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American Ninja Warrior National Finals recap: The Ninjas have cleared a broad path to the buzzer

During the first night of the National Finals, the athletes proclaimed they would not be holding back.

David Becker/NBC

After a notoriously tough American Ninja Warrior season of Qualifiers and City Finals, the Ninjas have arrived at the National Finals and during night one, they announced themselves loud and clear.

When only nine Ninjas in total were able to complete the City Finals courses, it seemed like the obstacles had gone up dramatically in difficultly. But now it seems like that’s all the Ninjas needed to push them to a whole new level as well.

We had a high number of course competitions, combined with some truly inspiring and historic runs. It was a good night to be a Ninja fan!

Here’s what you missed:

Course completions: 20

Ninjas taken out by the Double Dipper: 11

Ninjas taken out by the Flying Squirrel: 4

The Course:

  • Snake Run
  • Propeller Bar
  • Double Dipper
  • Jumping Spider
  • Parkour Run
  • Warped Wall
  • Domino Pipes
  • Flying Squirrel

Quick Highlights:

  • Gabe Hurtado demonstrated that the Double Dipper, while it looked like fun, was going to be a tricky obstacle.
  • Maggi Thorne ended her season on the Double Dipper as well.
  • Chris DiGangi seemed to rise from the dead when he saved himself on the Domino Pipes, but he fell one obstacle later at the Flying Squirrel.
  • Brian Wilczewski had a shocking exit on the very first obstacle.
  • Nick Hanson was the first of the night to reach the buzzer, kicking off an epic bout of course completions.
  • Judas Licciardello got fancy with a flip on the Double Dipper, but he didn’t have any moves to save himself on the Jumping Spider.
  • Barclay Stockett was doing well on the course, but her time management was off. After stumbling a bit, she kept pausing to refocus herself before the Warped Wall. She timed out just as she finished the Domino Pipes.
  • Travis Rosen celebrated his seventh trip to the National Finals with a great save on the Domino Pipes, followed by hitting the buzzer!
  • After sharing that his close friend, Charlie Andrews wouldn’t be running the course due to a very scary injury, Josh Levin took to the course for an emotional run. But he channeled that energy into a great run that sent him to Stage Two!
  • Jesse Labreck beat the Jumping Spider, which had taken her out in last year’s National Finals. She then got a bit tangled up on Parkour Run. Jesse recovered, but then fell at the Flying Squirrel, so close to finishing the course.
  • After Ian Dory finished the course, we were treated to a string of course competitions.
  • Thomas Stillings, JJ Woods, Sean Darling-Hammond, Drew Knapp, Mike Bernardo and Kevin Bull all dominated the course and are heading to the next stage!
  • Allyssa Beird looked almost casual on the course. Nothing seemed to faze her. Until she hit the buzzer and burst into excited cheers. She has now joined Jessie Graff in the elite group of female Ninjas who’ve completed Stage One.
  • After Flip Rodriguez beat the course, Brent Steffensen put up a great time to the buzzer, holding the fastest time to that point.
  • But then Joe Moravsky took to the course and completed it with 42 seconds left on the clock! He celebrated with a jump into the water.
  • Lance Pekus shared the heartbreaking news that his wife is battling her progressing MS symptoms. With Heather watching from home, Lance made sure to not let her down. He completed the course with 45 seconds left and even had a tiny cowboy hat to share with the buzzer.

Heart-Pounding Moment:

Okay, the night was far too exciting for just one heart-pounding moment! We’ve got two that we thought were super special.

Watching Allyssa Beird hit the buzzer is one of the moments Ninja Warrior fans live for. In her two seasons on the show, we’ve seen her progress each and every time she’s on the course. Last year, she made it to the Philadelphia City Finals, but didn’t move on from there. (She was given a wildcard to Vegas.)

This year, she was the first woman of the season to complete a Qualifying course. In the City Finals, she made it to the back half of the course. It was a gritty run after she almost fell on the Floating Steps.

Allyssa combined all this first-hand education into her Stage One run. She knew she was strong. She knew how to think through the obstacles, and she knew not to get flustered if things didn’t go according to plan.

As she leapt on to the cargo net of the Flying Squirrel, we realized we were about to see history one more time. Jessie Graff had been the only woman to beat Stage One. Now she’s in the excellent company of Allyssa Beird with that honor.

Lance Pekus is a strong competitor on American Ninja Warrior, but when you think of the Ninjas known as the “fastest,” his name generally isn’t the first that comes to mind. That was all shaken up tonight.

When Lance revealed that his wife, Heather, has Multiple Sclerosis, it was a deeply personal, emotional moment. As they both cried, we had a shockingly clear view of how difficult their day to day lives could be. But Lance also shared how he’s inspired by Heather, who plans to stay positive about her situation, while being a wife, mother and high school counselor.

As the camera cut back to Lance after sharing all that, we knew we were looking at a different Cowboy Ninja. With what his family contends with, combined with his desire to dedicate the run to Heather, there was no way any of these obstacles would shake him.

Lance wasn’t even trying for the fastest time. He slowly walked to the buzzer, hitting it with 45 seconds left on the clock and nudging Joe Moravsky out of the top position. It was a run that reminded us the strength of a Ninja’s spirit is just as important as the strength of their bodies.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

In our opinion, the most heart-wrenching moment of the night is the run we never had. Charlie Andrews was not able to run the course after a terrifying accident.

During the Los Angeles City Finals, we had learned more about Josh Levin’s and Charlie’s longtime friendship. They found an immense joy in competing together and hitting the buzzer on the same night was a dream come true. They couldn’t wait to head to Vegas together.

Then, Charlie took a fall during a training session that fractured his skull, leaving him close to death at points. In that moment, everything changed for him, including his plans to take on Stage One.

Of course, the most important thing is that Charlie’s recovery is going well and he was able to still support Josh in Las Vegas. Charlie had a superstar of a rookie season on the show, and this was one of the worst ways of ending his Ninja Warrior year.

We hope Charlie has a full and complete recovery and he gets his well-deserved shot at Stage One next season!

Lesson of the Night:

The Ninjas are here to have their revenge. This season has been so tough, with only nine Ninjas completing the City Finals courses. But we had a hunch that would only motivate the competitors to reach the next level of their abilities. They were coming into the National Finals hungry for buzzers and sick and tired of losing to the obstacles.

Well, it’s only night one of Stage One and already we have 20 finishers! To put that into perspective, last season only 17 Ninjas in total cleared Stage One. So with half of the competitors still left to run this season, it’s a pretty safe bet that more Ninjas will be moving on.

Look out Stage Two. They’re eyeing you next!

You can find a full list of Ninjas who completed the course here.

Up Next:

The rest of the Ninjas, including Jessie Graff, Drew Drechsel and Meagan Martin, will run Stage One next week, Monday September 11. We will also see Kacy Catanzaro’s potential last run, as she’s retiring from Ninja Warrior to join the WWE. We have a feeling another historic night is in the works!