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Cincinnati Qualifiers recap: The last chance for the next shot

The sixth episode of the Qualifiers means this was the last chance to move on in the season.

Dennis Mong/NBC

Can you believe it’s already time for the LAST Qualifying round of American Ninja Warrior’s 11th season? The final region was Cincinnati. It’s the last chance for the competitors to make it to the City Finals, moving them one step closer to the National Finals. Ohio is home state for sideline reporter Zuri Hall, and the location where Ninjas like Grant McCartney, Jesse Labreck, Ethan Swanson, Michelle Warnky, and the Towers of Power would test their skills. Oh, and Drew Lachey of 98 Degrees ran the course as well, because Ninja Warrior is full of surprises!

Let’s talk about what the final region had in store.

By the numbers:

  • Course completions: 11
  • Mega Wall completions: 1
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Slingshot: 8
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Wingnuts: 5

The course:

The highlights

  • Known as the “Nati Ninja,” James Wilson has five seasons under his belt and owns a gym in the area. HIs wife, Caitlin, has multiple sclerosis, and her determination inspires him. James had quick feet on the Spinning Bridge, but fell on the Wingnuts.
  • Johnnie Pietila comes from a huge family and he likes to show off his Ninja skills for them. The 19-year-old had a good run but was out on the Wingnuts.
  • Logan Broadbent ended his run on the Ring Swing.
  • Jamie Ross made it to the Spinning Bridge.
  • Magician Hugh Birky fell from the Wingnuts.
  • Amanda O’Dell is a school lunch lady and mom of four. On the course, she was all Ninja. She pulled off a nice save on the Wingnuts, and was the first of the night to complete the obstacle. Amanda was also the first to show us the new Slingshots. Her run ended there and that obstacle set itself up to be an unpredictable menace.
  • 25-year-old rookie Justin Miniard was out on the Spinning Bridge.
  • Ron Zaagman is a hockey-playing dad who’s run ended on the Wingnuts.
  • Speedo Ninja Mike Wright took a swim from the Slingshot.
  • Mike Bernardo returned for his tenth season with his traditional send off from Ryan Stratis. It’s been a scary time for Mike. After a fall at work, medical tests pointed to something else going on. For awhile, Parkinson’s and ALS were on the table. In a dark place, Mike turned to his fellow Ninjas for support. He’s been tentatively diagnosed with a syndrome that causes twitching in the muscles. On the course, he looked more confident than ever. Mike was the first to complete the new Slingshot, and the first to hit the buzzer for the night.
  • Mom of two, Lindsay Partenio ended her run on the Ring Swing.
  • John Wilmas made a valiant effort to save his glasses on the Spinning Bridge, but they both ended up in the water.
  • Hypnotist Tony Geronimo put Matt Iseman in a trance, but it was short lived when he was out on the Shrinking Steps.
  • Cameron Nave’s father recently passed away from cancer. Cameron has wanted to be on Ninja Warrior since he was 11, and his father built obstacles for him. He hoped his dad would see him run the course, making this a very emotional night. Cameron might not have the most Ninja Warrior experience, but he had a huge reason to push through the course. He tripped over the Spinning Bridge, but was still in it. Cameron looked great on the Slingshot, but his run did end there after one of the drops.
  • Three-time National Finalist Tyler Yamauchi looked good on the course, per usual, but he surprisingly fell on the Spinning Bridge.
  • Jackson Twait made his entrance on a scooter with a stuffed animal cat in the basket. Why? Well... because he likes his cat, Hades, a lot. (The real one, not the stuffed one.) All shenanigans aside, he looked great on the course. Jackson had great form on the Wingnuts and the Slingshot didn’t look like a struggle at all for him. He hit the top of the Warped Wall with enough speed to make him a Power Tower contender.
  • Corn researcher Devin Nichols was out on the Ring Swing.
  • Karim Abdullah ended his run on the Spinning Bridge.
  • Jesse Maurer made it all the way to the Mega Wall, but couldn’t make it to the top.
  • Mitch Wenzel danced his way in...and just kept going... and going. He then splashed his way out on the Shrinking Steps.
  • Ryan Sutter ended this year’s run on the Spinning Bridge.
  • Naeem Mulkey run ended at the Wingnuts.
  • Veteran competitor Michelle Warnky is from Ohio, making this a bit of a home court appearance. The sidelines were full of her supporters as she started her run. However, the Ring Swing took a bit of a bite out of Michelle when the second ring hit her in the face and she started bleeding. Undeterred, she raced across the Spinning Bridge and had blood running down her face on the Wingnuts. Cut or no cut, she stayed focused on the Slingshot and made it through. Michelle scaled the Warped Wall and hit the buzzer with blood in her eyes, looking like a viking warrior!
  • Brandon Mears, one half of the Towers of Power, stumbled across the Spinning Bridge and then was out on the Slingshot.
  • Dan Polizzi, the other half of the Towers of Power, repeated the run with another Spinning Bridge stumble and a fall on Slingshot.
  • Ethan Swanson shared that he trains for nerves and fears in a way we positively DO NOT RECOMMEND. It does seem to have helped him remain calm on the course. Ethan moved quickly, thinking about the Power Tower. He hopped through the Slingshot like a Ninja kangaroo. His time to the buzzer was the fastest to this point of the night.
  • Mickey Wendling was out on the Spinning Bridge.
  • Jeri D’Aurelio hit the water at the Slingshot.
  • 19-year-old wrestler Sem Garay completed the course with flair.
  • Drew Lachey, yes, THAT Drew Lachey from 98 Degrees, was up next. It turns out Drew and his family are Ninja Warrior fans and his brother Nick, watched the run on FaceTime. He was a bit out of control on Ring Swing and spent quite some time there when he couldn’t get the second ring loose. That’s were the run ultimately came to an end.
  • Tamara Kirk was the number one pick in this region’s walk-on lottery. She didn’t make it through the Shrinking Steps.
  • Vinny Tapia is a walk-on who drove 13 hours from Orlando to be in the lottery. He was out on the Spinning Bridge.
  • Jonathan Cooley is another walk-on and he moved fast. He was out on Slingshot, but his time moved him to the City Finals.
  • Rookie and college student Cameron Baumgartner completed the course.
  • Dustin Rocho competed on the early seasons of American Ninja Warrior. He’s been away for a few years but time didn’t dull the 40-year-old’s skills. He hit the buzzer for his return.
  • Seven-time veteran Chris DiGangi had future wife Jesse Labreck on the sidelines as he made it to the Slingshot.
  • Jesse Labreck had a huge sideline of friends and Ninjas. She’s completed the Qualifying course for the past two seasons and wanted to make it a triple play. Jesse made it to the Slingshot, which took out her fiancé. She was even smiling on the obstacle as she found her way through it. Jesse zipped up the Warped Wall for her third Qualifying buzzer in a row.
  • Erin Hesch ended her run at the Spinning Bridge.
  • Bug exterminator and dad of three Tyler Smith tried for the Mega Wall after completing the five previous obstacles, but was unable to get to the buzzer.
  • Michael Torres zipped through the course and almost made it to the Power Tower. However, he opted for the Mega Wall and was stuck there, ending his bid for course completion.
  • Grant McCartney missed the National Finals by one spot last season. This year, he needed to stay serious out there and focus on his timing. Grant managed to do just that. His time to the Slingshot guaranteed he’d move on to the City Finals. After carefully putting the Slingshot behind him, Grant made a decision to step towards the Mega Wall, which worried us. So many confident Ninjas have been stopped there this season. He was so close on his first attempt, but corrected his approached on the second, earning $5,000 and the only Mega Wall buzzer of the night.

