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National Finals finale recap: Season 10 closes with monster courses

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The Ninjas gave it absolutely everything they had.

David Becker/NBC

This article was published prior to Drew Drechsel’s arrest. NBC and American Ninja Warrior have since cut ties with him.

Thousands of Ninjas applied. Hundreds ran the course. American Ninja Warrior traversed six cities and kept us on the edge of our seats the whole time. Now, only 30 Ninjas remain. They survived Qualifiers and City Finals. They hit a buzzer on the intense Stage One. After all that, they’re still facing their biggest challenges yet: Stage Two, an underwater obstacle, and beyond.

We haven’t had an American Ninja Warrior champion since season seven. This season, the champion returned. The age limit was lowered. And yet we still don’t know what will happen. Let’s recap the finale of season 10!

STAGE TWO

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 2
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Deja Vu: 10
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Wingnut Alley: 11

The course:

  • Epic Catch and Release
  • Criss Cross Salmon Ladder
  • Deja Vu (This year’s Obstacle Design Challenge Winner from Kevin Carbone!)
  • Swing Surfer
  • Wingnut Alley
  • Water Walls (A series of heavy doors Ninjas need to open and swim through)
  • Time limit: 4:30

Quick Highlights:

  • Josh Salinas started things off. We learned that he’s now engaged to his high school sweetheart, Chelsea! Josh showed us Epic Catch and Release, which is a variation of the obstacle we saw in Dallas. He had good strong jumps on the Salmon Ladder. Deja Vu is a new obstacle, and Ninjas risk knocking the bars off their tracks at any moment. Josh navigated that just fine and breezed through the Swing Surfer. In season nine, Josh fell on the third Wingnut of Wingnut Alley. It looked like he had it this time, but while he prepared for his last jump, his hands slipped off.
  • Nicholas Coolridge was enjoying his third trip to Stage Two. Unfortunately, like last season, he fell on the Criss Cross Salmon Ladder.
  • Tyler Gillett was the first Ninja we saw fall on Deja Vu.
  • Casey Suchocki looked like he was safe on Deja Vu. When the bar became uneven, he leveled it out, but a moment later he was in the water.
  • Daniel Gil made it to Stage Three in season eight. He’s had a perfect season to this point, including the Mega Wall, so he was a favorite to make it back there again. He stepped up to Stage Two with the goggles already on, indicating he was ready to go all the way. Which is why we all gasped when he was stuck on Deja Vu, and then screamed when he was out there.
  • Chris Wilczewski has had an incredible comeback season after missing season nine, with three buzzers and $10k under his belt. He put up a strong run to Wingnut Alley.
  • Jake Murray has been enjoying his re-found relaxation on the course, including the fastest time on Stage One. But he looked serious at this start line. On the Epic Catch and Release, he missed several attempts to lock in the first bar. He finally got it but then struggled to release the second bar. His arms peeled off on the first obstacle.
  • R.J. Roman is a touring bass player in a metal band. He also has the skin condition Vitiligo and wants to inspire confidence in other children who have it. After Catch and Release, R.J. pulled off some kind of crazy muscle-up, backwards flip that landed him at the top of the ladder. He looked peaceful moving through Deja Vu and Swing Surfer. He even paused at the top on waved to his family. On Wingnut Alley, he barely got his grip on the second one. Moving to the third ended his run.
  • Lucas Reale, one of the 19-year-old rookies closed his awesome season on the Criss Cross Salmon Ladder.
  • Dan Polizzi looked to have a nice save on Deja Vu. Moments later fell off the obstacle.
  • Josh Levin is now a three-time Stage Two veteran. He was so close to finishing Wingnut Alley when he fell on the final set of handles.
  • It was revealed that Najee Richardson finished Stage Two last season while having an asthma attack. He was openly concerned about what the underwater obstacle would mean for him. Najee moved quickly to the Salmon Ladders and went up two rungs at a time. He took a cautious approach to Deja Vu. Najee took several stops to check his breathing and heart rate. The crowd looked nervous about the time, but Najee lived up to his nickname and flew through Wingnut Alley. He had 1:30 left on the clock. He slowed his breathing one more time and entered the pool at about 1:14. The first door needed to be pulled sideways. Najee started coming up air several times and we were growing concerned for him. The second wall was a 100lb lift. Precious moments were sliding away. The last wall was a crank and the clock was nearing 10 seconds.

