The Lab Rats are one of the original side-by-side Ninja Warrior teams. They competed on both seasons of Team Ninja Warrior and returned for American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja. The combination of Chris Wilczewski, his brother Brian Wilczewski, and their friend and business partner Michelle Warnky are a hard combo to contend with. On season one of Team Ninja Warrior, they made it all the way to the finals. On the second season, they battled through to the wildcard rounds.
On the new season of Ninja vs Ninja, the trio was back in action. After a close five-heats with the Big Dog Ninjas, they faced The Ballers, led by the fast and experienced Lorin Ball. Together, each member of the Lab Rats put their hearts into their runs and swept the competition.
We chatted with team captain Chris to learn more about the efforts it takes to stay consistently in the game.
Responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
What had made Brian and Michelle your go-to teammates for three seasons in a row?
CW: Well Brian is an obvious pick because I’ve grown up with him my entire life and I can’t imagine doing this with anybody else. He is the reason I got into this. I couldn’t picture it any other way.
Michelle has become like our adopted sister. She’s a vital part of our family. We have a business with her. We see her often. It’s just great camaraderie all around.
What specific skills do they have that make them really adept to this type of competition?
CW: Brian is a strong parkour athlete and climber. I feel like that’s a deadly combination on Ninja because he’s got the speed and agility of the parkour guys, but also he’s also got the strength of the rock climbers. He’s a really solid pick.
Then when you look at Michelle, her background is track and rock climbing. Again, it’s a similar combination of deadly speed and unbelievable upper body strength.
Last season on Team Ninja Warrior, you had a shoulder injury on the Pole Grasper and needed to call in an alternate, Arnold Hernandez. Did that weigh on your mind this season? Or make you more cautious on your approach?
Definitely. The first run out there, it was kind of like testing the waters. I feel like it took me a few runs to feel relatively comfortable.
In the first round against the Big Dog Ninjas, there was a great moment of sportsmanship when Michelle stopped at the top of the Warped Wall and coached Brandi through it. What was the dynamic like between the teams off the course?
So going into this, I don’t think any of us knew the other team. But we got to know them as soon as we found out we were racing them and they’re really cool people. I really enjoyed racing against Jody. He’s an unbelievable guy. The same goes for everyone else on the team.
On the sidelines, you told Alex Curry that you consider the Lab Rats a relay team. What does that mean?
I feel like for the Lab Rats, we don’t have one superstar. We have a solid group of really strong athletes. When you’re going up against the other teams, I feel like the other teams are usually led by a superstar. The talent level doesn’t get as high there. I feel like the Lab Rats, you have three really solid competitors. I just don’t think there’s anybody out there that can beat us in a relay.
In the final round, you faced The Ballers. What were your thoughts on that team?
You’re going up against a team of legends. You have Lorin Ball who’s known for his speed. You also have Paul Kasemir who’s competed in Japan and has done incredibly well consistently on the show. And then Meiling did a lot in the second season (Team Ninja). We had three really strong competitors we were going up against.
In your race against Lorin Ball, you had a strong lead into the back portion. You chose to use that time to rest before starting the Salmon Ladder. What was the strategy behind that versus pushing through?
I knew going into the last couple of upper body obstacles, if I could do them fresh, I was going to do them faster. So my strategy was to get as much rest as I could. He’d be coming in tried just coming off an obstacle and I’d be going into the upper body gauntlet fresh.
Brian and Paul looked exhausted in their heat. What do you think Brian did differently than Paul that allowed him to have more energy at the end?
That’s a tough question. If I were to guess, I feel like Brian just dug deep and knew that a win would be huge for us there. He just pulled it out.
Were you expecting to sweep The Ballers?
No. Not at all. It’s an unbelievable team that has incredible speed. It was definitely not something that we anticipated going into it. I was actually a little nervous going against them since they’re such a solid squad.
The Lab Rats are used to sticking around the competition. You were finalists in season one and were wildcards in season two. What expectations did you have for the team this season?
It sounds bad, but we didn’t have incredibly high expectations for ourselves this season. We all had a lot of other stuff going on so we couldn’t focus on it as much as we wanted. The competition keeps getting steeper every year so it makes it harder to stick around longer.
What were your thoughts on the new Ninja vs Ninja refresh?
I loved it. It looked incredible. The lights, amazing. It brought a different energy to the game.
Did you guys talk about any strategy changes you would make going into the playoffs?
Well, we were committed to putting Michelle on the back half of the course. We’d been timing ourselves and training ourselves on the back half. We timed ourselves on the Salmon Ladder and other obstacles, and it was always pretty neck and neck. We didn’t run Michelle on the back half of the course. If, with The Ballers, that had gone to a relay, we would have used Michelle as the anchor.
We’ll find out if Michelle will get her shot on the back portion of the relay course when the Lab Rats return for the playoffs!