Editor's note: This FanPost has been edited for length and content.
American Ninja Warrior is coming back to NBC for Season 11 on Wednesday May 29th at 8/7c and we couldn't be more excited. So let's go through everything you need to know before we jump into what is shaping up to look like the most exciting season in the show's history. We'll refresh you on the important stuff from season 10, look at some of the changes that have been made announced and let you know what to keep an eye out for in season 11.
Let's start with some ninja history: In 10 seasons we've gone to 22 cities, seen 2 ninjas complete all four stages of Mt. Midoriyama, and one million dollar winner. In season 10 NBC announced that they had changed the rules to include a $500,000 prize for the "last ninja" standing, which went to Drew Drechsel. (Editor's note: The Last Ninja Standing prize is $100,000.) Another rule change debuted last year with the addition of the 18 foot Mega Wall and the $10,000 prize that goes with it. You can expect that both new additions to be in play again this year. Also since ninjas have now had a whole year to practice for the Mega Wall, you can expect many more to attempt it and many more to succeed. I hope NBC budgeted accordingly.
But let me tell you, there have been A LOT of changes made to ANW for season 11, and I expect that there are even more that haven't been announced. Firstly, they really shook up with locations. This year will see qualifiers in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Baltimore, Tacoma, and Cincinnati. While we've been to most of these cities on ANW before, it feels weird to not be making a stop in the usual Texas and Florida locations. Tacoma and Cincinnati have never been done before on ANW, and Tacoma will actually be the first time ANW has visited the Northwest United States.
They've also replaced two of perhaps the most treasured pastimes in ANW history: The Floating Steps, and Kristine Leahy. The Floating Steps (RIP) which we've all come to know and love, have been replaced with a new obstacle called the "Shrinking Steps", and while those might have similar names, let me tell you they are not. The Floating Steps at this point are also a free-be obstacle, only besting a few ninjas each year. Quite frankly, if you can't make it through the Floating Steps you shouldn't be on this show. But I got to see the new Shrinking Steps in action at the LA qualifiers taping that they are by no means a free-be. Those steps are tiny and slippery and almost half of everyone I watched run did not make it through the obstacle. The show has faced criticism in recent years for having too many people finish the city qualifying course, so my guess is that this change was meant to change that, and i'm scared to say that i'm very confident it will.
Ok now onto the saddest piece of ANW news, the loss of our beloved Kristine Leahy: sideline reporter extraordinaire. While rumor has it that Leahy isn't gone for good but just taking this season off to work on a new ESPN show, she'll be replaced at least this season by Zuri Hall, and while I am sure she will be a great host, I will unapologetically bitter about Kristine's absence for at least the first few episodes.
Alright let's quickly round up what's happened in the ninja world since the end of season 10. When we last saw our favorite ninjas, Drew Drechsel was celebrating becoming half a millionaire while Joe Moravsky was probably trying not to cry thinking about how much money he would have if this rule had existed in previous seasons. Since then, Drew has lead team U.S.A to victory against Europe and Australia in ANW USA vs. The World. I know what you're thinking, "wait "the World" is just Europe and Australia?", and yes, apparently it is, take that rest of the world! Anyways, Drew's supporting case included Mathis "the kid" Owhadi, Najee RIchardson, and for the first time, two women Jesse "Flex" Labreck and Barclay Stockett. While i'm not going to recap the results of USA vs the World, a few things happened that could be important for ANW 11. Firstly, Jesse Labreck became the 2nd woman ever to finish Stage Two. Secondly, no one finished Stage Three from any of the teams, which is a testament to just how hard the Stage Three course has become because usually even in the seasons that no one finishes Stage 3 during the regular season, someone usually completes it on USA vs. the World. Lastly, Drew Drechsel finished the Stage 4 climb in 33.43 seconds which means that had it been the regular season, he would not have made it in time. In light of how terrifying stage 3 has been in recent years, and since we've only seen stage 4 attempted twice, both people succeeding, we tend to assume that stage 3 is the real final stage, and stage 4 is just a formality that anyone could beat if they got there. Drew not finishing in time, a scary reminder of how difficult stage 4 really is, to me was an ominous foreshadow of what might be to come this season. Having said that, there seems to be a trend of a lot of people making it to stage 3 in every other season, and given how we've now had three seasons in a row of very few Stage 2 clears, I think we'll see a lot more ninjas make it to stage 3 this time.
Ok now for the real fun! What ninja's can you expect great things from in season 11?
