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Zuri Hall says first season has been ‘baptism by fire’ and ‘I would gladly choose this’

We checked in with the show’s new sideline reporter throughout her first season.

Michael Becker/NBC

American Ninja Warrior began taping season 11 in a familiar place with a fresh face. Returning to the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood was common practice for the show, but it was Zuri Hall’s first taste of the world of Ninja Warrior. As the new sideline reporter, she’s tasked with being the first to greet the Ninjas after their runs, whether they’ve just made history, or had a heartbreaking experience up there.

Zuri certainly wasn’t a stranger to the spotlight before her new gig, she’s an experienced on-camera personality for the E! Entertainment Channel, and her very own YouTube channel.

But, as we all know, American Ninja Warrior is a beast all of its own. The taping nights are long, the Ninjas are many, and the production is huge. As we’ve traveled with the show this season, we’ve watch Zuri grow accustomed to the fast pace, and we’ve checked in along the way to see how she was adjusting.

Michael Becker/NBC

The first night we met Zuri was the night of the Los Angeles Qualifiers. She was in the midst of media interviews, after having stepped on the set for the first time ever a little over 24 hours prior.

Brimming with excitement, Zuri shared with us that this wasn’t just another job to her. “I’ve been a fan for awhile,” She said. “I’m from Ohio, born and raised in the mid-west where I feel like American Ninja Warrior is a really, really big deal. A show of this magnitude coming to our cities, our homes like that? It’s kind of awesome and epic and rare and special.

My uncle is actually a really intense personal trainer. That’s been a part of his journey for so long and he’s a huge fan of Ninja Warrior too. So now that I’m actually part of the show, it’s a little bit trippy, very surreal. But also kind of makes sense. Because for my family, for my uncle especially, it’s like I’m one of you guys. I feel very special, very blessed to be here.”

After watching some Ninjas on the course and being properly impressed with them...

(“This is not normal. This transcends normal fitness. It’s really next level. Honestly, even as people were wiping out, I was like good on you for making it as far as you did. I don’t know if I could have made it up the steps to get on to the obstacle course!”)

Zuri discussed the specific reason she was looking forward to bringing her skills as an interviewer to Ninja Warrior’s platform.

“Hollywood and red carpets are one thing, but what gets me excited about interviewing people here and getting to know the American Ninja Warrior family is, it’s so human and so real. Life is full of things that you can’t expect or plan for, and I love that Ninja Warrior shares those sorts of stories. A lot of people are competing because unexpected things have happened to them and this really means something to them. That’s the part that really gives me chills and gets me excited.”

Naturally, we could think of one way Zuri could REALLY get a grasp on the Ninja Warrior experience. She could get on the course herself! She wasn’t ready to to rule it out on her first night of work, but she wasn’t eager to over commit herself either.

“A part of me wants to say yes. Granted, after we finish taping. The last thing I need to do is wipe out and be out for like two episodes. I don’t know. I think I want to. Something about that, I know, will give me a greater appreciation for the Ninjas who actually know how to do this and work their butts off all year round to do it. I am curious. I can’t say I won’t try it.”

After our talk in Los Angeles, Zuri, along with the whole circus of Ninja Warrior, hit the road. The Qualifying and City Finals were recorded in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Baltimore, Tacoma, and finally, Cincinnati.

Rounding out her first Qualifying season in Ohio was a full circle moment for Zuri. Ohio is her home state, and her friends and family turned up in droves to support her. Over 30 audience members sported matching shirts bearing her name. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Zuri was a fan-favorite Ninja about to hit the course.

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Tonight I go Primetime, for the first time.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I could be cool, and casual, and nonchalant with the caption... but I won’t, because that’s not what’s true.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I’m ecstatic.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I’m thrilled. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ I’m near tears typing this. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ Because God is faithful, and He is working. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ And paths are being made clear that were previously confusing.⁣⁣⁣⁣ And most importantly: I did it my way. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ I get to be Zuri Vyesha Hall.⁣⁣⁣⁣ With my pride & my integrity intact.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I haven’t had to sell my soul.⁣⁣⁣⁣ Or cut anyone down, to do it.⁣⁣⁣⁣ Or pretend to be something I’m not.⁣⁣⁣⁣ Because Lord knows this town will tempt you.⁣⁣⁣⁣ Make you believe you’ve gotta do those things, to get what you want.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I promise you — you are enough.⁣⁣⁣⁣ The light in you is enough.⁣⁣⁣⁣ He has made a space for me to be WHO I AM, and thrive — not in spite of it, but because of it.⁣⁣⁣⁣ The day I decided I didn’t want ANY thing *more than I wanted to remain the kind of woman my Mother & Father raised me to be... is the day I became lighter, freer.⁣⁣⁣⁣ The day I fully embraced who I am.⁣⁣⁣⁣ And I’ve learned to like who I am. A lot.⁣⁣⁣⁣ At times I’ve feared I’d never get where I wanted to go if I didn’t operate a certain way.⁣⁣⁣⁣ And I wondered if I should resign myself to mourning dreams I’d reluctantly but willingly defer, because there was a certain type of person I just wasn’t willing to become to reach them.⁣⁣⁣⁣ But time & time again the Word has proven true:⁣⁣⁣⁣ ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’⁣⁣⁣⁣ And the ANW Nation has shown me that.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I’m so happy to be a part of this family.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I get to be silly. And quirky. And kind.⁣⁣⁣⁣ I get to care...⁣⁣⁣⁣ I get to be me.⁣⁣⁣⁣ And I’m grateful.⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ P.S. Say hi to my Mom & Dad! They made me who I am, and I’m particularly thankful for that. They also gave me the weird facial expressions (*swipe left lol) that work well for freaking out on the sideline, watching Ninjas run ⁣⁣⁣⁣ (And they’ve been right by my side, every step of this crazy journey... Y’all the real MVPs.) ❤️⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ Our new season of @NinjaWarrior premieres TONIGHT at 8/7c on @NBC. Join us.

