The end of each year means two things: Tax season is about to begin and American Ninja Warrior applications are due. If you have any intention of taking your shot at the course in 2019, you have to submit your application by January 2 at 11:59 pm PST.
The process of becoming an American Ninja Warrior begins with that online portal. There’s a lengthy questionnaire that needs to be sent in along with a video that shows off who you are as a person, as well as your Ninja strengths. We shared an interview with the casting director, Angelou Deign, previously. In it, she shares her suggestions for a successful application based on years of reviewing thousands of them.
Today, we’re looking at the application process from a different perspective; That of a veteran competitor.
Ryan Stratis has participated in all 10 seasons of American Ninja Warrior. He’s a legend on the course. His accomplishments include (but are not limited to) making it to Stage Three in Sasuke, six trips to the ANW National Finals, and $10,000 from completing the Mega Wall in season 10. Ryan has just a BIT of experience creating submission videos. Between the early iteration of Ninja Warrior known as the American Ninja Challenge and season 11, he’s created 15 different videos.
Ryan carved out some time in his busy schedule coaching with Ninja Nation in Colorado to answer some question about how to put your best Ninja foot forward.
So is your season 11 application in?
RS: Not yet. I have to finish my video. The written portion is done. The action shots are all filmed. I just need to do the talking parts. That’s usually where I get a lot for the blooper reels.
How long does the online portion take?
RS: Online portion could take anywhere from a few hours to less. It depends on how deep into it you want to get. Some of the questions cause you to really have to sit down and think about your past and how much you want to share of your story with America. Some people might blow over a few questions and just be done with it really quickly. But if they want to go in depth on each question, it could take a couple hours. It might even take a couple days depending on how much they want to work on it.
What’s your favorite part of the online form?
RS: It’s a good reminder of why I want to do the show each year. It asks you that. Ultimately, why do you want to participate on American Ninja Warrior? Or if you’ve been on the show before, ‘Tell us your results from the previous years.’ That’s usually a painful part for me because I have to list out every part I’ve fallen at. So it’s another good reminder for the upcoming year to reaffirm all your motivations to be on the show again.
Is there a question that challenges you the most?
RS: There are certain ones you don’t want to get into. I always tell people that when they apply, anything they put in those applications could be something that the show would want to talk about. If there’s anything from your past that you don’t want to bring up, that you are uncomfortable sharing, don’t put it in there if you’re not comfortable sharing it on TV.
Certain things like that, that you have to revisit, like traumatizing times in my past. Having to think back to when I was getting bullied as a kid. There are questions that ask you what was the most traumatizing moment of your life, struggles you’ve had to deal with.
I think this year for me, it was the move to Colorado (Ryan relocated from Georgia). Having to deal with leaving home for the first time in my life, outside of the state. Saying goodbye to friends and family. Having to re-live that through both the application site and the video, that was tough.
Do you normally do the video first, or the online questions first?
RS: I space it out throughout the year so when it comes time to put the video together, I don’t have to do a lot of extra filming. Throughout the year I’m always filming training sessions, course runs from Ninja nights we do at the gym. Little things like that. If it’s good footage, I can splice it all together towards the end. That way I’m not trying to cram all this footage in with only a month or two before the deadline.
I’ve made that mistake before in the past, where I’ve tried to do too much too fast and have gotten injuries, tendonitis from trying to do crazy, over the top stuff for my video. Only to get injured in the process. I’d recommend people film throughout the year. They know it’s coming. Don’t delay when it comes to filming. Try to do a little bit at a time.
Do you remember your very first submission video?
RS: Oh yeah. It’s still floating out there on the Internet somewhere. Oh, it was bad. It was not good. This was back during the American Ninja Challenge days. That was a video entry only, where if your video was selected, it would go on the G4 website and people would vote on it. That’s how people got picked for the show back in the day. That was before ANW came around.
That one was real bad. I was kind of out of shape at the time. I was just out of college. I was still trying to figure out what I was doing in life, so there were a lot of ‘what ifs.’ When I saw the show, I was instantly re-motivated. Even though I was pretty out of shape for what I needed to be, I still attempted it and put together what I could. Yeah, not the best. But I haven’t missed a submission since!
(The above video isn’t Ryan’s FIRST submission, but it’s an oldie!)
Which, out of all your submission videos, is your personal favorite?
RS: My favorite would be the one I applied with for season two. The second season entry was more a catalog of my ANC videos and my first time going to visit David (Campbell) and Brian’s (Kretsch) place.
How long do you recommend people give themselves to concept and edit their videos?
RS: If they’ve got to work a day job and need to crank this out, I’d say they need to give themselves at least a month to be able to edit the footage at a comfortable pace. It can be frustrating if you’re not familiar with editing software and how to transfer the files off your phone. Finding the right files. All that can be a stressful process and it can take away the joy of even trying out for the show. You don’t want to start out on a bad foot and have that negative mindset with just the process of trying to get on the show. Don’t stress yourself out. Take your time and give yourself as much time as possible. I’d say at least a month minimum.
Do you edit your own videos?
RS: I still do it all on my own. I’ve had friends help me film. I’ve had friends who’ve tried to put some things together for me, but ultimately I’ve always had the vision in my head of how I’ve wanted it to come out. I’d always just edit it on my own computer and turn it in myself.