Joe Moravsky: After a heartbreaking fall on Stage 1 last year, you can bet The Weatherman will be coming back with more fire than ever. Moravsky suffered a minor hand injury a few weeks ago but has said he is optimistic that the hand won't be an issue. Joe Moravsky is one of the most consistantly dominant ninjas in the game, and as long as his hand recovers in time, he is my top pick to win the $1,000,000 in ANW 11, or at the very least, the $500k. We will likely see him in Baltimore.
Drew Drechsel: I think you probably already know how I feel about Drew Drechsel given how many times i've written his name in this post already. ANW 10's last ninja standing is the full package. He somehow has the hops of Michael Jordan, the wingspan of Shaquille O'Neal, the upper body strength of the guy from Free Solo, and the grip strength of someone that has really good grip strength. Drew's semi-win from last seasons could take him in one of two directions. The success may have gotten to his head and given him a sense of confidence that has made him lazy. Or... bittersweetness of the kind of winning but not really winning has made him want to actually win more than ever. I'm leaning mostly towards the second mainly because I think last year's 500K has accustomed him to a life of luxury that he really doesn't want to have to give up. Drew usually competes in Florida, so my guess is that we'll see him in Atlanta this year.
Sean Bryan: wait seriously, this high? yes this high! This guy is the most underrated ninja of all time. His "papal ninja" bit has really taken over too much of his image that no one seems to take him as seriously as a competitor as they should. He's made it to Stage 3 two years in a row, has completed almost every city finals course he's ever faced, and he has Jesus on his side! Sean is one of my top picks to make it the furthest this season. We will probably see him compete in Los Angeles.
Najee Richardson: Watching Najee's dreams die during the water obstacle last season because of an asthma attack was straight up heartbreaking. But Najee seems to have gotten that under control since he had no trouble with the water walls in USA vs. The World. Najee has a very similar profile of strengths and weaknesses to Drew Drechsel, and I think his heartbreak from last year will make him come back more determined than ever.
Daniel Gil: Daniel rounds out the 5 ninjas that have cleared Stage 2 since Isaac and Jeff beat Stage 4. He was also the first to beat the Mega Wall last year and will no doubt attempt it again. ANW seems to be pruning Daniel for transitioning from a top ninja to more of a old-school veteran who serves as a mentor/father-figure to Mathis Owhadi. But Daniel is no where past his prime, and we can expect big things from him going into ANW 11.
Adam Rayl: One of the top rookies from Season 8, Adam Rayl was a lot of people's pick to make the million dollars going into last season. Although Rayl made it to stage 2 last year, he seemed to be missing some of his usual fire, and it showed. Adam has maybe the most upper-body strength of any ninja around, so if he can get his mojo back he has the talent to make it all the way.
Josh Levin: Another breakout rookie from Season 8 who was relatively disappointing in ANW 10, Levin isn't even confirmed to be competing this season since he is training to represent Team USA as a rock climber in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Being an Olympian is for sure a bigger deal than being on ANW ( no offense ANW) so I can't blame him for not taking his ninja duties as seriously. While I'm sure Josh is in better shape than ever, if he does compete I think his heart just won't be fully in it. Sadly i'm bracing myself for a disappointing season from Josh Levin.
Jake Murray: Jake is perhaps the least clutch ninja in the game. While I think he is one of the strongest competitors, his recklessness on the course stops me from having too much confidence in him. Love you, Jake, and i'm rooting for you still. Sorry.
Chris Wilczewski: Chris missed ANW 9 after also drowning in Lake Michigan, but he returned to ANW and has been on a war path ever since. You can literally see the fire in his eyes. Personally, I wouldn't want to run into him in a dark alley, but I'd be a fool to not pick him as one of the favorites to be the last ninja standing this season.
Mathis Owhadi: At what age do you think we'll stop calling him "The Kid"? Do you think his friends in college call him "The Kid", maybe just "Kid"? I have so many questions. Matt and Akbar talk up this kid so much I assume The Kid must be paying them. I don't know he does it because his hair is always in his face but this kid kills it. In his first year he did better than almost every ninja, ever his teacher and idol-turned-Mr.Miyagi, Daniel Gil.
Jamie Rahn: Jamie has always been one of my favorite ninjas just because I think he is really nice guy, so I might be a little bias but Jamie is one of the biggest threats to win it all. He beat Stage 1 last season literally barefoot, and his mom and dad wear neon green wigs to watch him run.
