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National Finals night one, Stage One recap: No one is safe... per usual

Stage One never fails to send some big names packing.

David Becker/NBC

This. Is. It. We’ve made it to season 11’s National Finals! It’s almost like the Super Bowl of American Ninja Warrior. Only the best of the best have made it here. And now, it’s do-or-die. There’s no more squeaking by using timing. It’s hit the buzzer or go home.

86 Ninjas stepped up to Stage One. Six of them have Safety Passes to re-run the course if they need it. It’s been a great season so far and Stage One was ready to continue that by starting off night one with good shocks and bad, and the first use of a Safety Pass but an unexpected competitor. A few Ninjas who haven’t hit a buzzer all year claimed an important one, but, like we’ve come to expect, a few more are done for the season.

By the numbers:

  • Course completions: 12
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Spin Your Wheels: 4
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Twist and Fly: 4

The course:

  • Archer Alley
  • Spin Your Wheels
  • Double Dipper
  • Jumping Spider
  • Tire Run
  • Warped Wall
  • Diving Boards
  • Twist and Fly
  • Time limit: 2:30

The highlights:

  • Michelle Warnky was fresh off her City Finals completion in Cincinnati, and we all wanted to see her make this at least a three buzzer seasons. That hope ended quickly when Spin Your Wheels spun her all over the place and finally, into the water.
  • Kevin Bull had fan Molly on the sidelines. Molly is a young girl who has Alopecia, like Kevin. They both inspire one another to look at the obstacles in their lives in a different way. On the course, Kevin was all out sprinting. He clearly didn’t want time to be an issue. Kevin ran right into the Spider Trap, through Tire Run, and up the Warped Wall. Kevin had over a minute left for the last few obstacles. We screamed as he fell on the Diving Boards, but Kevin managed to save it. He had about 40 seconds for the Twist and Fly, which was doable. However, his season ended when he missed the transfer to the second set of handles.
  • Flip Rodriguez was the first Ninja with a Safety Pass to step up to the starting line. He looked to be moving well through the course, as Drew Drechsel reminded him to keep moving from the sidelines. Suddenly, Flip took a hard fall on the Diving Boards. He climbed out of the water clutching the Safety Pass and trying to catch his breath from the hit. We’d see him again later in the night.
  • The first US Olympic gymnast to make the National Finals, Danell Leyva was up next. He made an absolutely UNREAL save on the Diving Boards. He flipped forward off one of the boards, wrapped his arms around it, hovered his legs above the water and used a crazy amount of ab strength to flip himself BACK on to the board. While it was spectacular, it ate up some of his time, perhaps causing him to rush and fall while trying to grab the cargo net of Twist and Fly.
  • Karter Ohlson was out on the Double Dipper.
  • Ronald Washington ended his season on Tire Run.
  • 19-year-old wrestler Sem Garay started out strong on the course but then hit the water on the Double Dipper.
  • Nate Burkhalter hadn’t qualified for the National Finals in the last three seasons. He wanted to make the most of this opportunity. Nate got a good dismount off Spin Your Wheels and launched from the Double Dipper right into the Jumping Spider. After a little trouble on Tire Run, he only had about 30 seconds to get from the second handle of Twist and Fly to the buzzer. But that’s all Nate needed. He was the first of the night to hit the buzzer and clear a path to Stage Two!
  • Anna Shumaker fell on the Double Dipper.
  • Lucio Battista was out on the Jumping Spider.
  • Brandon Mears walked to the start line with his best friend, Dan Polizzi. His season then came to an end on the Diving Boards.
  • Brett Sims was in a “beard bet” with Ryan Stratis for the second season in a row. Whoever went out first had to lose their impressive beard. This time around, the cut would be dealer’s choice by Lucio Battista. Brett was in danger after getting whipped around on Spin Your Wheels. The dismount had too much force and flipped him back into the water.
  • Adam Rayl came into the National Finals without any previous buzzers from the season. But a very important one laid just ahead of him. Adam was on a mission. He skipped through Tire Run, trotted up the Warped Wall, and had a perfect run across the Diving Boards. Adam landed high on the cargo net of Twist and Fly. After wasting maybe a second or two trying to hit the buzzer with his foot, he completed the course with 37 seconds left on the clock.
  • It was announced that 11-year-old fan, Tyler Rizzo was the winner of season 10’s Obstacle Design Challenge! He came up with the Barrel Roll that was part of the Seattle/Tacoma course. As his prize, he and his family got to attend the National Finals as VIPs and meet some of his favorite Ninjas.

This year’s Obstacle Design Challenge is still accepting submissions.

