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Tyler Gillett reflects on the Young Bloods’ stunning debut

What they lacked in experience, they made up for with pure heart.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

On the fourth episode of American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja, the amount of talent on the course was staggering. The NorCal Ninjas were led by David Campbell, who’s competed on every season of American Ninja Warrior. Ian Dory, who hasn’t missed a National Finals in four years, captained Team Wolfpack. Tré Amigoz featured Tremayne Dortch and Andrew Lowes, who both have six years of American Ninja Warrior experience.

Then there was team Young Bloods, consisting of captain Tyler Gillett, Bree Widener, and Kevin Carbone. Not a single one of them had competed in a team-style format before. Each only had one season of Ninja Warrior experience, season nine. But, oh, what a year it had been for them. Tyler and Kevin made it to the National Finals, while Bree was one of the Daytona City Finalists.

Together, they had a lot to prove. Doggedly and persistently they outpaced Ninja after Ninja in the run to the buzzer. When the dust settled, the Young Bloods were the only team left standing, defeating Team Wolfpack in a sweep.

You can read a full recap of the episode here.

After the qualifying episode, we got in touch with Tyler via email to talk about what played into their incredible competition debut.

How did you select Kevin Carbone and Bree Widener to be on your team?

TG: I train with both Kevin Carbone and Bree Widener. I was very lucky to be able to have them as teammates, not only because I knew how strong and talented they are, but because they are my friends. These are people that I have trained with and formed bonds with. And to have friends like that on your team is so important. Knowing your teammates, being able to lean on each other, and being able to make each other laugh and have a good time, helps you do better on the course. We were able to have such a positive attitude about the whole experience, and we had the time of our lives out there, and it showed.

Were you nervous to bring a team of all Freshman Ninja Warriors, who hadn’t been on Team Ninja before, into the competition?

TG: I was excited to bring a team of all Freshman Ninjas to Ninja vs. Ninja. First of all, I would like to say how honored I was to be chosen to be a team captain as a rookie. It was a dream come true and I tried not to let that go to waste. Not only were we all rookies in the team competition (Ninja vs. Ninja), but we were also all rookies on ANW last year (season 9). After seeing how strong Kevin and Bree were on season 9 of ANW, I knew they had what it takes to go up against the best of the best. I believed in them and their abilities.

There was definitely pressure though. I wanted to prove that we had what it takes to go up against the best of the best. I wanted to prove that we belong here, in this sport. And, I always get nervous before competing. But having these two by my side, definitely helped to ease that. I was honored to be able to lead the rookie team into battle.

The Criss Cross Ring Toss really encouraged the Ninjas to have physical contact with one another. As a team, did you discuss any strategy for navigating that section of the course?

TG: We definitely had a strategy going into the Criss Cross Ring Toss: Don’t Fall. Ha! But really, we definitely put some thought into it. We planned out the most efficient movements to get through it as quick as possible. Kevin gave me some great technique on how to get through it smoothly.

Our goal was not to throw our competitors off the course, or bump into them intentionally. We wanted to respect the other competitors, and not do anything that would give us an unfair advantage. We also told each other, if the other team gets to it first and blocks your path, stay close behind. They can’t dismount if you’re in the way of their back swing. Kevin actually used this technique against Brian Kretsch as to not give him too much of a lead, and it worked out in our favor.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

In your relay against the NorCal Ninjas, you beat Brian Kretsch to the buzzer by two-hundredths of a second. In the heat of the race, did you know you had the win? What do you think made the difference in those last moments?

TG: No. I had absolutely no idea who won that race after we hit those buzzers. All I remember after hitting the buzzer was jumping up and yelling “WHAT HAPPENED?!” and hugging Brian. The NorCal Ninjas had the lead on the last leg of the relay. I was halfway through the Shelf Grab and all I see is Brian dismounting and running for the Warped Wall, and I knew I had to kick it into overdrive. Everything else was pretty much a blur. I just kept telling myself “GO! GO! GO! DON’T STOP! DON’T STOP!”

After hitting the buzzer, I realized I made up enough ground to where it could be anyone’s game. I was definitely hyped on adrenaline after that run. We had to wait on the sidelines for a good twenty minutes while they replayed the footage over and over to see who won. When they announced we won the race, I was overcome with so many emotions. Definitely a moment I will never forget. I definitely owed it to my team to clinch that win after they won both of their solo races and I lost mine.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

What did you think when you realized you’d be facing Team Wolfpack in the final round?

TG: When I realized we were going to be facing Team Wolfpack, I think I cried a little inside –ha. It was nerve-wracking for sure. Knowing we had to go up against a team with so much experience right after taking the win over legends like David Campbell and Brian Kretsch, was crazy.

I knew how strong Team Wolfpack was, so I knew we couldn’t hold back. I had confidence in my team going into the race. I knew that we just had to give it our all and not let the nerves or pressure get to us. As long as we focused and trusted each other as a team, we had the ability to pull it off.

Kevin and Bree won their heats, leaving you in a position to sweep the match-up. How did that affect your mindset before your race with Ian Dory?

TG: After Kevin and Bree both won their heats and it was my turn to run, all I could think of was our first match up with the NorCal Ninjas. When we faced the NorCal Ninjas, we were in the same position. Kevin and Bree had won their races and it was my turn, and then I lost against David. I kept telling myself to not let that happen again. I told myself that I needed to win that race. I didn’t want to let my teammates down. And they were there to cheer me on the whole way to the buzzer.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

You and Ian went obstacle for obstacle down the entire extended course. How did you conserve enough energy to make it all the way to the buzzer?

TG: I vividly remember Ian’s presence right next to me the entire time I was running the course. Talk about pressure. It was crazy. I even remember stepping on the same floating tiles at the same time, which, if you haven’t touched those tiles and don’t know, they are scary enough with one person on them. So, that was terrifying and awesome all at the same time. I just stayed so focused.

Believe it or not, Kevin helped me have energy to keep going. Before my race, he won his race against Dan Yager. I remember watching Kevin run, and he didn’t stop. Not once. Specifically before the Salmon Ladder. Almost everyone who ran previously took a few breaths and paused before attacking the Salmon Ladder. But not Kevin. And I was so impressed. By the time I got to the Salmon Ladder, I was exhausted. I just told myself “You can’t stop. Kevin didn’t stop. So you can’t stop.” I gave it my all, and by the time I hit the buzzer, I was dead tired.

That course was no joke. It was almost the full length of a City Finals in ANW but you’re running full speed. It was exhausting. And I am super glad that my teammates and I were able to push each other past our limits in just the right ways, even when they didn’t know it.

What did it feel like to realize that your “young” team had knocked out a favored team of veterans?

TG: The fact that we knocked out, not just one, but two teams of veterans, was unbelievable. Both the NorCal Ninjas, and Team Wolfpack had ANW legends on their teams. David Campbell (the Godfather) and Brian Kretsch, have been competing on ANW since season one. Ian Dory is also one of the best, with lots of experience, strength, and top ninja training partners. The strength and talent of these teams was insane.

I was honored to have the privilege to compete against these awesome ninjas who continue to help inspire me. Not only are they great ninjas, but great people as well. It was such an incredible experience. I’m glad that the ‘Young Bloods’ went out there and gave it all we had and were able to prove that we belong here.

Will the Young Bloods’ enthusiasm and energy carry them to the finals? We’ll find out in a few weeks when they return for the playoffs!