In a final show of endurance, Najee got the door open and dove through. He clamored towards the buzzer as the time reached zero. It was honestly one of the most heartbreaking ‘time out’ conclusions we’ve ever witnessed.

  • Rookie Angel Rodriguez went out on the Criss Cross Salmon Ladder.
  • Another rookie, Mike Murray, fell victim to Deja Vu.
  • Karson Voiles solved Deja Vu, but he was fighting against his own fifth obstacle curse. It struck again on Wingnut Alley.
  • Mathis Owhadi is three for three on buzzers as a 19-year-old rookie. He was quick through Catch and Release and steady on the Salmon Ladder. One side of Deja Vu’s bar slipped out on him, but Mathis moved it back in place and was able to finish. After the Swing Surfer, he faced Wingnut Alley. Mathis almost missed the second handle. He ended up wrapping up a stellar year as he tried to move to the third.
  • Thomas Stillings, Mike Meyers and Hunter Guerard all fell on Deja Vu, bringing that toll up to eight. They can thank Kevin Carbone, this year’s Obstacle Design Challenge winner, for that little thing!
  • In just three seasons, the Papal Ninja, Sean Bryan has become an elite Ninja. This year, he’s also gathered up three buzzers so far. He was one of only three Ninjas to beat Stage Two last season. Standing at the start line with his goggles on, he looked ready to do it again. Sean took the Salmon Ladder two rungs at a time, as the obstacle is one of his specialties. He finished it in just three moves. Sean wasn’t phased by Deja Vu and took a huge leap from the Swing Surfer. He started Wingnut Alley with two minutes left. After getting huge air between the handles, he was the first land on his feet!

With just over a minute for the Water Walls, Sean didn’t waste time. He broke through the walls with zero hesitation. With 30 seconds left, he moved into the third wall. Sean hit the buzzer with 21 seconds left. Stage Three, here we come!

  • We saw Zach Day’s run during a commercial break. Zach is technically the youngest rookie of the season. One side of Deja Vu got away from him, but Zach was able to get it back. He had a bit of a rough landing on the rope from Swing Surfer. He put up a fight on Wingnut Alley. Zach went out while trying to get to the final set of handles.
  • Adam Rayl has those goggles ready to go, but he didn’t have time to put them on before he hit the water from the Criss Cross Salmon Ladder.
  • Austin Gray, the rookie who donated his kidney this year, had a little trouble getting the lock in on Catch and Release. When he needed two swings to get to the landing pad, it totaled around 35 seconds on one obstacle. He made it through the Salmon Ladder but looked tired on Deja Vu. He fell on the first release.
  • Eric Middleton was going to make Matt and Akbar eat worms when he hit the buzzer. However, he had a scary fall on Deja Vu and hit his nose. He tried to stay in but the jolt was too much. He climbed out of the water with a bloody nose.
  • Drew Knapp was one of the Ninjas that couldn’t best Wingnut Alley.
  • Ethan Swanson used a backwards technique on Deja Vu and it worked! He ended his season on Wingnut Alley.
  • Jamie Rahn blew us all away with his shoeless finish on Stage One. Ironically, he would barely need shoes on Stage Two. He worked efficiently on the Salmon Ladder. He needed to take an extra swing on Deja Vu but he was safe. In season nine, he fell on Wingnut Alley. This time, he was out on the first transfer.
  • Jonathan Stevens ended his three buzzer season on the Criss Cross Salmon Ladder.
  • Brian Burkhardt fell from Wingnut Alley.
  • The last Ninja to head to Stage Two was Drew Drechsel. We were terrified for him. Would he join Sean Bryan on Stage Three? Last year, he fell on Wingnut Alley with a painful transfer to the last handle. With his goggles at the ready, we could only hope for the best. Drew had one snag on Deja Vu when a side slipped off, but he fixed it. The rest of the course didn’t offer much of a challenge to Drew. He paused before Wingnut Alley. This time, he moved through it without injury. Drew dove into the Water Walls at 1:18 without a hint of trepidation.

