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Seattle/Tacoma City Finals recap: Lightning strikes more than twice

The course showed no mercy. The Ninjas fought tooth and nail.

Matthew Hayward/NBC

The American Ninja Warrior Seattle/Tacoma City Finals were both exhilarating and frustrating. For the first time this season, no one was able to reach the buzzer. But the fight to get there was a good one to watch. The Lightning Bolts, a return obstacle on the front part of the course, did more damage to the field of competitors than we ever could have dreamed. However, a strong group of Ninjas, including Jessie Graff, were ready to give it everything they had.

By the numbers:

  • Course completions: 0
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Northwest Passage: 3
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Lightning Bolts: 13

The course:

  • Shrinking Steps
  • Lunatic Ledges
  • Barrel Roll (This obstacle was designed by 11-year-old fan Tyler, who submitted his idea through the Obstacle Design Challenge!)
  • Broken Bridge
  • Lightning Bolts
  • Warped Wall
  • Salmon Ladder
  • Floating Monkey Bars
  • Northwest Passage
  • Spider Trap
  • Power Tower

The highlights:

  • Nick Hanson didn’t have to travel quite as far this year to compete. Alaska is slightly closer to Seattle/Tacoma than previous locations. Nick fell on the Lightning Bolts in the Qualifying round. This time around, he made it safely through the obstacle and to the back half of the course. Nick reminded us just how tricky the Floating Monkey Bars can be. After a narrow save at the start of the obstacle, he looked stuck and tired. Nick fell there but was still extremely emotional to share the moment with his dad.
  • Olympic athlete Jeremy Taiwo, a Decathlete, competed in the Rio games as part of Team USA. He’s currently training to be ready for the 2020 games. Surprisingly, his run ended on the Lunatic Ledges.
  • Jake Murray kept his entrance pretty simple this time. In the Qualifiers, he and Grant McCartney pulled off a Hannibal Lecter-esque debut that we learned did NOT go to plan the first time around. After flopping backwards when his tear-away suit didn’t tear away, Jake saved face with a great run.

In the City Finals, Jake just walked to the start line and had an equally smooth start to his run. We gasped when he went out on the Lightning Bolts, ending his season without the National Finals.

  • Jackson Meyer ran the course on his 27th birthday. We’re pretty sure he didn’t want to celebrate by going out on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Glenn Albright was also out on the Lightning Bolts.
  • David Moonen finished the Qualifying course. He put up a strong run to the Floating Monkey Bars.
  • 23-year-old rookie Mady Howard is an ICU nurse with a gymnastics background. She went out on the fifth obstacle in Qualifying and had her sights set on the Warped Wall. But Mady had more than that in her future. She looked to be in perfect control on the Lightning Bolts and handled the obstacle like a veteran. Mady then took down the Warped Wall on her first try! After all that, we wondered if she might have the Floating Monkey Bars in the bag. She looked strong at first but then fell on the eighth obstacle, putting her in a good place to have a chance at Las Vegas.
  • P.E. teacher Christi Marie fell on the Broken Bridge.
  • Sean Darling-Hammond tried for a long dismount on the Floating Monkey Bars that put him in the water.
  • Scott Behrends lives and breaths Ninja Warrior with his family. Both his sons have competed on Ninja Warrior Junior, and all together, they run the Backyard Ninja Kids YouTube channel. Scott completed the Qualifying course and was moving quickly during the City Finals. He looked to be a little hung up on the Lightning Bolts, but he got through. Scott made it to the Floating Monkey Bars with his kids yelling helpful advice from the sidelines. The bar came loose on the first move, and he was able to replace it. However, when it happened again, his run came to a close.
  • Lance Pekus was the only Ninja to make it up the Mega Wall in this region’s Qualifying round. For City Finals, he ditched his hat right before the Lunatic Ledges and then surprised us all by ditching out on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Six-time veteran Karson Voiles has gone through a lot during his time on the show. There’s his stomach condition, his wife’s brain tumor, and more recently, his father’s triple organ failure. His dad pulled through, but not before the family were told to say their goodbyes. With dad on FaceTime, Karson moved well through the City Finals course. He didn’t fall victim to the cursed Lightning Bolts and moved to tackle the Floating Monkey Bars. We held our breath as he missed a cradle. However, Karson was able to switch his grab and replace the bar. He then dropped another cradle and still managed to get it back. Finally, he became the first person of the night to beat the obstacle.

