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Take a closer look at Season 12’s competition format

There will be changes from what we’re used to seeing when it comes to how the Ninjas advance.

David Becker/NBC

American Ninja Warrior pulled out all the stops to make sure we had a 2020 season. In order to get it done, production had to make some changes to the usual format that we’re used to seeing. The result is a season like no other.

We’ll all get a chance to see it for ourselves when the season premieres on September 7 at 8pm EST/PST on NBC. But before we dive in, let’s take a closer look at the changes to how the Ninjas will advance and how the season will culminate in a winner.


There will be four Qualifying episodes, which take place on courses with six obstacles. The top 12 competitors from each episode will advance to the semi-finals. Hitting a buzzer does NOT guarantee a Ninja will advance. They must be in the top 12. The top three women from each Qualifying episode will advance.

The two fastest competitors of each Qualifying episode will go on to the Power Tower. Winning there advances all three Ninjas in the winner’s group, regardless of their standing in the leaderboard.

What to keep in mind:

  • Previously, hitting the buzzer meant a competitor was through to the next round, no matter what. That is not the case this time around. If we have 13 finishers in a Qualifying episode, the slowest finisher would not advance to the semi-finals.
  • For season 12, the Ninjas were placed in small groups that do not act as teams. They’re generally just there to offer support. However, this changes for one instance: The Qualifying Power Tower. The Ninja who wins on the Power Tower takes the other two members of their group with them to the Semi-Finals. That can mean a second chance for Ninjas who didn’t make the top 12.
  • The women’s rules are still in place with slight changes. The top three women will advance from each Qualifiers episode. If there are not three women in the top 12, the women who went the farthest the fastest will advance.


There are two Semi-Finals episodes, which take place on courses with 10 obstacles. The top 12 Ninjas from each episode advance to the finals. The top two women will advance.

What to keep in mind:

  • After the Qualifiers, the members of each Ninja group are on their own when it comes to advancing. There is no opportunity for one member to bring them through into the Finals.
  • If there are not two women in the top 12, the women who went the farthest the fastest will advance.


The finals will take place over two episodes. The finalists will run a 10-obstacle course. The top eight Ninjas advance to the Power Tower for head-to-head races, culminating in a final race. The winner will receive $100,000.

What to keep in mind:

  • The show did not “tour” this year, so there is no National Finals in Las Vegas to close the season.
  • There are no advancement rules for women in the finals. Only the top eight will move on to the Power Tower.

Got any questions? Leave them in the comment section below and we’ll try to get them answered for you!