Buckle up, American Ninja Warrior fans, this ride is about to get crazy. After 10 years on the air, the show has introduced several new aspects that have the potential to change everything.
Where do we even begin? Okay, let’s take this step by step.
- The two fastest Ninjas in Qualifying will race on an additional, specially-designed obstacle called the Power Tower. The winner is awarded the “Speed Pass” and advances automatically to the National Finals.
- The two fastest Ninjas in the City Finals will race on the Power Tower. The winner receives the “Safety Pass” and the ability to call a do-over if they fall on Stage One or Two of the National Finals.
- Only 13-15 Ninjas will advance to the National Finals from each city. (Down from the potential 17 of season 10.)
The Qualifying course is generally where we see our most course completions. Speedy course runs are fun to watch and they give the Ninjas some bragging rights, but that’s really been about it. But this year, speed is going to play a whole new factor.
The two fastest Ninjas on the Qualifying course will face each other on a racing obstacle at the end of the night, known as the intimidating Power Tower.
The obstacle requires the Ninjas take some daring leaps while traversing an obstacle that has them 40 feet in the air. There’s a pretty good look at the Power Tower at the end of NBC’s new promo clip for the May 29 premiere.
The winner of that race gets something we’ve never seen before on the show: They get a free pass to the National Finals. This is a massive change. It means, if the Ninja wants, they could skip the City Finals all together and take a night of rest. It also means they could tear through the City Finals course as fast as possible, throwing all caution to the wind because their place is assured.
Host Matt Iseman gave us his perspective on the development of the Power Tower and why it has a place in the American Ninja Warrior canon.
“I think the show always needs to evolve. Finding new challenges. I thought the Mega Wall was genius last year. One of the challenges is you never want to take away what makes Ninja Warrior special. The Mega Wall, what I loved was, it was an opportunity to get money, but it really wouldn’t necessarily cost you position moving forward. People don’t understand how hard it is to come up with something challenging like that.
Now what they’ve come up with, with the Power Tower, is a similar element and I love it. We’ve had reasons for people to go fast before, bragging rights, but now there’s something truly at stake.
What I love is, you still can compete in the City Finals, so we still get to see some of the best athletes, we don’t lose the ability to watch them. We gain the chance to see them go full bore. They’re going to leave everything out on the course.”
Keep in mind, while the winner of the Speed Pass has the ability to completely skip City Finals, there’s a VERY big reason that all the Ninjas will want to take part and do as well as possible.
Which brings us to the...
Once again, speed will play a role it never has before in this round. The two Ninjas with the best completion times (or who went the farthest the fastest, in case there are not two course finishers) will race on the Power Tower, which is re-shaped for the new challenge.
The winner of this race is awarded the Safety Pass, and the ability to call a course do-over on Stage One or Stage Two of the National Finals. Imagine if Joe Moravsky got to re-do the Double Dipper on Stage One last season. Or if Najee Richardson could have taken a break and then charged at Stage Two again. Who knows what Stage Three would have looked like!
Host Akbar Gbajabiamila shared that he thinks this is the most valuable pass that can be earned, saying, “The Safety Pass, to me, is better than even getting the Speed Pass. Getting to Vegas. Yeah, you’re in Vegas now. But guess what? That’s 23 brutal obstacles you gotta go through. You can use some help in Vegas. For Ninja to do that is crazy. It’s like we’re pushing. Like we’re saying, ‘Come on now, let’s see how tough you are.”
Matt immediately recognized that this is going to be a huge game-changer in the history of Ninja Warrior. “Only six people are going to earn it (the Safety Pass). These six are probably going to be among the best of the best. I like it because we’ve demanded perfection in the past, I think the idea that you’ve earned it by being one of the fastest in the City Finals, by going up against 30 of the best competitors and proving yourself and earning it, a chance for a do over is something, especially for a season where I feel like the talent pool is better than ever, the people are more prepared, I think we’re going to see total victory. I think someone who does it very well could need that Safety Pass.”
The Ninja Warrior audience is notoriously protective of the show’s integrity. We’re sure that this aspect will introduce a new debatable subject. That’s an element that’s not overlooked by the minds behind the show, as Matt shares, “I hope the community embraces it. The reality is we don’t always know. We are creating this show, doing the best we can, to make it creative, to make it challenging, make it fair, try to keep up with the Ninjas as they evolve, but the reality is we also want to keep the audience hooked. We want to make sure that they have something new to look forward to.”
In our opinion, this is the biggest game-changer that’s been announced. Ninja Warrior has built a foundation upon being “one and done.” Barely skimming the water, being a half of a second too late on Stage One, these tiny factors can end the season of the greatest competitors. Now, a few Ninjas are going to have the peace of mind that they’ll be able to hit the rewind button. It’s going to completely shift those competitors’ state of mind and how the stage plays out.
The one caveat on the Safety Pass is that it cannot be used on Stage Three, potentially the most grueling stage we’ll see.
So what’s it going to be like to watch two top Ninjas go head-to-head on the Power Tower? We’re not used to seeing this type of competition in this form of Ninja Warrior. We’re so used to saying it’s the Ninja versus the course. It’s undeniable that this brings in a different type of competition. We took the question to Matt and Akbar for their perspectives.
“I think the element of having two people face off, it’s always a question of who’s better,” Akbar said. “I don’t care what sport you play. We just saw LeBron James beat Michael Jordan’s all time record. People will always ask, especially when it’s generational, is Ali better than Mike Tyson? Of course, the answer is yes. Magic Johnson. LeBron. You get that with the Ninjas as well. ‘Well, I think Drew Drechsel is a better Ninja than this person.’ ‘I think Meagan is better than this.’ Now, you get to see it. If you get the two fastest, you get to kind of see how they square off. It’s bringing a little of the Ninja vs Ninja to American Ninja Warrior. People see a competition.”
While it might lead to some legendary face-offs we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, Matt was quick to point out that there’s really no downside to this competition for the Ninjas.
“The reality is losing costs you nothing. It’s not that you get eliminated, you simply don’t get the Safety Pass or you don’t get the Speed Pass. You still go back into the competition. It’s such an ingenious way. It’s almost like an exhibition. If you win, you get a bonus, if you lose, nothing lost. You still get to go back and compete.”
Lower number of competitors at the National Finals
The City Finals will have one more change, although this one has nothing to do with the performance of the competition.
13-15 Ninjas will advance from the City Finals to Las Vegas. The top 12 competitors (farthest the fastest) move on. Adding in the one Ninja who already advanced from the Qualifying course with the Safety Pass (see above) gets us to 13. The women’s rule is still in play, so if no women are in the top 12, the top two women outside of that 12 will advance.
The difference is that, in previous seasons, the top 15-17 Ninjas moved on. (15 top competitors. 17 if two women were included from outside that number.)
Well, we’re exhausted just thinking about all those new changes!
There’s a LOT to unpack with this. Do you think the changes are good, bad, or just intriguing? Jump down to the comments and let us know!
Don’t forget, we’ll see the Power Tower in action when season 11 premieres on Wednesday, May 29 at 8/7c on NBC.