The previews to the Orlando Finals episode of “American Ninja Warrior” promised some real showmen. They were a few characters that stood out, but most of the runners were extremely focused on the course instead of adding flair. I’ll take substance over style myself.
30 athletes and only 15 move on to the national finals. Here’s the breakdown from Orlando where the always tough Cannonball Alley took its toll on a massive amount of competitors. Guys lucky enough to make it past that challenge had to face the Invisible Ladder, which makes really fit guys seem like they are chain smoking couch potatoes by the time they reach that last section of the course.
I had no idea that break-dancing was still a thing. Kyle Johnson does this professionally and apparently earns real money. After his short run ended on the Log Roll he may need to schedule another Bill Murray birthday party appearance.
Running the ANW obstacle course after a few beers is a bad idea. That has to be the equivalent of the feeling after being sent through the spin cycle of the Rolling Log. Alexio Gomes looked like he might just throw up after the Log. He gathered himself enough to possibly pass a field sobriety test, but not Cannonball Alley. He was the first of many victims of that challenge. The third ball is hard to get hold of unless it’s pulled close to the upper body.
Boxing trainer J.J.Woods had a hell of a run going until Cannonball Alley knocked him back to reality. Amazing how one obstacle can get so many guys. It helps to watch the mistakes of others on sections like Cball Alley.
Matt “The Butcher” Jordan is not a serial killer ninja, rather a meat man from a small town in South Carolina. He finished his run shirtless, hopefully that’s not how he ends his shift at the meat market as he carves up steaks. The Salmon Ladder can’t be underestimated. It sent Jordan packing back to his tiny town in S.C.
Unfortunately I caught a glimpse of a disturbing KFC commercial as I fast forwarded through the ads. Who the hell is running the ad campaign for this place? You can’t just make the founder into a mascot and plug in a weird looking actor to take his place in TV commercials.
The most shocking thing about this week’s competition was hearing that one competitor, Jo Jo Bynum, cannot swim. He had to be rescued as he fell in the water in a past competition! How the hell do you become a super fit athlete and never take time to learn to swim? Lakes, rivers, and oceans are human eating monsters that kill people daily, but can be defeated by learning a simple skill….swimming. Bynum went fast enough to make it to the next round in Vegas, but is going to have to take swimming lessons before he gets respected as a warrior. #5yearoldsswim
Dr. Ninja, Rich Shoemaker had a nice run going and even blew a kiss as he mounted the Warped Wall, which is still cool but basically a formality for these runners. Cannonball Alley was not what the doctor ordered (only medical reference not used by Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila) as Shoemaker was bounced into the water.
Travis Rosen trains with his young son for ANW and that is a common storyline with family and friends. We are all busy so we don’t connect with each other like we should. Challenges like this crazy obstacle course gives families something to conquer together, thus building bonds that are getting harder to create. Rosen conquered the Cannonballs, but the Double Helix finished the 40 year old off. His 6th place finish was impressive and we will see the old guy in Vegas.
Drew Drechsel had a cool odd couple story with his training partner / roommate. One is a health nut while the other eats candy and hates running. Drechsel had a nice run, even though signing his shirt was unnecessary, and nearly got through the Invisible Ladder with tremendous effort but fell short.
Walk-on Warrior Adam Arnold was brilliant in his run. The guy quit his job to get this shot and blazed through the course with ease. His run erased his nobody status as he heads to Vegas and a possible fling with co-host Kristine Leahy who looked completely smitten with the underdog!
Mill worker John Alexis Jr. was a favorite going in but disappointed himself and onlookers as he fell off the Tire Swing. It only takes a slip of the fingers to let one of the simpler obstacles knock a runner out of the contest.
Just when I thought we might have a week with no real weirdos, here came Neil Craver with his golden shorts and gold body paint. This artist had the goods though as he ran smoothly through the course. Akbar commented on how this guy “wasn’t afraid of getting hurt,” which I’m not sure is a compliment or helpful in this event. Craver may not have been the strongest guy there, but his grip was something to behold. He should have fell off the Invisible Ladder long before his hands finally failed him. Great run and we will see this dude in Vegas.
Flip Rodriguez is a great warrior who will be a favorite in the nationals. His run was as slick as any other on this night. He has experience and the right body type after trimming down from last year. He ran out of steam at the top of the Ladder, but put out a tremendous effort that had me sitting on the edge of my chair hoping he would finish the drill!
James McGrath is a cool cat that does not take himself seriously at all. He works whatever job he can find so he can dedicate himself to ninja work full time. He’s a six year vet that isn’t worried about some fake American dream of a 401K and retiring when you are nearly dead. McGrath is living the American Ninja dream. He flew through the first seven obstacles so fast that he had time to relax for a good 30 seconds before climbing on the Invisible Ladder. He took a moment to glance at his crew on the sidelines which is pointless. They can’t help you on the course! You are alone with the challenge. Focus. He barely made it by flinging his legs up on the platform just before his tank was empty, grabbing first place on the night. He bested the second place finisher by more than a minute.
It was a great night of course running in Orlando and next week ANW heads to Pittsburgh for their city finals. I hope it is as good as Orlando and that everyone competing there can swim.