The 11th season of “American Ninja Warrior” kicked off May 29 on NBC with the second episode featuring contestants competing at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Winning competitors will go on to compete at the Los Angeles Qualifiers later this season.
Just 17 out of 98 competitors completed the Atlanta course. Tyler Gillett, who has competed on three consecutive seasons, finished first with a qualifying time of 1:07.68. Although no female competitors completed the course, Jessica Clayton came close, falling short right before the buzzer at the infamous Warped Wall. Most competitors, 26 to be exact, exited the course at the second stage, Off the Hook, likely because the obstacle was making its debut.
Hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila sat down with the Wheel to discuss the upcoming season.
Iseman promised that this season won’t disappoint. The season features new obstacles, such as Shrinking Steps, Off the Hook and Ferris Wheel, that premiered in the Atlanta Qualifiers.
The course begins with the Shrinking Steps, which requires contestants to run across five steps that get progressively higher and smaller, quickly grab onto a rope and swing onto a platform. The Ferris Wheel is exactly what it sounds like: competitors must work their way across two adjacent wheels, each with 12 handles that swing side to side attached to its perimeter.
“The obstacles are bigger and better,” Iseman said. “The difficulty level is through the roof.”
This season also brings a new twist with the Power Tower, a game-changing bonus obstacle for the two fastest competitors. On Qualifying night, the two fastest contestants race for a chance to go straight to the National Finals in Las Vegas.
According to Iseman, the new twist is “almost like a video game.”
Both Iseman and Gbajabiamila agree that though the obstacles are bound to excite, the competitors’ stories are perhaps the best thing to come out of this show.
The Atlanta Qualifiers brought about a host of contestants from interesting backgrounds, including former NFL cornerback Tyrone Poole and Atlanta native Ashley Harel, also known as “the skateboarding nurse,” who previously worked at Emory University Hospital Midtown.
“I expect nervousness, excitement, and from obstacle to obstacle to keep moving forward and forget about the last one,” Poole said right before he took on the course. Poole made it to the new fifth stage, the Ferris Wheel, but was eventually eliminated.
Harel hopes she can inspire a new generation of girls to become ninjas.
“I think anybody can do anything. All it takes is time and practice,” she said. “You shouldn’t be afraid of what people think.”
Harel fought her way through three stages, until failing to make it past an obstacle known as the Bouncing Spider.
“That’s the message of this show — you don’t have to hit the buzzer to win; sometimes just showing up and doing better than you thought you could is a win,” Iseman said.
“American Ninja Warrior” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.