He was moving FAST. He took a few gulps of air but otherwise kept his work underwater. With one more door left, he dove down, swam through and was at the buzzer! It was now a two Ninja show on Stage Three.

STAGE THREE

Only two Ninjas, Sean Bryan and Drew Drechsel remained. This brought another new rule into sharp perspective. If neither of them could finish this stage, they’ll both eye the “furthest, fastest” rule which will give one of them $100k. Stage Three had proved almost impossible in the past, so it was anyone’s guess as to what was about to happen.

The course:

  • Floating Boards
  • En Garde (Ninjas must slide and jump a bar that they also must expand and contract between 3 and 2.5 feet across)
  • Crazy Clocks
  • Ultimate Cliffhanger (With a fancy new look)
  • Curved Body Prop
  • Peg Cloud
  • Cane Lane
  • Flying Bar
  • No time limit

Sean Bryan was up first. He already could claim that he was the only four-buzzer athlete of the season. Sean took his traditional bow before starting and moved on to the Floating Boards. He gave us a look at the terrifying En Garde. While jumping, the Ninjas had to expand and retract the bar to match the widths they needed. Somehow, Sean was able to do this. Putting the Crazy Clocks behind him, Sean faced the Ultimate Cliffhanger that took him out last season. While the obstacle had a new look, the ledges were still the tiny two inches. Sean moved through the obstacle. He made the first six foot leap to the panel behind him. He leapt back and looked safe, until his finger tips peeled off.

Sean ended his bid for Stage Four with a time of 2:38.56 when he hit the water. Drew would need to go faster than Sean’s time after the Crazy Clocks or go farther than that to take last the Last Ninja Standing prize.

Drew Drechsel cleared his mind and stepped up. He was the last Ninja left with a chance at $1 million. It was clear from his pace on the Floating Doors that he was aware that time was a factor. Drew was 15 seconds faster than Sean on first obstacle. He was also able to best the baffling En Garde. Because of the way the obstacles are timed, Drew just needed to hit the mat beyond the Crazy Clocks to stop the battle for the $100k. As he touched down, he looked to his girlfriend, April, for assurance. He’d done it.

Drew Drechsel was the official season 10 last Ninja standing. That meant he could forget the time and focus on getting to the end of the stage. He didn’t need to rush, but he quickly moved on to the Ultimate Cliffhanger. He made the first big transfer and turned to head back. In a painful moment, Drew slipped off on the same transfer as Sean.

Stage four would remain untested one more year.

Heart-Pounding Moment:

Um, the entirety of Stage Three? It was LITERALLY heart-pounding to witness. No one wanted to breath or move in case it distracted Sean or Drew. Everyone was clustered around one spot for a view of the running clock. No one could guess the outcome and no one knew if Stage Four was on the table. When Drew claimed the title, we all wanted to keep the run going. There was an audible collective exhale when he hit the water.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

Jeez, we felt so badly for Najee. He had the strength. He had the pace. It came down to a very human need for AIR. He said he was terrified of the Water Walls and his nightmare came true. He did everything he could to over come it. Najee was just a few feet from the buzzer when the clock ran out. We actually cried for him.

Shout out of the night:

We can’t pick one. We have to give it up to every single Stage Two Ninja that stood for those long nights in the Las Vegas desert and gave us their all. Stage One was shocking. Stage Two was brutal. We didn’t get back to the tower. But the hearts of all these competitors is why we watch. We’re already counting down to season 11.

You can find a full list of all the Stage Two competitors here.