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Indianapolis City Finals recap: We didn’t see that coming, but that’s why we watch

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This episode had some fascinating surprises in store for viewers.

Michael Hickey/NBC

The American Ninja Warrior Indianapolis City Finals was a study in why this show fascinates a large number of people. There’s the idea that anything can happen. “Anything” being the rise of a relative unknown to the very top of the Spider Trap. And “anything” meaning that greats don’t complete the course, or even fall far before they would qualify to advance in the competition. This edition of the City Finals kept us off-balance and guessing until the very last moments.

Let’s jump into the action.

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 3
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Cane Lane : 9
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Spin Hopper: 5

The course:

  • Archer Steps (replaced Floating Steps)
  • Fly Wheels (replaced Cannonball Drop)
  • Wheel Flip
  • Block Run
  • Spin Hopper
  • Warped Wall
  • Salmon Ladder
  • The Clacker
  • Cane Lane (new obstacle, Ninjas must jump down two sets of truss using just a cane)
  • Spider Trap

Quick Highlights:

  • Let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, it was jarring at first to see an orange and white speedo on the course. But it makes sense in context! Mike Wright is a diving coach at the University of Tennessee, and he has a long and successful history in competitive diving.

During the Qualifiers, Mike fell on the Spin Hopper. For the City Finals, he was through to the back half of the course. He dropped one hand on The Clacker but was able to get the grip back and move on. He fell fairly quickly on Cane Lane but would end up through to the National Finals.

  • Eric Sheppard was out on the new second obstacle, Fly Wheels.
  • Marcelino Riley made it to the fifth obstacle, Spin Hopper.
  • Madelynn McNeal shared her story of struggling with depression and anxiety. A teacher stepped in and took an active role in helping Madelynn. Now she also works with kids to promote their self worth. On the course, Madelynn jumped from wheel to wheel on Wheel Flip instead of trying to reach across. She seemed to be moving a bit slow, which isn’t always a bad thing. She picked up the pace across Block Run, but then fell for the second time on the Spin Hopper.
  • Ty Dillon is a NASCAR driver who tried the course for fun, meaning he was not part of the general pool of competitors who could potentially advance. His Ninja experiment ended at the Fly Wheels.
  • The Muscle Ball, Tyler Yamauchi, earned his nickname once again. He zipped through the Spin Hopper which had taken him out in Qualifying. After going up and over the Warped Wall, he had perfect form on the Salmon Ladder. Tyler was displaying tons of energy on The Clacker. During Cane Lane, he fell while trying to hop over the first dip in the rail.
  • Jonas Duncan is 20-years-old, and he’s got hair, lots of it. We won’t see it blowing in the Vegas breeze though. Jonas fell on the Wheel Flip.
  • Meghan Anten was out on the Wheel Flip.
  • Jesse Maurer made it to the Salmon Ladder.
  • Kyle Stradtman, the Dog Walking Ninja who finished the Qualifying course, fell on Wheel Flip.
  • Rookie Mario Brown is a math teacher and football coach. He lost his best friend Dominique in 2009. Since then, Mario has been dedicated helping raise his friend’s son. JeMear was on the sideline for Mario’s run. He had a bit of trouble getting off the Archer Steps but ultimately made it through. He flew off the Fly Wheels and landed with a splat on the landing mats. He had another hard dismount off the Wheel Flip. Mario was working hard on the Spin Hopper when he fell on the descent.
  • Nicole Martinez made it to the fifth obstacle in the Qualifiers. This time she was out on the Fly Wheels.
  • Alex Carson brought along a homemade cheesecake for Matt and Akbar, which they appeared to be enjoying while Alex made it all the way to The Clacker.
  • Our second Ninja of the night with a glorious head of hair was returning competitor Rigel Henry. He told us how his career in shotcrete strengthened him for the obstacles. During the Qualifying round, Rigel smacked his face on the Spin Hopper but he still finished the course. This time around, the fans on the sideline yelled reminders to him to keep his face out of the way and he did. The obstacles after that looked easy for Rigel. Nothing slowed him down on the Warped Wall, Salmon Ladder, or The Clacker. On Cane Lane, he looked fairly comfortable. He navigated the tricky 180 degree turn and was the first to finish the obstacle.

Things got intense on the Spider Trap. From the start it looked like Rigel couldn’t decide how to wedge his body in the chute. He was slipping and didn’t look secure. Yet, somehow, he kept advancing up the obstacle. So many times we thought he was going to fall. Rigel was in a battle of wills like we haven’t seen yet this season. The whole audience was screaming at him to hang on. Just under the last set of doors, it looked like he was done. But he somehow pushed open one, then the other, and scrambled to the buzzer for a very hard-earned course completion.

  • Michael Bougher finished the Qualifying course with the fastest time. On the back half of the City Finals course, he dropped one hand, and then another, on The Clacker, but was able to recover both times. He fell at the very start of the Cane Lane track.
  • Jeri D’Aurelio and her dad are quite the pair. He’s a very proud poppa who used to bang a drum at all of Jeri’s track meets and wrestling matches. On the City Finals course, Jeri had a great dismount from the Fly Wheels. She worked efficiently through the Wheel Flip. Passing Block Run guaranteed a spot for her in the National Finals. She tried to beat the Spin Hopper that had previously taken her out, but it was a repeat. Jeri is still off to Vegas though!
  • Veteran Brian Arnold’s run was minimized during a commercial break. He earned his seventh trip back to the National Finals by making it all the way to Cane Lane. He fell trying to navigate the transfer to the second track.
  • At 20 years-old, Trevor West was one of the youngest competitors of the night. In high school, he experienced some pretty horrific bullying that was both physical and mental. Watching American Ninja Warrior inspired him to want to be strong and prompted his training on a backyard course. Now with his confidence restored, Trevor is a a star at local Ninja competitions and on American Ninja Warrior.

