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Ninja vs Ninja recap: Running on fumes will still get you to the buzzer

You could feel the exhaustion after these races.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

On the fifth week of American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja, four more teams chased down their chance at the playoffs. All the teams had experienced captains and skilled competitors, making this anyone’s game. And it was one exhausting game for these teams.

TL:DR: It was a fight to the finish this week. The Golden Hearts edged out the Average Jo Jo’s in four heats. Three Wishes pushed out the Towers of Power with a sweep. When the Golden Hearts and Towers of Power faced off, it was a frazzled battle through all five possible heats. In the end, the Golden Hearts won a hard-earned victory.

The match-ups:

  • Golden Hearts vs Average Jo Jo’s
  • Three Wishes vs Towers of Power

The obstacles:

  • Sonic Swing
  • Tick Tock
  • Pole Grasper
  • Floating Tiles
  • Spin Cycle
  • Warped Wall
  • Salmon Ladder
  • Rumbling Dice
  • Zig Zag Climb

You can find more information on the rules of Ninja vs Ninja here. It follows a best-of-five, single elimination format. The last team standing moves on to the playoffs.


Golden Hearts

  • Neil Craver
  • Natalie Duran
  • Grant McCartney

Average Jo Jo’s

  • JoJo Bynum
  • Jessica Clayton
  • Jimmy Bogle Jr.

Heat one:

  • Grant McCartney vs Jo Jo Bynum

Grant and Jo Jo started things off. The two Ninjas were on the Pole Grasper together but Grant got the lead and worked his way down the course. Jo Jo was still by the Floating Tiles as Grant ran up the Warped Wall.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat two:

  • Natalie Duran vs Jessica Clayton

Jessica gained a slight lead as she leapt from Tick Tock. To catch up, Natalie dove deep into the Pole Grasper, landing a little low and getting her feet wet. Jessica left the Poles first, but was slow across the Tiles, allowing Natalie to press on. Jessica reached the Spin Cycle and carefully plotted her way through the obstacle. Natalie mistimed her jump on the trampoline and tumbled into the water. While Jessica had already won, she went on to nab her first Warped Wall and buzzer in competition.

Point = Average Jo Jo’s

Heat three:

  • Neil Craver vs Jimmy Bogle Jr.

Neil put his speed on display, leading after the Tick Tock. Jimmy fell early at that obstacle. Not taking any chances, Neil didn’t slow down enough to realize he had the win and blazed through the whole course.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat four - RELAY:

The Golden Hearts were up a point, meaning the Average Jo Jo’s needed to win this heat. Natalie and Jessica took the first leg. Neil and Jimmy positioned themselves in the middle. Grant and Jo Jo took the last segment.

Jessica was able to gain a slight lead and bring in Jimmy, but Neil was right behind him. In a shocking moment, BOTH fell at the same time on the Floating Tiles when they stepped on the same tile. This caused an even start for Grant and Jo Jo. Both drove a hard bargain. Grant hit the buzzer with Jo Jo right behind him.

Point = Golden Hearts

  • Golden Hearts WIN.
  • Average Jo Jo’s are OUT!


Three Wishes

  • Thomas Stillings
  • Brittany Hanks
  • Brian Burkhardt

Towers of Power

  • Dan Polizzi
  • Nate Burkhalter
  • Selena Laniel

Heat one:

  • Thomas Stillings vs Dan Polizzi

Thomas is known for his speed, but Dan is not a pushover. Thomas took a huge leap into the Pole Grasper, with Dan not far behind. Thomas led them across the Floating Tiles and both fought through the Spin Cycle. Thomas and Dan burst up the Wall for a close win going to Thomas.

Point = Three Wishes

Round two:

  • Brittany Hanks vs Selena Laniel

These Ninjas were neck and neck from the start, but Brittany was able to clear the Pole Grasper first. After she stumbled on the Tiles, Selenia was able to catch up and made a move to pass Brittany on Spin Cycle. But she lost her grip and fell into the water. Brittany completed the obstacle and grabbed her first buzzer.

Point = Three Wishes

Round three:

  • Brian Burkhardt vs Nate Burkhalter

The Towers of Power were looking at a sweep and needed this point. But it wasn’t their night. Nate slipped on the Tick Tock and the race was over.

