull off a miracle.

Joe began the Time Bomb slowly. When he moved to swing to the third hook, he missed, leaving all his weight on one arm. Still, Joe didn’t drop. He was able to make one more swing for the next hook.

But eventually, the laws of physics had to kick back in. As the second attempt once again forced all of Joe’s weight and momentum on to one arm, his grip gave out, leaving Mount Midoriyama untested for one more season. But the incredible show of strength gives Joe the title of “last man standing” in season nine.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

Drew Drechsel isn’t called the real life Ninja for nothing. He lives and breathes this sport. He owns two gyms. He trains constantly. This marked his seventh season on American Ninja Warrior.

In season eight, he was last man standing, falling on the Hang Climb of Stage Three for the second time in a row. Drew was visibly upset. He was holding back tears in his interview with Kristine Leahy.

When Drew returned for season nine, it was crystal clear he WANTED that Stage Four. In Daytona, he was the fastest finisher in Qualifying and the only finisher of the City Finals. On Stage One, he once again claimed the fastest finish. He was on track to perfectly accomplish what he’d set out to do.

And then, it was over.

Such is the nature of American Ninja Warrior. Drew was overshooting his laches between Wingnuts on Stage Two. Which meant he was forced into a bit of a bear-hug grab on the last one. He recovered, but the jolt to his arm left him off his game. He made a quick attempt to get to the landing pad and came up drastically short.

That’s the cruel nature of the game. Nothing matters except that one moment where you either win or you go home. The course doesn’t care how many buzzers you’ve previously hit or how sure the fans are that you’ll go all the way.

This show will break your heart but keep you running back for more.

Lesson of the Season:

Back to our original question: Does that mean the Ninjas lost?

You have to decide for yourself.

This season of American Ninja Warrior was an illustration in the fluidity of the show. No one walks away with the same conclusion. Did any one “win”? No. Did the Ninjas work harder than ever before? Yes.

Did Jessie Graff and Drew Drechsel take shocking tumbles? Yes. But did rookies Tyler Gillett and Josh Salinas make it all the way to Stage Two? Did David Campbell beat Stage One for the first time in five years? Did Allyssa Beird prove once again that women can accomplish anything?

The failures and the successes are like a personal score card. Every fan is a ref and only they know and understand how they called the game.

And that’s why the show will be coming back for a tenth season. Because after a decade of competition, the living, breathing thing we know as American Ninja Warrior is still growing. Every fan watches their own version of the show. They connect with their own favorite competitors and wait for their own version of a victory.

So you’ll need to tell us. Who won this season?