  • Barclay Stockett shared that all season long she’s been contending with the news that her mom has stage three bladder cancer. Barclay actually planned on skipping this season, but her mom wouldn’t have it. This run at the National Finals was for her mother, Eva. After hanging tight on the Double Dipper, Barclay nailed the Jumping Spider. She tripped on Tire Run but was able to freeze her momentum and recalibrate her run, finishing the obstacle that ended season 10 for her. With a minute left, she faced the 14-foot Warped Wall. Unfortunately, Barclay wasn’t able to pass it. She made attempt after attempt until the course flashed red and time ran out. Barclay was hit with so many emotions as she waved to the crowd and closed her Ninja year.
  • There are only four “OG” Ninja Warrior athletes (David Campbell, Brian Kretsch, Ryan Stratis, and Lorin Ball) who have competed on every season of the show. This season, all four made it to the National Finals!
  • David Campbell moved a little slower than he had in the LA region. He ran out of time on Twist and Fly.
  • Brian Kretsch had his dad on the sidelines. Unfortunately, Brian was out on Spin Your Wheels.
  • Ryan Stratis, the other half of the “beard bet,” had a traditional send off from Mike Bernardo. His facial hair was safe after he completed Spin Your Wheels. Ryan looked cautious but solid on Tire Run. He almost tumbled backwards off the large tire but clung on. He also took a chest-plant off the Diving Boards. With only 33 seconds left for Twist and Fly, Ryan couldn’t waste any time. After landing midway up the cargo net, he needed to get a move on. Ryan did hit the buzzer just as the course started to flash the ominous red of the 10 second count down.
  • Conor Galvin ran the Power Tower in the Baltimore Qualifying round. His season came to an end on Tire Run.
  • This was Jessica Clayton’s first National Finals. Her run ended on Spin Your Wheels.
  • Lucas Reale was in his second year on the show, and his second trip to Las Vegas. He also hit the Stage One buzzer for the second time, and with 28 seconds still on the clock.
  • Philip Scott moved and inspired viewers when he overcame panic attacks in Cincinnati to make it all the way to obstacle nine and the National Finals. After landing almost off the edge from Spin Your Wheels, and taking a seat from the dismount of Double Dipper, he ended his rookie year on the Jumping Spider. Philip definitely has a great Ninja career ahead of him, though!
  • Brett Sims got some fancy mutton chips from Lucio Battista as the beard bet came to fruition.
  • We all wanted to see Najee Richardson get his revenge on Stage Two after what happened in season 10. All eyes were glued to the course for this one. He had a great turn on Spin Your Wheels. Najee’s gymnastic side came through when he did a front flip off the Double Dipper and charged into the Jumping Spider. Then, he was out on Tire Run. WHAT?!? We didn’t see it coming and we were baffled that it actually happened. His season ended without his deserved redemption.
  • Chris DiGangi is in his seventh season of Ninja Warrior and is having a great year so far! He’d hit his first City Finals buzzer since his rookie year and he looked confident on the Stage One course. Chris placed himself carefully on Tire Run while Jesse Labreck shouted a reminder at him that time was ticking. He handled the course well but only had 20 seconds to climb the cargo net at the end of the course. Now everyone was screaming at him to GO! Luckily, Chris did it and hit his first Stage One buzzer.
  • Karson Voiles almost fell on Tire Run, but ended up completing the course. That means he’s taking the Safety Pass with him into Stage Two.
  • R.J. Roman pulled off a big save on Tire Run and completed the course for the second season in a row.
  • Dan Polizzi’s buddy Brandon might have gone out, but he completed the course and will represent the Towers of Power on Stage Two.
  • With two Cincinnati buzzers already to her name, Jesse Labreck was on a roll. She’s been so very close to finishing Stage One twice before, with the final obstacle being her downfall. After a strong run that had us all hopeful, history repeated itself. Jesse fell when her hands peeled off the cargo net of Twist and Fly. A few curse words might have been uttered all around the course as her season ended.
  • The Cake Ninja, David Wright was out on Tire Run.
  • Kevin Carbone showed off a one-handed save on Tire Run. He then completed the course for his first Stage One buzzer.
  • Lorin Ball, the last of the Ninja OGs to run Stage One, hit the buzzer!
  • Travis Rosen marked a huge milestone with this run. It was exactly here a year before that he shattered his ankle on the Double Dipper, which he would have to face once more. He also shared that this was his last year of Ninja Warrior, after nine years of competition. We breathed a little easier when Travis was safely through the Double Dipper. However, this sadly became his retirement run when he tripped and fell from the Diving Boards.
  • Flip Rodriguez returned for his second run at the course using the Safety Pass. However, he looked really injured from his previous fall on the Diving Boards. We were nervous for him as he limped and pushed himself through the course. Flip did not repeat his fall on the Diving Boards and made it to the buzzer. The Safety Pass had done its job, but Flip was clearly in pain.
  • The final run of night one went to Daniel Gil. There was no Safety Pass for him. On the sidelines for Daniel was Nick, a young man who is completely blind that Ninja trains with Daniel. Like we all expected, we didn’t need to worry about Daniel not having a do-over on Stage One. He frolicked through the obstacles and had a minute left when he hit Twist and Fly. He completed the course with the fastest time of night one.
  • Craving more American Ninja Warrior? This week’s podcast guest is the show’s Challenge Producer, Adam Sheldon! Go deep behind-the-scenes with his insights on how the obstacles and the course come to life.

We won’t forget...

The first use of a Safety Pass. Actually, we were a little surprised to see it used on Stage One by such a well-known competitor. The course is always unpredictable, but Flip has been on a whole new level this season. It served its purpose in that it did allow Flip to right a small error and move to Stage Two. However, his apparent injury leaves us concerned for the weeks ahead.

We didn’t see that coming...

Najee heading home from Stage One. Literally, we didn’t see it coming. It happened so suddenly. He didn’t look shaky or unsure. One second he was fine, and the next... he wasn’t. Earlier in the season, Najee share with the American Ninja Warrior podcast that he’s been dealing with depression and maybe lost his focus a bit this season. We hope he takes this as motivation to come back stronger next year!

Shout out to...

Travis Rosen! We didn’t know he was planning on retiring, and the sport won’t be the same without him. We understand his decision to step away. Nine years is a long time and Ninja Warrior takes a LOT of time and planning. Thank you for all those spectacular runs, Travis!

Next episode:
National Finals Stage One, night two - Monday, September 2 at 8/7c on NBC