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Ninja vs Ninja recap: These playoffs are not a game

We’re seeing a whole new level of determination from these Ninjas.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

Welcome to the American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja playoffs! For the past 11 weeks, we’ve watched 36 teams of incredibly talented athletes fight for their chance at the championships. Some have even gone into battle twice as wildcards.

Now, the road to the trophy gets even steeper. The top teams will face off and knock each other out until only one is left. Things were kicked off with the first four playoff teams!

TL:DR: WHAT an episode! The Golden Hearts hit their stride to knock out the NorCal Ninjas in a sweep. After one slip-up from team Iron Grip, they honed it in and pushed Beasts from the East out of the competition. The final round had the Golden Hearts and Iron Grip taking it to levels we haven’t seen before. In the end, Iron Grip sealed their place in the finals.

The match-ups:

  • Golden Hearts vs NorCal Ninjas
  • Iron Grip vs Beasts from the East

The obstacles:

  • Sonic Swing
  • Tick Tock
  • Parallel Pipes
  • Floating Tiles
  • Hanging Staircase
  • Warped Wall
  • Salmon Ladder
  • Rumbling Dice
  • Zig Zag Climb

The rules have returned to the same that were used during qualifiers. Each match-up is a best of five format. If there is no winner after three individual heats, we move to relay races. The winning teams face each other in a final round on the extended course. The first team to three points moves into the finals.


Golden Hearts

  • Neil Craver
  • Natalie Duran
  • Grant McCartney

NorCal Ninjas

  • David Campbell
  • Anna Shumaker
  • Brian Kretsch

Heat one:

  • Neil Craver vs Brian Kretsch

These Ninjas kicked things off with a solid race. Neil led into the Tick Tock. When they were both on the Parallel Pipes, we had a chance to see how the obstacle will create some competition. Both Neil and Brain tugged on the pipes to attempt to dismount first. Neil landed it and was across the Floating Tiles first. Neil opened the lead further on the Hanging Staircase and was out of there and up the Warped Wall. Brian was in it the whole time, but Neil was simply faster.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat two:

  • Natalie Duran vs Anna Shumaker

It looked to be anyone’s game on the Pipes. Anna was able to navigate out of it faster, but then stumbled on the Tiles. She did remain dry and continued. Natalie was working on a comeback. She too fell on the Tiles and her shoes hit the water. Natalie sprinted to the Hanging Staircase, where Anna still had the lead. Anna took a run at the Warped Wall but missed the grab. This allowed Natalie time to collect herself and make her own run at the Wall, which was successful.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat three:

  • Grant McCartney vs David Campbell

David’s team was on the verge of a sweep, but the Godfather is known for operating well under pressure. He attacked the course with Grant just slightly behind him. Both fought for the lower pipe and someone managed to dismount at the same time. They rammed across the Tiles and were soon on the Hanging Staircase. Here, Grant turned on the afterburners and passed David, ripping up the Warped Wall and completing the sweep.

Point = Golden Hearts

  • Golden Hearts WIN.
  • NorCal Ninjas are OUT.


Iron Grip

  • Daniel Gil
  • Tiana Webberley
  • Mathis Owhadi

Beasts from the East

  • James McGrath
  • Erica Cook
  • Dave Cavanagh

Heat one:

  • Mathis Owhadi vs Dave Cavanagh

Mathis had the lead at the start. But as they approached the Parallel Pipes, Dave pulled ahead. He also left the obstacle first as Mathis began to lag a bit. Dave was navigating the Hanging Staircase when Mathis went for broke with a huge leap on to the obstacle. It didn’t pay off and he plunged into the water. Dave cleared the course for the first point of the match.

Point = Beasts from the East

Heat two:

  • Tiana Webberley vs Erica Cook

These Ninjas were close and fast right from the jump. Erica was off the Parallel Pipes first, while Tiana was dangling. When Tiana finally found the landing pad, Erica was working on the Staircase. Erica was moving along well, making it to the Warped Wall. There she paused before her first attempt, which sent her sliding back down. This created space for Tiana. Erica went for one more, unsuccessful attempt. In that time, Tiana had organized her thoughts and ran at the Wall, reaching the top on her first try.

Point = Iron Grip

Heat three:

  • Daniel Gil vs James McGrath

James leaped from the starting line to get a slight lead over Daniel. They were tied on the Parallel Pipes and battled for the exit strategy. Daniel left the obstacle first and never looked back. He barely touched the Floating Tiles. James was just starting the Staircase as Daniel was leaving and whipping up the slope of the Warped Wall.