Power Tower

  • Ethan Swanson vs Jackson Twait

It was the cat-loving rookie vs the fearless veteran this time around. Jackson looked slightly nervous as they waited to start the race. Ethan led up the giant steps, but things were very close as they slid down the first pole. On the way up, Jackson started to pull ahead! He had a lead heading into the lachés when, suddenly, Ethan pulled off a flawless string of connected movements to take the win from behind. Jackson actually tumbled off the obstacle at the final moment and the heart-pounding race came to an end.

Winner: Ethan Swanson

We won’t forget...

Michelle Warnky’s dramatic finish! This woman wasn’t about to let ANYTHING stand between her and the end of the course. A little blood? Nah. Possible head injury? Phhht. Worry about that later. Turns out she required stitches both above and below her eye, but she got her buzzer! Michelle discusses her run on the latest American Ninja Warrior podcast.

We didn’t see that coming...

Jackson Twait on the Power Tower. It’s not a bad thing! We’re loving that the rookies keep showing up in the final round of the night. The game is always changing on American Ninja Warrior and the newbies are ready for it.

Shout out to...

Mike Bernardo for coming back even after a tough time. After all the years he’s given the show, it would understandable if he wanted some time off to focus on what’s going on him emotionally and mentally. Hopefully turning to the community and the sport he loves offered him some comfort during that terrifying time.

Next episode:

Los Angeles City Finals, Monday, July 15 at 8/7c on NBC.