A post shared by Zuri Hall (@zurihall) on

“It’s really so special because LA is the place I call home now, and Ohio is the place that made me. I was born and raised here,” Zuri said of the start and end of the touring season.

“So it really feels like this full circle experience. LA was baptism by fire and I was really figuring everything out. Wait what? This goes where? Who said what? What’s it called? And by now I feel like I’m very much a part of this well-oiled machine. I know the ropes. I’m comfortable. I’m confident. And yet I’m still learning! Every city there’s cool new Ninjas to get to know, there are new obstacles to get to know. And you never know what’s going to happen on the course, so in that way, I’m still on my toes. But I feel very at home now. It feels good to be able to say that.”

After two months of this hectic work, Zuri was ready to admit that, while she seemed cool, collected, and calm in Los Angeles, there was more going on beneath the surface.

“I was super excited. I was nervous because it was a little overwhelming in a good way. You’re just in awe of the magnitude of this production and of what these Ninjas are able to do. So on the inside, the heart rate was probably pumping a little higher than normal. The adrenaline was definitely pushing. My voice was, if you know me well, you’d probably catch was a little quivery. A little shaky because I was excited but I was also nervous. I wanted to get it right and I wanted to make the team proud. But again, all these cities later, I feel like I’m a part of it.”

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Caption This. @NinjaWarrior

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Zuri also found herself quickly indoctrinated in a lesson that the Ninja fans know well, and the crew also shares in: You can’t stay impartial. These Ninjas will get you right in the feelings, one way or another.

“I expected to get emotional, honestly, because the reason I was excited to do this job was because I wanted to be a part of telling these amazing stories. The triumph, the tragedy, the perseverance that these Ninjas have by the time they get to the starting line. I did actually brace myself for impact in that sense,” Zuri reflected.

“I didn’t expect how sometimes gutted or hurt I would feel when a run didn’t go as well as people had hoped. It’s always get knocked down, pick yourself back up, but it’s so much easier said than done. You get really invested in these runs. It’s always fun to celebrate with the Ninjas but I dread when a run kind of falls apart or doesn’t go to plan. I know I’m the first person they talk to. I dread it, but I value it so much. It’s so important. I just put so much care into it. It can be really emotional for me.

I’ve cried tears, for sure, because you can’t be unaffected. Not if you’re invested, and I really am invested in their stories. I want to see everyone win. That was a little unexpected. How much it gets you in the gut sometimes.”

On Zuri’s first night of work, we wondered if she’d been properly warned of the grinding exhaustion she was about to take head on. The show records sundown to sun up, with the team of hosts required to work even longer than some crew members, as they speak with the media in each location, and make sure production has every shot and soundbite they need. Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila have both had multiple seasons to hone their personal survival strategies. When the caffeine should arrive, when a five-minute cat nap is required, what treat they’re hiding in the host tower to keep their energy up. Zuri was going to have to go into this cold and figure it out for herself.

But, to be completely honest, we never once saw Zuri look downtrodden during the season. Even in the moments where she was resting between Ninja interviews, no cameras anywhere near her, she was tuned into the experience around her and ready to go. Zuri shared with us how she cultivated that energy in the unruly Ninja Warrior world.

“I feel like mental wellness is the only way that I can even appreciate all the amazing things happening in my life right now. If I’m burnt out and stressed, who cares where I am? I don’t enjoy it. It’s not worth it. I’m happy to say that I am in a place of real mental peace and clarity. I find my quiet moments on set. There are not many! But I do find a few minutes of downtime. I come in my trailer, I have my incense in the corner, light the fireplace, I put on my meditation music. I just re-charge for like 10 minutes before I go right back into the fire.

I feel lucky in saying I love this job so much, it does not feel like work. Work, life balance, sure, but when I’m out in the audience, I’m talking to the crowd, meeting little kids and they want selfies or autographs, that brings my life so much joy and so much fulfillment. I would gladly choose this. What would I be doing in my normal life?

Ninja season, I’m realizing, for the foreseeable future in my life, I’m clearing the schedule. These two months, I’ve learned very quickly, belong to Ninja! They are the only people getting me outside of E! Entertainment Channel.”

While the Cincinnati taping closed out a big chapter of Zuri’s first Ninja Warrior season, she’s not done yet! The National Finals are still set to tape in Las Vegas in June. This is the longest leg of the grind, with five nights of taping in desert. And Zuri is looking forward to all that it will bring.

“What I’m most looking forward to with Vegas is seeing the best of the best in every city, all in one place, facing off. The competition is going to be so fierce. I was getting stressed just watching City Finals. And that’s just the best of Tacoma or Atlanta!

I cannot wait to see all of these Ninjas in one spot. There’s such a spirit of healthy competition and camaraderie. I love seeing Ninjas cheering from the sidelines for someone who, if they get a faster time, will knock them out of the running. But there is no air of unhealthy competition or negativity. There’s such a spirit of encouragement and motivation. I’m excited to see that in such a high pressure environment like National Finals.

I’m also excited to be in Vegas for a week with Ninja Nation! It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exhausting. But spending a week with the crew should be a good time.”

And, just maybe, we’ll get Zuri on an obstacle in Las Vegas! American Ninja Warrior viewers will get their first look at Zuri’s work tonight, when the show premieres at 8/7c on NBC!