Point = Iron Grip

Heat four - relay:

Erica and Tiana took the starting position. Dave and Mathis were in the middle. James and Daniel would close out the race.

Tiana led in the first leg while Erica got a little wet on the Sonic Swing. Mathis was tagging in first. In a blink, he was across the Pipes, across the Tiles, and tagged in Daniel. Dave brought in James, but Daniel had a massive head start. Daniel hit the buzzer to close out one of the fastest relays we’ve seen.

Point = Iron Grip

  • Iron Grip WIN.
  • Beasts from the East are OUT!


  • Golden Hearts vs Iron Grip

The extended course was BACK! The races were turned into an endurance gauntlet as the buzzer moved to the end of the course, after the Salmon Ladder, Rumbling Dice, and Zig Zag Climb.

Heat one: Grant McCartney vs Mathis Owhadi

Holy. Moly. The speed on these Ninjas! They were in a tie as they reached the Pipes and fought for the dismount. Grant was off first and tore across the Tiles to reach the Hanging Staircase. But Mathis was right behind him! They were actually on top of each other on the Hanging Staircase. Grant untangled himself and went up the Warped Wall.

Mathis bolted up right behind him and charged past to begin the Salmon Ladder first. He was also first to begin the Rumbling Dice, while Grant looked significantly slower and had a few struggles on the Salmon Ladder. Mathis lurched on to the Zig Zag Climb while Grant was still on the Rumbling Dice. Shockingly, Mathis slipped on the Zig Zag Climb and suddenly fell! Grant could still claim the win. But did he have the energy? At that point, he was hanging upside down from the Rumbling Dice, trying to shake out his arms.

After a moment, he righted himself and slogged on to complete the obstacle. If he could muster up the energy for the Zig Zag Climb, the win would be his. He began the climb with what looked like a strong strategy, but the extended course proved to be too much. His fall from the Climb gave the point back to Mathis.

Point = Iron Grip

Heat two:

  • Natalie Duran vs Tiana Webberley

Tiana was the first to the Parallel Pipes and the first to complete it. Natalie missed her transition to the second pipe and needed more time on the obstacle. But Tiana went down and out on the Floating Tiles. After completing the Pipes, Natalie picked her way across the Floating Tiles for the win.

Point = Golden Hearts

Heat three:

  • Neil Craver vs Daniel Gil

Both of these Ninjas wanted the point and it showed. They were pushing themselves big time. Daniel touched the Parallel Pipes first, but then they both used the same pipe to dismount at the same time. On the Hanging Staircase, they might as well have been climbing one another they were so tangled up. Daniel ultimately used the obstacle as his chance to take the lead. Daniel moved up the Wall first with Neil close behind.

Daniel maintained his tight lead through the Salmon Ladder and the Rumbling Dice. Daniel began the final climb and focused on the work that would take while Neil finished the Rumbling Dice. On the final climb, Neil pushed to catch Daniel, who was slowing significantly and looked to be slipping. Daniel held on with everything he had to push the buzzer just before Neil overtook him.

Point = Iron Grip

Heat four - relay:

Natalie and Tiana went first. Grant and Mathis were positioned for the middle obstacles. Neil and Daniel would face the final obstacles once again.

Tiana gave Iron Grip the advantage by clearing the Parallel Pipes before Natalie again, tagging in Mathis. This put Grant in the position of playing catch up to a speed demon. Both were on the Hanging Staircase, but Mathis was quickly off to the Wall. Grant hurried to make up ground and took a hard hit on the Staircase dismount. He quickly pulled himself up and ran to bring in Neil.

Daniel was well ahead, but Neil went into a whole new mode we haven’t seen before. He was absolutely flying up behind Daniel and suddenly had the lead when he dismounted the Rumbling Dice first. Not it was a race up the Zig Zag Climb. Both put every drop of energy they had into it. In the end, it was Daniel who eked out the win and the spot in the finals.

Point = Iron Grip

That relay was absolutely the Mitsubishi Run of the Night. Every member of both teams gave it their all to create a nail-biting, breathless performance.

  • Iron Grip to the Finals!
  • Golden Hearts are OUT!

Next week:

On May 21, four more times will step up to the course, looking for their place in the finals.

  • Phoenix Force
  • Team Wolfpack
  • Frostbite
  • Labreckfast Club