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Philadelphia Qualifiers recap: The record-breaking city brought it once again

For the second time, the Philly Ninjas decided to make some history!

Bill McCay/NBC

We won’t lie. We were super excited that American Ninja Warrior returned to Philadelphia this season! The last stop there in season eight was epic. Four women qualified for the City Finals. For the first time ever, no one was able to hit the buzzer on the City Finals course. And for season 10, the dominos were in place for another incredible night.

Dozens of athletes took to the course, including a long list of legends like Najee Richardson, Allyssa Beird, Michelle Warnky, Chris Wilczewski, Jamie Rahn, and James McGrath.

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 12
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Lightning Bolts: 13
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Wingnuts: 5
  • Ninjas who completed the Mega Wall: 2

The course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Spinning Bowties
  • Broken Bridge
  • Wingnuts
  • Lightning Bolts
  • Warped Wall

Quick highlights:

  • We started things off with Jason Avant, former Eagles wide receiver. To get ready for the course, he trained with Najee Richardson. It’s always anyone’s guess if a football player will do well on the obstacles, but Jason held his own! He was through the Floating Steps and celebrated with a little flossing. He was the first to show us the new Spinning Bowties. We worried for him on the Broken Bridge, but he made it! The Wingnuts were season nine’s iconic Ninja Killer and they showed no mercy to Jason. But that was a pretty solid run and the crowd was excited to be reminded of their recent Super Bowl win!
  • Stuart Warshawer is a principal in Philadelphia who’s formed a close bond with his students. He moved quickly through the steps for his first time on a Ninja course. But he was out on the Spinning Bowties.
  • Ian Nance also fell victim to the Spinning Bowties.
  • Alexa Marcigliano proved the Wingnuts still have their bite this season.
  • Eric Totten fell on the Broken Bridge.
  • Paul Ruggeri III is a high-level gymnast. He took a fall on the Broken Bridge that we thought was unrecoverable. Paul defied gravity to haul himself to the landing pad. He then passed the Wingnuts as well! He was the first of the episode to reach the Lightning Bolts and he quickly fell there.
  • Helen Lin has got to be the happiest ice swimmer on the planet. She smiles while swimming around a mile in water that can be in the 30s! She was the same on the course. She grinned through the Floating Steps. She was overjoyed when she landed the Spinning Bowties. When she went out on the Broken Bridge, she took a quick lap in the pool.
  • James Bartholomew was a walk on who was so close to finishing the Lightning Bolts.
  • McKinley Pierce reached the Wingnuts during her run.
  • Marcos Colon-Pappaterra tried to pull off another miraculous save on the Broken Bridge, but his attempt proved unsuccessful.
  • Chad Riddle is a kindergarten teacher with a bit of history with the show. He competed in season six, but didn’t make it to Vegas, which is where his parents planned on watching him. This season, they were on the sidelines in Philly. Chad was quickly on to the Bowties and through the Broken Bridge. On the Wingnuts, he nailed the strategy of reaching between them. He stayed steady on the Lightning Bolts and was the first to beat the obstacle! He opted not to try for the Mega Wall, but only needed one try on the Warped Wall. He hit the first buzzer of the night and collapsed into tears of joy.
  • Ryan Carson had his right leg amputated below the knee six years ago. In 2012, he tried to jump a fence and was impaled behind the knee and now wears a prosthetic. Ryan doesn’t see it as a disability and it certainly didn’t effect his performance on the course.

He had no trouble with the Floating Steps and the Spinning Bowties. He stumbled at the end of the Broken Bridge, but he was safe! He then took on the Wingnuts and was soon at the Lightning Bolts. That’s where he fell, but Ryan gave us an incredible and inspiring run.

  • D’Angelo Lewis fell on the Spinning Bowties.
  • Annika Nieshalla made it to the Wingnuts.
  • Lucas Reale, one of the season’s young 19-year-olds survived all the way to the Lightning Bolts.
  • Perry Madison wore a rainbow headband to inspire other gay athletes. He fell on the Spinning Bowties.
  • Alexandra Mack, who recently was the cover model for Runners Magazine, also fell on the Spinning Bowties.
  • Jamie Rahn’s run was abbreviated, but great. He was the first to try the Mega Wall of the night. He just barely missed it. However, he still finished his seventh straight Qualifying course.
  • Casey Rothschild just turned 20 years old. She’s a student who’s trained in circus arts and track and field, as well as training at Drew Drechsel’s gym. She put that all together on the Ninja course. Casey looked strong on the Spinning Bowties, and was smooth across the Broken Bridge. On the Wingnuts, she bumped the one behind her during a big back swing, but she was still safe. Even after making a one-handed catch.

As she worked on the Lightning Bolts, Matt and Akbar looked taken aback by this rookie. She made it across the difficult obstacle and stepped up to the Warped Wall. She missed her first and second attempts. Drew came to the sidelines and reminded her to relax. After a beat, she charged the wall and became the youngest female ever to beat the Qualifying course. What a debut!

  • Chris Wilczewski was missing from the show in season nine. Now, we learned the scary reason why. In July of 2016, Chris walked out on a pier in Lake Michigan to check out the waves from a storm. He was all alone when a rogue wave pulled him into the water. He struggled for around 30 minutes as he was bashed by waves. Even though he was giving it his full effort, he was drifting back from the shore. He thought this was end. At the last minute, a surfer happened to find him.

Since then, Chris was endured PTSD and panic attacks. But he decided that season 10 was going to be his. He looked like he had a whole new outlook on the course. Chris flew through the Bowties and across the Broken Bridge. He was moving super fast across the Lightning Bolts. He glared up at the Mega Wall and gave out a war cry as he stormed up the ramp. And he landed it! Chris hit the buzzer for $10k and announced his return in the best way possible.