Point = Three Wishes

  • Three Wishes WIN.
  • Towers of Power are OUT.


  • Golden Hearts vs Three Wishes

Round three takes place on the extended course of nine obstacles, adding in the Salmon Ladder, Rumbling Dice, and the Zig Zag Climb.

Heat one:

  • Grant McCartney vs Thomas Stillings

Both burst from the starting line and took giant leaps into the Pole Grasper. Thomas landed a little low, which may have allowed Grant the lead, who then ran across the Tiles. Grant held a lead through the Spin Cycle and up the Warped Wall, but this is the extended course, allowing more time for big moves.

Both Thomas and Grant started the Salmon Ladder, with Thomas opting to jump up multiple rings at once, sending him on to the Rumbling Dice. Thomas had a minimal lead up to the Zig Zag Climb, where he was able to push himself and reach the buzzer JUST before Grant. Both collapses from exhaustion after that drive.

Point = Three Wishes

Heat two:

  • Natalie Duran vs Brittany Hanks

This run was abbreviated, but it did have a surprising ending. Natalie was in the lead after Spin Cycle. She then missed her attempt at the Warped Wall twice. This allowed Brittany to catch up and get up the Wall on her first try. When Natalie failed the Wall a third time, the race went to Brittany.

Point = Three Wishes

Heat three:

  • Neil Craver vs Brian Burkhardt

Team captain Neil was under pressure to keep the Golden Hearts alive.

Neil and Brian stayed close together through the first section of the course. Brian had the lead up and over the Warped Wall. Then it was time for the endurance test. Brian paused to catch his breath before the Salmon Ladder, letting Neil catch up. Brian knew he needed to move and pushed on to the Rumbling Dice. But as Brian swayed to gain momentum for the dismount, he pulled the bar backward, jamming the obstacle.

This let Neil complete the obstacle and work on the final climb. Brian struggled to free himself from the Rumbling Dice, but exhausted himself and fell there. Neil completed the course.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat four - RELAY:

Three Wishes were still up a point heading into this heat. Natalie and Brittany took the first position. Thomas and Grant handled the midway obstacles. Neil and Brian set up for another battle on the back part of the course.

Natalie was able to get the edge on the Pole Graspers, quickly tagging in Grant. Grant held a lead over Thomas and brought in Neil. But Brian was in hot pursuit. Neil showed zero hesitation on the Salmon Ladder and Rumbling Dice. His pace may have pushed Brian a little hard. Brian slipped out of the Zig Zag Climb and hit the pads. Neil hit the buzzer, tying up the points.

Brian looked injured after the run. It turned out he hurt his shoulder when he fell from the Zig Zag Climb and landed wrong on the landing pad. Out of precaution, the medics pulled him from the competition.

Geoff Lancaster stepped in for the Three Wishes on the final tie-breaker.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat five - RELAY:

The Golden Hearts kept their run order the same. Three Wishes moved Geoff to the middle section and Thomas to the last leg.

Natalie leapt low into the Pole Grasper but maintained her lead over Brittany. She tagged in Grant. Brittany struggled on a Poles for a long time, meaning when Geoff was tagged in, Grant was already on the Warped Wall, releasing Neil. Geoff sprinted to make up time and brought in Thomas. By the time Thomas was on the Salmon Ladder, Neil was looking to finish the Rumbling Dice. Thomas was relentless, but Neil’s lead was too much, ending the race with a third trip to the top of the Zig Zag Climb.

Point = Golden Hearts

  • Golden Hearts go to playoffs.
  • Three Wishes are OUT.

The Mitsubishi Drive of the night was given to the one-on-one race between Thomas and Grant. It was one of the fastest runs on the extended course. Both Ninjas poured everything into it and collapsed with exhaustion at the top of the Climb.

Next week:

On April 5, we’ll move into the sixth week of qualifiers.

  • Lab Rats: Chris Wilczewski, Michelle Warnky, and Brian Wilczewski
  • Big Dog Ninjas: Jody Avila, Brandi Monteverde, and Josh Salinas
  • Team Alpha: Brent Steffensen, Sydney Olson, and David Yarter
  • The Ballers: Lorin Ball, Paul Kasemir, and Meiling Huang