Saturday, June 29, 2013 | 2 a.m.
In its four-season history, no one has ever completed all four stages of the "American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course, and producers have no plans to make it any easier for its fifth season, which filmed its finale in Las Vegas last weekend and premieres Sunday on G4, with Episode 2 on NBC on Monday.
In fact, they plan to make it harder. Instead of featuring the same course in each city, the show challenges its fifth-season competitors with an entirely new set of obstacles in each regional competition.
"The fact that the course is different in every city makes it unique because you can’t just focus on learning one thing and then master it,” says Kent Weed, executive producer. "You have to be able to adapt yourself to whatever is presented in front of you.”
Weed says he’s not looking for competitors to do the impossible, but rather the unexpected; he points out that those who have succeeded in the past tend not to fit the paradigm of a super-athlete.
"The average person who does really well in this is about 5’6”, 145 pounds. It’s not the big, strong athletic guys who do so well,” Weed says. "So you never know who’s going to complete or do well in the course, which makes it very interesting.”
It’s that "everyman” potential that keeps fans hooked. While the leaping, swinging, balancing and climbing required of competitors certainly looks challenging, the courses don’t look impossibly difficult from the comfort of one’s living room. As a result, Weed says, fan devotion has built momentum with each season, drawing competitors from more diverse experience levels than ever to audition.
"All these people sitting at home and watching on their couches say, 'I could do that,’ and then they show up next year. They show up and they do it, or they fall and realize it’s a lot harder than they thought. And I think that aspect of it makes it very intriguing to the viewer,” Weed says.
The upcoming season is more than just a tease, however, as Weed hints that the Las Vegas competitors push new boundaries and come closer than ever to conquering the four stages laid out on the course set across from the Luxor, which took three weeks to build, two weeks to light and four days to test before the final round of contestants was unleashed.
While Weed jokes that the Las Vegas heat may have been the biggest challenge of all, each stage in the course features an obstacle that’s a cut above the rest.
"American Ninja Warrior” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on G4 and Mondays on NBC at 8 p.m. Here’s a look at the most extreme challenges of the Las Vegas course:
Stage 1: Jumping Spider
The Jumping Spider, variations of which have been featured in past seasons, consists of two vertical walls made of steel and Plexiglas with a 4-foot space between them. Contestants must jump from a mini-trampoline across a gap and wedge themselves between the walls with a hand and a foot on each side — think the trash compactor scene in "Star Wars.” Competitors then have to scale the length of the walls 20 feet to the other end without slipping — and that’s the "easy” stage.
Stage 2: Double Salmon Ladder
Practice your pull-ups for this one: The Double Salmon Ladder features a crossbar on a set of rungs from which competitors hang in mid-air. They then have to lift the bar and jump from one set of rungs to another 12 inches above it. After doing this four times, they turn and jump across an open gap to another set of rungs and do it three more times. Warmed up yet?
Stage 3: Ultimate Cliffhanger
A variation on the "Cliffhanger” fan favorite made famous by season 3 competitor David Campbell, this course has competitors scaling an inverted wall by hanging from rails 2 inches wide. They then have to swing their bodies to jump from one rail to another, which get smaller and smaller with each leap, leaving little room for error.
Stage 4: Mount Midoriyama
The signature sole obstacle of the competition’s final stage — yet to be attempted by "ANW" competitors — features a 75-foot climb up a rope hanging from an eight-story-high structure, which contestants must climb in 45 seconds. Sounds relatively simple, but keep in mind that challengers must do this after completing the other three stages for a total of 22 obstacles. Count on being sore in the morning.