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National Finals Stage Two recap: Historic night gave us MUCH more to love

The Ninjas had Stage Two’s number from the jump.

David Becker/NBC

This article was published prior to Drew Drechsel’s arrest. NBC and American Ninja Warrior have since cut ties with him.

We’re dumbstruck right now. It would be easier to tell you who DIDN’T finish Stage Two than to tell you who did.

In a night that was unexpected and unprecedented, a whopping 21 Ninjas cleared Stage Two. Putting that in perspective, only two Ninjas cleared it in season 10, and in season seven, eight Ninjas cleared Stage Two, which was the most in the show’s history.

We’ll wait for the chorus of, “Obviously the course was too easy!” to quiet down. Last year, all we heard was that the Stage Two was too hard. The course got a face lift, the Ninjas got stronger, and here we are. We’re excited about it. It means we’re looking at a Stage Three competition like we’ve never seen before.

On Stage Two, we had four Safety Passes still in play and the return of the Water Walls. Let’s go through how the 28 Stage One finishers handled the course.

By the numbers:

  • Course completions: 21 (!!!)
  • Ninjas taken out by the Extension Ladder: 2
  • Ninjas taken out by the Grim Sweeper: 1

The course:

  • Giant Walk the Plank
  • Extension Ladder
  • Snap Back
  • Swing Surfer
  • Grim Sweeper
  • Water Walls
  • Time limit: 3:00

The highlights:

  • Dan Polizzi represented the Towers of Power on Stage Two. He showed us the new Extension Ladder, a Salmon Ladder which includes rungs that get farther apart as the Ninja advances. After clearing that, he faced Snap Back. It was tough in the Oklahoma City Finals and it’s tough again on this course. Dan fell here.
  • Mathis ‘Kid’ Owhadi shared that he began having panic attacks after season 10’s National Finals, and wasn’t sure he’d be ready for season 11. He found support in the Ninja community. He also was carrying a Safety Pass into Stage Two with him. Mathis already handled Snap Back in OKC and seeing it again didn’t phase him. He demonstrated Swing Surfer’s new wall, which is a series of small ledges instead of a rope. The Grim Sweeper looked to be a breezy ride until Mathis bumped one of the blades with his leg, messing up his grip when he landed on it. He plunged into the water, but came up with his Safety Pass.
  • Karson Voiles was also carrying a Safety Pass for his third trip in a row to Stage Two. He looked pleased as punch to show it off to the camera after he fell on Snap Back.
  • Nate Burkhalter had a huge additional obstacle to contend with. While he was in Vegas, he contracted food poisoning and had lost a lot of fluids and energy. He’d also hurt himself while testing the Swing Surfer last season. The combination of facing the obstacle again with low energy was daunting. Nate took a rest after the Extension Ladder, clearly worn out already. Still, he gutted through Snap Back and the Swing Surfer without any injuries. Time as becoming a factor. With only 1:30 left, Nate made his way through the Grim Sweeper. The Water Walls would drain any energy he had left. We wondered if he’d make it when he only had 20 seconds left for the last wall. Then five seconds to get to the buzzer. But he did it with less than two seconds on the clock. Nate was the first night to send himself to Stage Three!
  • Dave Cavanagh earned both top spots in Baltimore and had a Safety Pass. That came in handy when he was out on the Giant Walk the Plank.
  • To this point, five Safety Passes had been flashed. That just left Michael Torres and his pass. Michael proved he’s reached a new level this season. He looked to be enjoying this course with no troubles. He wasn’t taking rests, but he wasn’t rushing, which seemed to be a smart plan. After taking a ride on the Grim Sweeper, he leapt into the Water Walls without stopping for the goggles. However, it might have been a hasty move as he seemed to be gasping for air and spent a full 30 seconds on the first door. But our doubts disappeared when he then had a full 30 seconds left for the last wall.

When Michael hit the buzzer, it made him the first Safety Pass holder to not utilize the do-over. It also meant we were now tied with season 10 for the number of Stage Two finishers.

  • Alex Blick got revenge on Snap Back, which took him out in the Oklahoma City Finals. Then his season ended on the wall of the Swing Surfer.
  • 20-year-old Lucas Reale was enjoying his second trip to Stage Two. And this time he beat the course! His family cried with joy on the sidelines. We noted that the fact that the show was fast-forwarding Stage Two finishes meant we had MUCH more in store for us.
  • Flip Rodriguez used his Safety Pass on Stage One, which meant it was do-or-die time for the veteran. However, the Stage One fall on the Diving Board had injured his leg and he’d limped to the buzzer on his second run. Was he ready for Stage Two?

Flip took a few extra swings on Giant Walk the Plank. The Extension Ladder and Snap Back gave his leg a break, but he did have to bear two impacts to get through the Swing Surfer. His false start run up to the obstacle clarified that he was nervous about that one. Time was getting tight for Flip. He needed to get a move on and very soon. The Grim Sweeper wasn’t any trouble, but he didn’t rush it either. This left him with just over 30 seconds for the entirety of the Water Walls, which seemed almost impossible to us. His run came down to an agonizing conclusion as Flip gave the last obstacle everything he had while the clock hit zero. Flip still finished the obstacle and collapsed as he hit the buzzer with no fireworks.