Karson started the Northwest Passage and it became quite clear how hard this ninth obstacle would be. It’s a bit like the Iron Maiden, with handles that have to be locked in as Ninjas traverse the descents and ascents. Karson climbed down the first panel just fine, but quickly fell while navigating the ascent of the second panel. What a strong run though!

  • What is going on with the Lightning Bolts tonight?!? Gavin Maxwell, Rainer Jundt, Ben Martin, and Bart Copeland all fell on the obstacle.
  • Sandy Zimmerman made history as the first mom to hit a buzzer during her Qualifying run. She shared that Ninja Warrior has helped her heal and build confidence after a chaotic childhood. She became the first woman this season to hit a buzzer, and she carried that momentum into the City Finals. Sandy survived a crooked swing on the Barrel Roll and carefully hopped through the Lightning Bolts, thank goodness. Then Sandy was back to, and over, the Warped Wall once more. She completed the Salmon Ladder and then fell on the Floating Monkey bars, setting the bar high for the women who wanted to make the National Finals.
  • Leif Sundberg went to the Power Tower in Qualifying after snagging the top time at under a minute. Tonight, he was one of the many, many victims of the Lightning Bolts.
  • Pharmacist Matt Dolce was out on the Floating Monkey Bars.
  • We joined Dan Yager on the course as he was breezing past the Broken Bridge. He was uneven on the Lightning Bolts at one point and then got out of there safely! After the Salmon Ladder, Dan faced the Floating Monkey Bars. He is a rock climber, so we hoped this was in his wheelhouse. He was super smooth on the obstacle, even saving a dropped cradle. Dan was only the second Ninja to beat the Monkey Bars. On Northwest Passage, Dan showed off his climber skills. He was quickly down the first panel, and demonstrated the “figure four” climbing move on the first ascent. He was moving so slowly, but he was making progress. Dan didn’t complete the climb, and endured a nasty cut when one of the handles followed him into the water and hit his head. But there was no way that stellar run wouldn’t get him to Vegas.
  • Meagan Martin has made it to the National Finals five previous times. However, in Qualifying, she almost lost out on the City Finals due to timing. She’d need to go far, quickly to advance. After making it through the Barrel Roll and the balance obstacle, she was back to the Lightning Bolts that got her in Qualifying. They also seemed particularly touchy that night. Meagan landed in the second cradle unevenly. When she went to fix it, she plummeted into the water, meaning there would be no Vegas for her for the first time in her career.

Meagan is the guest on this week’s American Ninja Warrior podcast. She fills us in on how she focused her time after ending her season early.