Trevor gave the fans a little wave as he went over his first Warped Wall. The Salmon Ladder and The Clackers just slipped right by for him. On Cane Lane, he quickly made his way to the second track and completed the obstacle. He floated up the Spider Trap and hit the buzzer for the fastest time of the night so far.

  • James Wilson hit his head hard twice on the Fly Wheels, but still finished the obstacle. He fell shortly after on the Wheel Flip.
  • Chris DiGangi finished the Qualifying course. He also made it to Cane Lane during the City Finals and was cleared to return to Vegas.
  • Dan Polizzi was able to pass Cane Lane. However, he battled the Spider Trap for almost two minutes before falling there, unable to hit the buzzer.
  • Kyle Schulze is enjoying his sophomore season on the show. Since his Kansas City debut, Kyle, who is deaf, has been working with the Illinois Association of the Deaf. He’s inspiring children through teaching them about goals and ambitions.

Kyle fell on the Spin Hopper in Qualifying after a good whack to the head on the dismount, which caused him to fall backwards. This time around, he had a great run through the front part of the course. Before the Warped Wall, he paused and quickly taught the audience how to sign “Beat that Wall.” Then he hopped right over it with oodles of room to spare. He slammed his way up the Salmon Ladder and was through to Vegas when he finished The Clacker. While he did survive the transition on Cane Lane, he fell after that. But it was a spectacular run!

  • Travis Rosen, back for his ninth season on the show, was through The Clacker. He has been at every National Finals that’s taken place and his streak was alive and well when he fell on Cane Lane.
  • Ethan Swanson has made “the swan” move his trademark. He showed it off by getting Matt and Akbar to demonstrate when he was on top of the Warped Wall. One of Ethan’s hands slid off The Clacker but he was able to replace it. He took a big dismount and secured his place in the top 15. Ethan also dropped a hand on Cane Lane and impressively was able to get it back and finish the obstacle. Ethan swam up the Spider Trap and claimed the new fastest time for the night and his first City Finals buzzer.
  • David Womelsdorf was out on the Spin Hopper.
  • Brad Spine fell on Cane Lane and was through to the National Finals.
  • Phillip Hucke has one heck of a strong beard game going on. He fell on the Salmon Ladder.
  • Then it was time for Isaac Caldiero. The show’s first champion had returned after two seasons away and completed the Qualifying course. His goal was to hit all six buzzers this year.

But we were about to be handed the shock of night, and maybe, the shock of the season so far. After looking casual through the first few obstacles, Isaac paused before Block Run. Then, he was out. The balance obstacle twisted him into the water. This meant that not only was the buzzer out of reach, but Isaac would also not return to the National Finals. It was a powerful reminder that everyone falls at some point on Ninja Warrior. Everyone.

  • The show closed with Jesse Labreck. This is her third season on the show and she’s yet to show any signs that the pressure is getting to her. Each season, she’s ranked as a top Ninja overall. This year, she wanted a City Finals buzzer. Jesse was able to complete the Qualifying course.

She just needed to pass Block Run to make sure she moved on to Vegas, which wasn’t a problem. Jesse was smooth through the Spin Hopper, and quickly put the Salmon Ladder behind her. She was the first woman to beat The Clacker and then faced Cane Lane. She was out early on the obstacle. The run took her deep into the back half of the course and into the top 15 overall for the night.

  • There were three finishers on the course, same as the Miami City Finals.

Read a full list of everyone moving on to the City Finals here.

Heart-pounding moment:

We can still very clearly remember Rigel Henry’s run from the night of taping. Watching him on the Spider Trap left us gob-smacked. When we first saw his early struggles on the obstacle, there was a general sense of, “Oh geez, this isn’t going to happen.” But Rigel is, well, Rigel. Meaning he operates on his own level, as demonstrated when he whacked his head in Qualifying and shook it off like it was nothing. Rigel just wasn’t going to stop. He clawed for every single centimeter on that Spider Trap. The screams from the crowd turned from “Oh no!” to “Go! Go!” Everyone was emotionally invested in his ascent and we all had to take a moment to recover from the excitement afterwards.

Heart-breaking moment:

It’s hard to say we’re “heart-broken” for Isaac Caldiero since, come on, he did win a million dollars and has the claim to fame of the first American Ninja Warrior champion. But, we don’t like seeing anyone go out on a guessing-game of an obstacle like Block Run. We want to see Ninjas reach the full potential of their strengths, even if it doesn’t get them to a buzzer. It took us a minute to adjust to the idea that Isaac will not be competing in Vegas, since we’d been picturing him there since he announced his return.

Shout out of the night:

We’d like to give a tip of the hat to the long time veterans who came out to this course. Travis Rosen has been a top contender since season two. Brian Arnold has been competing since season four. Both of them are on a long, uninterrupted streak of National Finals appearances. Chris DiGangi has put in five previous seasons. Dan Polizzi used his years of experience to battle all the way to the Spider Trap. We didn’t see too much of them in Indianapolis. These experienced pros of the show just steadily delivered stellar performances with no additional fanfare. We respect that. And we can’t wait to see them back in Las Vegas.

Next week:

Okay, how are we only three weeks away from the National Finals? With only two City Finals episodes left, we’re off to Philadelphia on August 13!