  • The last of this season’s walk-ons, Ben Wales, went out on Giant Walk the Plank.
  • This was Karsten Williams’ first time on Stage Two. He really gave his mom Linda something to scream and cheer about when he also completed the course!
  • Phoenix, AZ hometown hero Adam Rayl wants Stage Four this year and he’s not shy about that. Adam’s run was pretty picture perfect. There’s not to much to say about his smooth trip through the course. He took a short break at the top of the Swing Surfer but didn’t seem worried about time. After a controlled trip through the Grim Sweeper, Adam was right into the Water Walls with about a minute to go. His path to Stage Four was still in sight as he hit the buzzer with a handstand.
  • Chris DiGangi’s first time on Stage Two also became his first Stage Two completion. Jesse Labreck sobbed with excitement on the sidelines. Anyone else getting a little excited about the number of finishers we’re raking in?
  • Kevin Carbone invented Wingnut Alley, which had previously been on Stage Two, but it was his first time there himself. He also made his way to the buzzer.
  • Tyler Gillett was back on Stage Two for the third time in his three years of competing. This time, he finally hit the buzzer! That meant we were now tied for the number of Stage Two clears ever, eight, which last happened in season seven... The same season we had two Ninjas advance to Stage Four.
  • Grant McCartney might be looking for love in his daily life, but the course didn’t have any love for him. He was out on the Extension Ladder.
  • Joe Moravsky was laser focused on getting back to Stage Three. He’s only missed out on Stage Two once in his career. That was last year in season 10 when he fell on the Double Dipper of Stage One. He’s back in the swing of it this time around. He wasn’t pausing and he wasn’t tired. Joe’s landing from Grim Sweeper was slightly nerve-wracking, but he was out of there and into the Water Walls. There was no time concern here. Joe was back to Stage Three with the fastest completion time to this point of the night.

We now officially had the most Ninjas ever heading to Stage Three.

  • Over the years, there have been 189 attempts on Stage Two and 25 completions, for a 13% completion rate. Those numbers were shattering with this episode.
  • Exterminator Tyler Smith’s third season on the show was turning into his best so far. He handled Stage Two for sure. Tyler hopped up the Swing Surfer wall and whipped through the course while pacing Joe Moravsky’s time. His time to the buzzer reset the fastest completion of the night. This was just incredible. The Ninjas had Stage Two’s number and were taking it to the cleaners.
  • Ethan Swanson hit the buzzer.
  • R.J. Roman was heading to Stage Three.
  • On his Safety Pass run, Karson Voiles cleared the course.
  • But the Safety Pass couldn’t save everyone. Dave Cavanagh closed his season on the Extension Ladder during his second run. It was the first time a do-over did not result in a course completion.
  • Josh Salinas fell on Snap Back in the Oklahoma City Finals. This time around, he blew past it to hit the buzzer with ANOTHER fastest time of the night.
  • Two of the OGs, Ninjas who’ve competed on every season of the show, made it to Stage Two. Ryan Stratis was up first. He took a hard impact off the Giant Walk the Plank but it didn’t stop him. He claimed his fourth buzzer so far this year.
  • Next up was OG Lorin Ball. We hoped he’d join Ryan, but there was no dice. Lorin jumped into the wall of the Swing Surfer with a lot of power, causing him to bounce off the tiny ledges and into the water.
  • Next up was Mathis ‘Kid’ Owhadi once more for his Safety Pass run. The pressure was really on now and it showed in his face. Back to the Grim Sweeper, he lifted his long legs far up and out of the way this time. With 1:20 on the clock for the Water Walls, he could do this. Mathis lost his focus on the first wall and tried to get through before it was completely open, meaning he had to reset and go back to cranking. You could feel the stress he was under. After that, he clambered through the remaining doors, abandoned his trademark hat in the water, and lunged for the buzzer. Mathis collapsed and covered his face. He’d been just as scared as we were.
  • The completions rolled on from there! Hunter Guerard, Seth Rogers, and Casey Suchocki were the next to become Stage Three competitors. Wow. Wow. WOW. This was an unheard of night!
  • Drew Drechsel used his Safety Pass on Stage One, so no little mistakes could be allowed this time around. Which is why we literally screamed at him when he started using an odd, twisting motion on each of his Snap Back transfers. Keep it simple, Drew! Once he got that out of his system, nothing could stand in his way. He even playfully fish-flopped into the Water Walls with the clock on his side. He was back to Stage Three for the second year in a row.
  • The last Ninja of the night was Daniel Gil. He was enjoying a nearly flawless season and Stage Two wasn’t going to change that for him. Daniel was all smiles on the course, looking calm and comfortable as he zipped along. With a big grin, he set the goggles on his head for the Water Walls and completed the last obstacle like he was born in the water. Daniel set the fastest over time overall for the night became the TWENTY-FIRST finisher of the night.

Daniel is the guest on this week’s American Ninja Warrior Podcast. He goes over what it’s like to put together a pretty perfect season and his dedication to the kids that look up to him.

  • We have 21 Stage Two finishers! Wrap your mind around that for a second. We’re going to see Stage Three get slammed with talent!

We won’t forget...

21 finishers on Stage Two.

Wow. We mean, we always thought having more Ninjas on Stage Three would be great but we did not think this number was possible. Only seven Ninjas did not advance. Stage Three should be shaking. With that many Ninjas on their way, is it possible to have even more than two people beat it?

We know there’s a winner this year. And we’re looking right at him within this group of finishers. WHO IS IT?

We didn’t see that coming...


Shout out to...


Next episode:
Season 11 finale! National Finals night four - Monday, September 16 at 8/7c on NBC.