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Neil Craver on the serious success of the Golden Hearts ‘goofballs’

Neil, Natalie and Grant know how to have fun on their way to the buzzer.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

The Golden Hearts are no strangers to the side-by-side racing format of Ninja vs Ninja. The team, made up of Neil Craver, Natalie Duran, and Grant McCartney have been having fun and competing together since season one of Team Ninja Warrior. Each member of the team is known for their energetic antics and their flashy attire.

While they certainly lead with their personalities, they back it up with serious athletic skills. In season two of Team Ninja Warrior, they made it all the way to the finals before being bumped out by Team TNT.

On the fifth qualifying week of American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja, the Golden Hearts worked together to slog through a tough battle to the playoffs. After edging out the Average Jo Jo’s in four races, they had to fight the Three Wishes through all five heats to clear their path to the next round. The races required strategy, speed, and a lot of downright grit to get to the buzzer.

You can read a full recap of the episode here.

We talked to team captain Neil Craver after the qualifying episode to find out what makes this team of zany Ninjas so no-nonsense on the course.

What is it about the dynamic between you, Natalie and Grant that makes the Golden Hearts come back together every season?

NC: I think our similarities in our personalities are what make us work so well together. We are just three goofballs with muscles looking to have the most fun in each situation, and we bring that to the course!

If you had to pick just one of Grant’s skills that gives him a Ninja vs Ninja edge, what would it be?

NC: Grant’s shoulders are so wide it gives him the ability to block his competitor from getting around him. It’s like trying to get around a dump truck on a highway.

Same question for Natalie. What’s one of her skills gives her a Ninja vs Ninja edge?

NC: Natalie’s stature and confidence give her an edge. She is intimidating to other competitors because she is as strong as she looks and she attacks each obstacle with the confidence she’s built through rock climbing.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

In your first relay against the Average Jo Jo’s, there was a bit of a surprise twist when you and Jimmy Bogle Jr. both fell at the same time on the Floating Tiles. Can you walk us through what happened there from your perspective?

NC: I felt like we were two race horses with blinders on. We both had tunnel vision to success and ended up with the same intensity on the same step which ended in the disastrous water plunge.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

In the end, the Golden Hearts prevailed and moved on to face the Three Wishes. What were your thoughts on that team?

NC: I’m good friends with Thomas so I was well aware of his agility and speed as his competitive edge. However, I was not intimidated because I knew our humble approach and focused strength would allow us to prevail.

In the final round, Natalie and Grant both narrowly lost their heats, putting the pressure on you to prevent a sweep. How did that affect your strategy in your race against Brian Burkhardt?

NC: To be honest, I did not know how strong or fast Brian Burkhardt was so my only strategy was to give it one hundred percent. You can see my foot revving at the 3-2-1 countdown. I dropped the clutch. I knew as a team, our advantage was in the relays so my only focus was to get us into the relay heats.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

A critical moment in that race was when Brian lost his lead as he made a move to dismount the Rumbling Dice and the momentum actually pulled the obstacle off its track. Had you realized that had happened, or where you just focused on the Zig Zag Climb?

NC: My focus didn’t deviate from the obstacle I was on – all I knew was to scale the Zig Zag Climb and not look back.

In order to move on to the playoffs, the Golden Hearts had to win two relays in a row against the Three Wishes. This meant you had to finish the back three obstacles of the course three times in a row (including your heat against Brian). How was your body feeling during that? Were you exhausted?

NC: In hindsight, it’s hard to comprehend the sensations I was having. The spotlights, the adrenaline, and whole scenario is a rush while at the same time, the physical fatigue of performing can’t quite be replicated.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

What was the thought behind having you complete the final climb multiple times instead of another team member?

NC: We assessed everyone’s individual strengths and mine was definitely at the final part of that particular course. My right shoulder was still not comfortable with the Warped Wall so Grant needed to carry us in the middle, and Natalie’s speed and agility really set us up for the course. It was totally a team effort to achieve victory, as it should be. One person can’t carry the team with this relay format.

How were you feeling after that win as a team?

NC: It’s really hard to put that feeling into words, but if I had to choose a few: Elated, proud of my team mates, relieved, excited to continue our golden journey.

Did the team discuss any strategy changes ahead of the playoffs?

NC: Doing so well in the relay, our performance validated the strategy we had formulated. There was really no other place for each of us to be based on each of our skill sets. No matter who we were up against in the finals, our relay design was a perfect demonstration of team work.

Neil, Natalie and Grant will return to Ninja vs Ninja in a few weeks for the playoffs!