I’d say the biggest one I had made was the beard video that Brett and Grace Sims helped me with on season eight, when we did like a beard promo. That was really fun. For the most part, I’ve done all the editing on my own.
For beginners, do you think it’s worth hiring someone to help edit their videos?
RS: It would help as far as them not knowing the skills themselves. If they wanted to change something on their own, then they need at least a basic knowledge.
If they’re looking to save costs, there’s a lot of free software out there now where you can edit things. Pretty simple, cut and paste, trim, edit, timelines, stuff like that. Pretty straight forward and not that steep of a learning curve.
But if they’re wanting some high quality footage, like Adobe Premiere-type editing, then definitely find some friends who are willing to help them out in that process, or pay for it.
What are some of the DOs you recommend for every video?
RS: High energy. They need to show that they have energy on camera when they’re talking or doing obstacles. That they’re good for TV. You’ve got casting producers. You’ve got story producers. All those people are going to see if you’re comfortable in the video you submit and can be comfortable on TV if selected.
Try to be as laid back and comfortable as you can be. If you’re nervous, that kind of stuff shows through really easily on camera. They might be an amazing athlete, but if they talk like a stump in the ground, then it’s going to be hard to get picked.
Follow whatever rules they give you. They have that list of what not to do (within the online portal), like shooting with your phone up and down. It needs to be sideways, so it’s not a shoebox. Whatever those rules are on the application page, try to abide by those as best as possible. Don’t go over the three minute time limit. Don’t try to do anything extra. If they want extra footage, they’ll ask you for it. If they really like you and want to possibly get you on, they might call you up and say ‘Hey, we like what you got, but we need more of the following.’
That might be a good sign, but it doesn’t necessarily confirm that you’re going to get picked. Don’t count your Ninja stars before you throw them.
When you review other people’s videos, what’s the biggest piece of advice you find yourself giving them?
RS: Too much dead space when it comes to the way they edit. If they pause a lot when they talk, or if they’re about to do an obstacle, instead of them showing the footage of already doing it, it’s like them starting it. There’s a lot of dead space that can be trimmed out. That way they can maximize the time they have. They only have three minutes, so they have to get in as much as possible. Maximize the amount of time they have in those three minutes. It’s pretty vital.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have when applying to Ninja Warrior?
RS: A lot of people still think it’s easy. There are still so many people who want to get on that think they can just throw something together and get picked. They don’t put the effort into making a good video or the application. They just phone it in, then they get mad about it and never apply again. Well if you don’t put in the effort, you’re not going to get picked.
On the flip side, there are people who’ve been putting in for it and have been trying for years and they still haven’t been selected. It is a big crap shoot. There’s less than one percent of a chance to get on. But they shouldn’t let that deter them. The first four times I put in for it, back when it was the American Ninja Challenge, I never got picked, and I never let that stop me.
Even if you’re training for it and you don’t get picked, you’re still making yourself a better person and a better athlete. You shouldn’t need a TV show to validate yourself as an athlete.
What are some of your favorite submission videos from your fellow Ninjas?
RS: There are a couple. Mike Bernardo has some awesome submission videos. He goes for some pretty epic stuff. He’s used Batman themed stuff. He’s used ‘Dune.’ He’s got some good nerd references in there. He’s got some that are like straight artistic, where there’s no talking and you have to follow the story. He’s got some pretty motivating videos.
If anyone has seen Jake Murray’s ‘Footloose’ spinoff, that was really good. That was a hilarious one.
Any advice on handling the anxiety of waiting for the call back?
RS: You don’t know if it’s coming or not so you have to be patient. Try to let life go as normal. Keep training. Don’t stop training. It’s not the time to be caught off guard. Like ‘Oh man, I got picked but I haven’t been doing anything these last three weeks.’ Don’t slack off.
Be ready to see when calls start going out. Be ready for the region that you might be in. That’s usually how the calls will go. It can be kind of stressful because you don’t know where they might put you. Let’s say you live in California, but you grew up in Georgia. They might want to put you down in the Southeast because your story fits better down in that region. But you don’t know that. So you’re expecting a call out of Los Angeles. You might give yourself undue stress.
After a decade of getting the phone call, does the excitement wear off?
RS: Heck no! I still get hyped! Man, what are you talking about? (Laughing) I get hyped every time they call me. I’m always nervous they’re going to be like, ‘Oh we’re tired of this guy. He’s always going to fall. Let’s skip over him this year.’
I’m always putting in the work. I don’t want to expect a phone call just because I’ve done it for so many years. I’ve got that streak going but I’m not relying on that. I still feel like I have something to prove. I’ve gone to Stage Three in the past and I’m still trying to get back to that point, and beyond. I’m staying humble. I’m staying hungry. I’m ready for season 11.
Any final words of advice on applying?
RS: Go for it. Don’t be discouraged even if it’s not your best. If you want to do it, if it makes you happy to apply and you enjoy the process, I’d say don’t delay. Just go for it. You never know what could happen. I see a lot of people go, ‘I’ll do it this year.’ Then it comes the time to do it and they’re like, ‘I’ll do it next year.’ Always next year. Then next year turns into never. Don’t be afraid of what could be. Never give up.
Remember, applications for season 11 of American Ninja Warrior are due on January 2!