  • Marquez Green completed the Qualifying course for his mom. In City Finals, he was out on the Lightning Bolts.
  • 19-year-old Zach Scholes managed to survive the Lightning Bolts. He ended his run on the Floating Monkey Bars with a time that put him through to Vegas.
  • Nate Burkhalter was passing the Broken Bridge when we joined his run. This was his sixth season on Ninja Warrior, with only one previous trip to the National Finals. When he reached and completed the Salmon Ladder with a fast enough time, he locked in his second trip. Nate ended his run after finding himself in trouble on the Floating Monkey Bars.
  • Tug boat worker and rookie Alex Hatch hit the buzzer in Qualifying. In the City Finals, he took a tumble off the Barrel Roll, but it didn’t stop him from finishing the Broken Bridge. Ultimately, he joined the roster of Ninjas who fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Brandon Varner pulled off a fancy flying move on the Barrel Roll. But there were no points for style when he fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • OG Ninja Lorin Ball has competed on every season of the show. He made it to the Floating Monkey Bars and locked in his place in the National Finals.
  • Sean Bryan had nothing to worry about with his run. He had the Speed Pass which already advanced him to Las Vegas. But boy, that Safety Pass sure would come in handy... Sean blasted through the first part of the course and took a moment before the Lightning Bolts. Then he FLEW through them in just three moves. The Salmon Ladder took him only two moves! In order to make the Power Tower, he’d need to quickly finish the Floating Monkey Bars. Surprisingly, he was out on that obstacle, but we certainly don’t need to worry about seeing him on Stage One.
  • The last runner of the night was Jessie Graff. In all her seasons and all her history making moments on the show, she still was chasing a City Finals buzzer. She’d previously made it to the ninth obstacle twice, and even the tenth obstacle once, but the buzzer loomed just out of reach. Jessie was also in a position where she HAD to make a strong showing to advance. She’d need to make it to the Floating Monkey Bars. Jessie fell backwards off the Barrel Roll and was able to laugh it off. Everyone breathed a little easier when she put the Lightning Bolts behind her. Upon completing the Salmon Ladder with a strong time, she was assured a spot in Vegas.

More history awaited Jessie as she saved not one, but two dropped cradles on the Floating Monkey Bars, making her the first woman to complete the obstacle. Then, it was the Northwest Passage. She was back to the ninth obstacle once again. Jessie looked good on the way down the first panel. Switching to the second panel, she employed the “figure four” move to save some strength. As she battled through the climb, Jessie made it farther on the obstacle than both Karson and Dan before her. It looked like she might make the transition to the third panel. However, she fell at the very top of the second. But that run put her in the third position overall for the night and through to the National Finals!

Editor’s note: We noticed there was some confusion around how Jessie came in third when she went farther on obstacle nine. For the leaderboard, it’s all about obstacles completed and in what time. So while Jessie went farther on Northwest Passage than Dan and Karson, the rankings are decided by the times of their last completed obstacle. Dan and Karson completed obstacle eight in a faster time, which is how they had the number one and two slots on the leaderboard. If she had completed Northwest Passage, she would have taken the top spot. You can check out the times here. And remember, we don’t make the rules around here. :)

The Power Tower:

  • Dan Yager vs Karson Voiles

This was a hard one to predict! Both Dan and Karson had similar Ninja Warrior experience. Dan is a rock climber, while Karson has experience with Stage Two. Did either of them have an advantage? The buzzer sounded and they took off. Dan missed a ring grab and seemed to get flustered, losing his momentum. On the other hand, Karson charged ahead. Dan was unable to mount a comeback before Karson had an unsurmountable lead, sealing his Safety Pass.

Safety Pass winner: Karson Voiles

We won’t forget...

Jessie Graff doing her thing, once again. This Ninja never fails to leave everyone awestruck when she’s on the course. Her level of athleticism is almost at superhero capacity. She doesn’t just lead the women’s leaderboard, she’s usually at the top of the leaderboard. Period.

Then there’s Mady Howard, the stellar rookie, also pushing herself into the top 12 and claiming the eighth spot overall! We can’t wait to see what her bright future in Vegas holds.

We didn’t see that coming...

Ugh, the Lightning Bolts. This was the most frustrating thing to witness. Ninjas who had beaten the obstacle in the Qualifying round were going down left and right on it in the City Finals. It’s a finicky, evil obstacle. There’s no way around it and it did some serious damage this round.

Shout out to...

Akbar for catching that fish! It was briefly touched on in the episode, but that moment was unplanned. Akbar was playing around with the Pike Place Market fish guys and they started miming tossing the large (and real) fish to him. We figured, with all the equipment up in that host tower, and Akbar’s nice suit, there was no way it would happen. But it did. And he caught it! It got one the biggest audience reactions of the night.

Next episode:

  • Baltimore City Finals, Monday, August 12, at 8/7c on NBC