UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — We’re standing next to the obstacle course at American Ninja Warrior tryouts. It’s 10 p.m. Cameras began filming at 7:30, and the crew showed up well before then to set up.
Things seem to be moving slower than what the crew is used to. The show itself is all frenetic action and drama. The reality is more tedious.
“The sun will eventually come up,” one crew member quips.
Many hours of work await: as they do in all cities, the producers will keep cameras rolling until sunrise in the hopes of finding the next great American Ninja Warrior.
The whole process started with filming in qualifying cities from March to May in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Daytona, Kansas City, Cleveland and Denver this year. Those who advanced competed in the Finals in Las Vegas from June 18-24, vying for a $1 million grand prize.
Those sessions were used to create the 9th season of American Ninja Warrior, though it’s based off a popular Japanese show called Sasuke that’s preparing to air its 34th season this fall.
The American version returned earlier this summer on NBC and has progressed toward the Finals, which will air in September.
Executive producer Kent Weed said that there are about 300 people total who work on making American Ninja Warrior the show that’s addictive, and that both Weed and the other executive producer, Arthur Smith, say changes lives.
“I travel around the country, travel around the world, and everywhere I go people are like, ‘Oh man, I love that show,’ and, ‘You know my dad lost 20 pounds and he plays with me in the backyard now. He never used to play with me in the backyard,’ ” Weed said. “It’s changing lives and bringing families together, which is kinda cool.”
You may be wondering how you can get in on this. The tryouts are open each year to the public. While there is an application process, they do accept walk-ons in each city, though only so many walk-ons are accepted since filming stops at daybreak.
Four Ninjas with a combined 20 seasons of experience talked to For The Win about what advice they’d give to fans sitting on their couches dreaming about becoming one of them.
“I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind about it — be confident. Everything worth doing takes hard work, and just know it’s not going to be easy and come super simple to you. But if you put in the effort, you’re gonna reap the reward. Just go for it. Don’t limit yourself. I think sometimes people are afraid to do things to their potential. There’s doubt and you just can’t listen to it. Just go for it.
“I never even did the Warped Wall in my gym before the show — first time on the show.”
“I think something that happens also when you’re watching people on TV is that you don’t see the background. I’m watching Meagan on TV and I see her make the course, but I didn’t see her training in the gym. I didn’t see her not making it. People think, ‘Oh they’re there, I’m not as good as them.’ And it’s like, I failed at the Warped Wall 100 times at my gym before I made it up.
“We all start somewhere and it’s OK to not be there yet. That doesn’t mean you can’t get there. And it’s not gonna be quick. It’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be hard, but that’s what makes it so worth it when you get here.
“Give yourself small goals. If you don’t get 10 pull-ups your first week in, that’s OK. If you can’t do one pull-up, that’s OK. Start where you are and work on getting that. It’s not on anyone else’s timeline. It’s on your timeline. Let yourself do what you need to do and don’t give up. Don’t let the doubt get in.”
“Just find a really good bodyweight circuit training program, get comfortable with using your body. I’d recommend with finding either a Ninja gym, which you can do these days pretty easily, or like a parkour gym, and then another thing other than the grip strength is learning how to hit the trampolines because there’s always gonna be a trampoline on the course, and usually they end up taking 50 percent of the people out.
“You’ve gotta be pretty well rounded, but if you can’t find any of those gyms, just buy a pull-up bar, and start working out at home and visualize. Watch other Ninjas do runs and learn what you can from their mistakes.”
“Do it. Do it and fail quickly. Just start failing because you’re not gonna succeed at it until you start falling. Everyone’s so scared. Not everyone, but a lot of people are scared to do a lot of different things — sports, slacklining, Ninja — because they don’t want to fall or not be able to succeed or hit the buzzer, but I’ve fallen, I’ve hit the water, and it’s only then that you start seeing the success.”