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National Finals night one recap: A two-hour emotional gauntlet

The good, the bad, the comical and the broken. It ALL happened.

David Becker/NBC

Night one of the American Ninja Warrior National Finals was a breathless rampage of emotions. All the emotions. Seriously, we laughed, cried, cringed, and screamed in both terror and delight. There’s a LOT to digest so let’s get into it.

Matt Iseman dropped a bit of a bombshell by mentioning that Stage Two will feature an underwater obstacle. That’s a first for the show and a big curveball for the Ninjas. We’ll see how that plays out on the finale in two weeks.

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 12
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Twist and Fly (including timing out): 5
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Double Dipper: 10

The course:

  • Archer Alley
  • Propeller Bar
  • Double Dipper
  • Jumping Spider
  • Jeep Run
  • Warped Wall
  • Razor Beams
  • Twist and Fly
  • Time Limit: 2:25

Quick Highlights:

  • At 19-years-old, Matthew Day has had a wonderful rookie year. He was the first to show us the three platforms of Archer Alley. After making it through the Propeller Bar and the Double Dipper, he splashed out at the Jumping Spider.
  • EMT Davyon Hancox scared us at the start line when it looked like his legs buckled while warming up. He snagged the rope of the Propeller Bar with his legs, but hey, whatever works! He got through the Double Dipper and barely locked into the Jumping Spider. Davyon showed us Jeep Run, which requires Ninjas to run up four slanting tires, leap between two swinging steering wheels, and dismount onto a free-spinning tire. That last tire is what spun Davyon into the water.
  • It was awesome to note that the Fantastic Four was back together in Vegas! Rachael Goldstein, Jesse Labreck, Michelle Warnky, and Allyssa Beird all qualified for the City Finals in Philadelphia for season eight. This year they were in different cities, but they all made City and National Finals!
  • Rachael Goldstein was the first of Fantastic Four to run Stage One. She had a few little slips on Archer Alley and needed an extra swing to the landing pad. She also needed a bit of extra time on the Propeller Bar. On the Double Dipper, Rachael was almost safe, but didn’t make it to the landing pad.
  • Nick Hanson was looking confident at the start of the run. He was through the Double Dipper and Jumping Spider. He paused before Jeep Run but did complete the obstacle. Time was starting to slip away. After the Mega Wall this season, Nick had no trouble with this course’s wall. But our anxiety was rising as we noticed the clock. Nick needed to get his hustle on. He had about 43 seconds left to handle Twist and Fly. He was spinning on the obstacle, gobbling up seconds. He only had 10 seconds left when he hit the cargo net and it wasn’t enough. Nick timed out, which had also happened to him two years ago.
  • This was Nick Patel’s first time at the National Finals. He went out on the Propeller Bar.
  • Rigel Henry, oh my. He didn’t want us to forget that he earned a finishers patch at the Indianapolis City Finals. So he PINNED IT TO HIS SKIN. He was out at the Double Dipper.
  • Rookie Brian Rambo finished both Los Angeles courses. He fell on the Jumping Spider.
  • Kyle Shulze is the first deaf athlete to take part in the National Finals. But he had a very quick run, falling on Archer Alley.
  • Earlier in the season, we learned rookie Austin Gray had donated his kidney to friend, Kaylee. She now doing some Ninja training alongside Austin. Austin flew down Stage One. He blasted through the Spider Jump and Jeep Run. He whipped up the Warped Wall and had plenty of time for the Razor Beams. He had a little spin on the second handle of Twist and Fly but got to the cargo net. What a way to grab your first buzzer, Austin!
  • Jeri D’Aurelio’s dad brought his drum to Vegas, but her run ended at the Propeller Bar.
  • This was Elliot Jolivette’s first time in Vegas. He splashed out at the Double Dipper.
  • Brent Steffensen was on his eighth trip to the National Finals. He timed out on Twist and Fly.
  • Jon Alexis Jr. is coming off the fastest finish in the Minneapolis City Finals. He used massive strides to clear Archer Alley. He had an extra spin on the Propeller Bar but it still looked like he was fine for time. His wingspan came in handy on Jeep Run as well, and he clamored over the final tire. He looked a little nervous about the Razor Beams and then went right from them to Twist and Fly. He had 40 seconds left on the clock as he began to flounder. Jon made a lunge for the cargo net and missed, ending his run.
  • Travis Rosen had an unforgettable ninth trip to Stage One, and not for a good reason. Things looked fine until the dismount from Double Dipper. He hit the edge of the landing pad with feet first, tumbling into the water. He resurfaced and indicated he needed help. Travis had broken his ankle during the impact. It was hard to watch and NOT how we wanted his season to end.
  • Flip Rodriguez has beaten Stage One five times before this. But after Travis’ run, we were terrified of the Double Dipper. It struck again when it took out Flip in a stunning shock.
  • Karson Voiles was back for his fourth time at the National Finals. He shared that his wife is dealing with a tumor in her head. One of their daughters, Kazdyn, planned on “helping” dad through the course with her magic wand. Karson did not want to let them down and he absolutely did not. He had a minute left on the clock at the Warped Wall and transitioned to the cargo net of Twist and Fly with 30 seconds left. He hit the buzzer for his family.
  • Danny Bergstrom had his 8 siblings cheering him on. He fell at the Double Dipper.
  • Firefighter Thomas Kofron was out at the Jumping Spider.
  • Tyler Yamauchi was back for his third appearance. He also went out at the Double Dipper.
  • Jamie Rahn’s run highlighted what a sheerly talented athlete he is. He lost a shoe on the trampoline of the Propeller Bar. Instead of getting frazzled, he made the best of it. He yanked off his sock and kept right on running. Is the Jumping Spider even possible with one shoe? Yup. He took off the other shoe and sock before Jeep Run and ran through it. He needed to hurry at this point. He only had about 30 seconds near the Warped Wall. He ripped into the Twist and Fly. Jamie had 18 seconds left to finish the cargo net. We were screaming at him to climb. When he hit the buzzer, even Jamie looked a little baffled as to how he did that BAREFOOT.
  • Brian Arnold has made it to National Finals every year he’s competed. His run was shown picture-in-picture during the break. He took a long pause before the Jumping Spider and then needed to build some momentum on the Warped Wall. As the seconds slipped away, Brian pressed on, but fell on the cargo net.
  • Neil Craver took three trips around on the Propeller Bar and then crashed out on the Double Dipper. What is going on with that obstacle tonight?
  • This is a tough one to write. Allyssa Beird finished Stage One in season nine. This year, she was out on the very first obstacle, Archer Alley. We were gobsmacked.
  • But Allyssa wasn’t the only one. Michelle Warnky then also fell on Archer Alley. We wanted to cry a little bit.
  • Michael Johnson joined the swim club at the Double Dipper.
  • Thank goodness for Dan Polizzi for lifting the mood. He completed the course for his first National Finals buzzer.
  • James McGrath has gone out on the Jumping Spider on his last two trips to Stage One. He was looking good when he charged into the Jumping Spider... and fell on it once again, going head over heels into the water.
  • Casey Suchocki is a married man after proposing on the show last season. He needed two spins on the Propeller Bar, but was locked in confidently on the Jumping Spider. He had just over a minute left after Jeep Run. He smiled over the Warped Wall and made his way to Twist and Fly. He seemed a little out of control on the obstacle but still got to the cargo net. He made it to the buzzer with less than five seconds on the clock, his first buzzer of the season!
  • Ethan Swanson stumbled off Jeep Run but went on to finish the course.
  • Josh Levin has had a perfect season so far. He hit the buzzer with 17 seconds still on the clock.
  • Sean Bryan snagged his third buzzer of the season as well with over 18 seconds on the clock.
  • Jesse Labreck stepped up as the final member of the Fantastic Four to run the course. Last season, she was SO close to finishing Stage One. We really, really wanted that buzzer for her this season. She was safe through the Double Dipper and the Jumping Spider. She hung on to the last steering wheel of Jeep Run a little longer than we would have liked and needed to scramble to save herself from the spinning tire. She needed to kick it into gear. Jesse needed two attempts on the Warped Wall. This left her with about 40 seconds for the last two obstacles. She just didn’t look comfortable on Twist and Fly and things got out of control. While it was a very strong run, it was a little devastating to see her miss the grab to the second handle, ending her season.
  • Ian Dory was a slightly hung up on Propeller Bar and shocked us when he fell on the Jumping Spider.
  • Tyler Gillett completed Stage One for the second year.
  • Adam Rayl dominated the course, hitting the buzzer with over 23 seconds left.
  • Joe Moravsky has never fallen on Stage One. He’s one of the most consistent competitors ever. Matt was busy reminding us of Joe’s skills when he suddenly plummeted off the Double Dipper. Akbar couldn’t mask his shock. When Kristine interviewed Joe, he was overcome with emotion and almost unable to speak.
  • Okay, we really needed Daniel Gil to get this train back on track. He took two spins on the Propeller Bar and then tore out of there. Safe through the Double Dipper, he ripped into the Jumping Spider. On Jeep Run, he didn’t need to laché between the wheels, just reaching between them. On Twist and Fly, he needed lots of swings but landed super high on the cargo net. That advantage let him his the buzzer with 38.55 seconds left on the clock, by far the fastest time of the night.
  • That is, until Mathis “Kid” Owhadi hit the course. By the time the 19-year-old rookie was at the Warped Wall, he was on pace to threaten Daniel’s time. He also spun out a bit on Twist and Fly but reached the net. He didn’t let the cargo net suck his momentum away and managed to beat Daniel’s time by two seconds. Mathis pointed at the tower after that, perhaps foreshadowing his coming accomplishments.