Lance Pekus: He might be personally responsible for half the show's female viewership. An amazing competitor, and one of the most likable ninjas around, I'm hoping for big things from Lance after a disappointing Stage 1 fall last season.
Grant McCartney: Another fan favorite with a disappointing season. For some reason Grant's had one too many unexpected early-exits lately for me to bet on him this season.
Flip Rodriguez: Sadly the same as Grant. Love you though.
Ian Dory: Same but i'm for some reason more optimistic about him.
Rookies of the Year: Obviously, the Kid. But tied for second ( a far, far second) are Austin Grey and Zach Day. You probably remember them better as The guy who donated his kidney to that girl, and The guy who ran stage 1 on the anniversary of his father's death and then beat it and everyone cried. Big things to come for both of these two (honorable mention to RJ Roman, keep shredding).
Sophomores of the Year: Tyler Gillett and Josh Salinas.
Honorable Mention (in general, not as sophomores): Nick Hanson, Brian Rambo, Eric Middleton, Drew Knapp, Thomas Stillings.
Ok let's talk about some of the most promising female ninjas. Now I know what you're thinking, it's not very feminist-like of me to group the women into a subcategory and not just list them with the rest of the competitors. And you're right, well done you! But sadly it's just a fact that the women on the show are much less likely to win the entire show and the show itself has really tried to create an unofficial title of 'best female ninja', so it's NBCs fault that I have to compare the women separately. Actually it's really not they're fault and I actually applaud them for not separating the competitions entirely and for doing a great job fostering strong female competitors. Ok now that that's out of the way let's get to it. And this year's nominees for Best Female Ninja are....
Jesse Labreck: Better known as "Flex" or "the Jesse that isn't Jesse Graff", Jesse has truly grown into one of the strongest female competitors around. On a separate note, she recently got engaged to fellow-ninja Chris DiGangi, and their reactions when watching each other's runs are maybe the cutest thing i've ever seen. She has done better every season she's competed and I truly think that Flex will not quit until ninja fans across the country are referring to Jesse Graff as "The Jesse that's not Jesse Labreck".
Alyssa Beird: I think Alyssa is so so talented but I do not think I can handle another montage of her dancing on a teacher's desk.
Meagan Martin: One of the OG triumvirate of female ninjas along with now retired Kacy Catanzaro and Jessie Graff (possibly retired? Im not sure), Martin has everything it takes to beat Stage 3 if she can work on her speed enough to get there.
Barclay Stockett: The show loves talking up Barclay Stockett almost as much as they love talking about Mathis Owhadi. Balance and agility have been a problem for her in the past, but if she get past that we can expect big things from her this season.
Rookie of the Year: Abby Clark
Honorable Mention: Michelle Warnky, Tiana Webberley, Zhanique Lovett.
Some general predictions:
1) Fewer ninja will finish City Qualifier courses.
The new first obstacle will probably be a large part of that.
2) More ninjas will finish Stage 2.
I'm sure even Matt and Akbar are sick of seeing so few people make it to Stage 3, and i'm sure the crew is sick of building a Stage 3 and 4 course that never gets used. I'm willing to bet they will give the people what they want and make Stage 2 a little easier.
3) There will be more sponsored obstacles.
They've been slowly sneaking up on us with more and more sponsored obstacles like this seasons "Mission Impossible: Fallout" and "Jeep Run" (which hilariously got changed to "Tire Run" for USA vs. The World. I guess Jeep didn't want to pay for the sponsorship twice?). Except to at least a few new sponsored obstacles, or existing obstacles having their names changed into punny slogans.
4) They will bring back Run of the Night
Before Kristine Leahy leaving the saddest loss in ANW history may have been the loss of the POM Wonderful (tm) Crazy Health Run of the Night. The joy of trying to guess who it will be. The worrying about what happens if they prematurely call it and then a better run comes along. The view of the massive POM bottle on the bottom of the pool when they cut to aerial footage. I so badly hope they bring this time-honored tradition back on ANW 11 I'd even be ok with the Ninjago Run of the Night.
5) They will say "the Kid is now the Man" at least 4 times.
I also predict he will come to his senses and tuck his hair inside his hat.
6) A woman will finish either a City Finals course or Stage 1.
It's literally rude of them to not have a woman finish one at least one of those and I think they will stop at nothing short of having a reshoot or putting Jake Murray in a wig to make it happen.
ANW 11 kicks off Wednesday May 29th at 8/7c on NBC.