  • Garen Lara was casually dressed when he fell on the Wingnuts.
  • Ryan Lee calls himself the Naptime Ninja, because he can nap any where, even on the course. He fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Veteran Ninja James McGrath made it to the end of the course. He tried for the Mega Wall, but became the fourth finisher of the night when he went up the 14’6” wall.
  • Anthony DeFranco was the fastest finisher in both the Philly and Cleveland Qualifiers. This year, he was running for his older sister, who just went through ocular melanoma. The crowd gasped in shock when he fell on the Floating Steps.
  • Nickolas Kupper is a father of four. This includes his daughter Guyana who has Spina Bifida. Guyana was adopted from an orphanage and she works so hard for every bit of her progress. She inspires her dad to never give up. Nickolas took a slow strategy across the Broken Bridge, still managing to stay dry. In fact, it wasn’t until the Lightning Bolts that he began to look tired. He ultimately ended his run there.
  • Shawn Johnson, Zach Day and Gavin Ross also all fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Michelle Warnky is one of the most well known Ninja Warrior athletes. But she hasn’t hit a buzzer since season six, when she was the second woman to complete the Warped Wall.

She planned on changing that right now! Michelle looked strong all the way through the Broken Bridge. After completing the Wingnuts, she was back at the fifth obstacle. She had a little snag on the middle Lightning Bolt, but she was through the obstacle! Michelle eyed the Mega Wall and gave it a go. She came up short, but then zipped up the Warped Wall to get back to the buzzer.

  • Darion Bennett has three jobs to support his family. He made it all the way to the Lightning Bolts, but looked unsure on how to place his hands. He ended up falling in the middle of the obstacle. He wasn’t too sad though. Darion was super pumped about the towel.
  • Daria Beird is Allyssa’s mom! She’s been watching Allyssa’s Ninja career with pride, and caught the bug to try it herself. Daria is 55 years-old and works on a horse farm. She trained with Allyssa to get ready for this. Daria was cautious on the Floating Steps and completed them! She looked good on the Spinning Bowties, but she came up a tad short on the dismount and landed in the water.
  • Angel Rodriguez and Alex Nye both fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Trina Lisko and Kevin Liang splashed down on the Spinning Bowties.
  • Cara Poalillo runs the NinjaBabes podcast where she interviews the top female athletes. She proved she’s a Ninja herself when she made it to the Lightning Bolts.
  • Another veteran, Dave Cavanagh, tried the Mega Wall and settled on the Warped Wall for his buzzer.
  • Allyssa Beird was the last female Ninja standing in season nine when she beat Stage One of the National Finals. She was also one of the “fantastic four” (along with Michelle Warnky) who made the City Finals in the season eight Philadelphia Qualifiers.

Although being a fifth grader teacher keeps her busy, Allyssa hasn’t let up on her training. She passed her mom when she landed the dismount on the Spinning Bowties. She had style on the Broken Bridge. Allyssa was ready for the Wingnuts and strategically perfect on the Lightning Bolts. She even pulled off a somersault with the landing. Allyssa gave the Mega Wall a shot. There wasn’t at $10k prize in her future, but there was another buzzer and another trip to the City Finals.

  • Candace Rubenstein fell on the Broken Bridge.
  • Judas Licciardello also tried for the Mega Wall, and ended up at the top of the 14’6” wall.
  • Firefighter Mike Bernardo completed the course after an attempt on the Mega Wall.
  • We closed the night out with Najee Richardson. Philadelphia is his hometown. In 2016, this was the city where he earned his nickname of the “Phoenix,” rising from the ashes of an injury that ended his gymnastics career.

But we were worried for Najee on this course. He missed his first attempt at leaving the Floating Steps and looked to be stretching out a calf cramp on the landing pad. He took massive swings on the Spinning Bowties but still looked cramped up when he landed. They didn’t hold him back on the Broken Bridge though. Even after the Wingnuts, he was still shaking out his legs. Luckily, he didn’t need them to pass the Lightning Bolts. We honestly thought the Mega Wall wasn’t going to happen after all the cramps. But this is Najee. He dipped into his reserve tank of energy. Najee flew up the Mega Wall with a one-handed grab for the $10k!

  • Three women hit the buzzer, more than any other Qualifying episode!
  • There were 12 course completions.
  • The Mega Wall was conquered twice!

Here is a list of everyone moving on to the City Finals.

Heart-pounding moment:

The return of Chris Wilczewski could be made into a movie. We can’t imagine what he experienced while struggling in the water. We can’t imagine how tough it was for him to sit out season nine when Ninja Warrior is his life. But he clearly did what was right for him. He was a whole new Ninja on the course. We can’t deny that we got a little choked up while watching his run come together live. We can’t wait to see where this season takes him.

Heart-breaking moment:

This is the tough one this week for a good reason. We’re pretty darn pleased overall with the results of the Philadelphia Qualifiers. Everyone put forth their best effort. The veterans did well. The rookies did well. We do feel for Anthony DeFranco and his fall on the first obstacle. That’s never what you want to see for any Ninja. But we feel like Anthony will be back on top again soon.

Shout out of the night:

Hi there, Allyssa, Casey, and Michelle! In season eight, Philly gave us the most women ever to qualify for the City Finals. This season, it gave us the most buzzers ever from female competitors! Michelle was back at the buzzer for the first time in four seasons. Allyssa completed her third straight Qualifying course. Casey came out of nowhere and hit the buzzer on her first try! We were screaming for all of them.

Next week:

Join us in two weeks for the Minneapolis Qualifiers! On Monday, July 9th, it’s already the LAST Qualifying episode of the season! Can you believe that? Ninjas like Joe Moravsky and Meagan Martin will look for their shot at the City Finals. Don’t miss it.