Heart-Pounding Moment:

Jamie Rahn once called Chris Wilczewski a “a sack of meat that destroys obstacles.” But really, he might have been describing himself. During a night of upsetting falls, we were distraught to see Jamie’s shoe pop off. It was a sense of, “Are you kidding me? ANOTHER legend is about to go down?” Maybe Jamie had to think for a minute, but it never showed. You would have thought he practiced courses barefoot all the time. We were sure the Jumping Spider would end the run. Nope. Then it just became so impressive it was baffling. We were laugh-cheering all the way to the end. It was one of the best surprises of the night.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

Ugh. Allyssa and Michelle on Archer Alley. UGH. That was a gut punch. We thought we were going to see them both at the buzzer, or at least much farther down the course. We don’t know what happened. It’s just part of Ninja Warrior. But it’s not easy and we still don’t like it.

Shout out of the night:

Travis Rosen and his endless composure. Whenever he’s on the course, we’re always struck by how controlled Travis is, no matter what’s going on around him. Case in point, his fall on the Double Dipper. The man Broke. His. Ankle. And yet he quietly notified the crew that he needed assistance and swam calmly to the edge of the pool. That trait has to be one of the reasons he’s such a strong competitor after all these seasons. We wish Travis a speedy recover and we want to see him back on Stage One ASAP.

Next week:

On Monday, September 3, it’s night two of the National Finals. The rest of the Ninjas will take on this devilish Stage One. Ninjas like Meagan Martin and Drew Drechsel will be looking to collect that buzzer.