Reality Bites: American Ninja Warrior

A ninja prizes stealth and subtlety above all else.
A ninja prizes stealth and subtlety above all else.

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Why wasn't this show made in the 1980s?

America was ninja-crazy during the Reagan years. Not only were the black-pajama-clad assassins used as villains in everything from The Octagon (Chuck Norris vs. ninjas...with predictable results) to The Punisher, they had their own "Ninja Trilogy" -- Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination (starring Breakin's Lucinda Dickey). Ninjas (or people dressed like ninjas) could be found in TV shows like Magnum, P.I., Simon & Simon and MacGyver.

And don't forget the Ninja Turtles.

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This American remake of the Japanese program Sasuke, which debuted over there in 1997, started airing on G4 in 2009, after re-edits of the original became that channel's biggest hit. NBC is now broadcasting the fourth season, which is where we come in for this week's "Reality Bites."

Though I'm still not sure why we're even bothering. Everyone knows there's only one American Ninja, and his name is Michael Dudikoff.

I caught the Northeast Regional finals, which were naturally being held in Miami. Hundreds of guys from across the country sent in submission videos to best demonstrate their...ninjosity. Here at the regional finals, 30 get their chance to tackle a variety of physical challenges with names like "jump hang" (leaping onto and scaling a giant net) and "wall lift" (raising a succession of heavier walls before attempting to run up a sheer surface.

Basically, it's Wipeout with more tribal arm tats.

We'll clap for anything! We're Americans!
We'll clap for anything! We're Americans!

This week's favorites included stuntman Luis Moco, who completed the course early on, and "freerunner" (parkour for Brits) Tim Shieff. Freerunning is often likened to ninjitsu by people who lack language comprehension.

A handful of contestants get "Competitor Profiles," which makes it kind of like the Olympics (and given recent ratings for the Games, don't be surprised to see the wall lift as a medal sport in 2016). This week's included Jesse Villarreal, who trains by digging for quahog in Maine. He'd be sympathetic, in a regular-guy sort of way, if not for that stupid "velociraptor" mask he insists on wearing.

I also suppose I should mention the hosts. According to his NBC bio, Matt Iseman "had intentions of being a medical doctor but quickly realized stand-up comedy was more in his DNA," which is shorthand for "completely booted his MCATs." His cohort is gold medal-winning skier Jonny Moseley. Clearly these are the two most qualified persons in America to discuss the art of silent assassination.

Whoops, time for another Competitor Profile. This time it's Chris Wilczewski, a gym owner from New Jersey who credits American Ninja Warrior for curing him of his "major drinking issue," drinking five 40's a night. Come on, can you really have a problem if all you drink is beer?

Just kidding. To his credit, Wilczewski completes the course just behind Moco, earning a trip to the finals at Mt. Midoriyama in Las Vegas, that ancient home of the fabled ninja (the top 15 in each regional final earn the trip, even if they don't complete the course). Humorously enough, three finishers finish successfully during the commercial break but aren't featured in any way. How boring do you have to be to lose air time to the frat boy alcoholic? 

Hang in there, baby.
Hang in there, baby.

Diminutive Michael Needham throws a bit of a banana in the tailpipe when he eats it on the very first challenge. Kudos to NBC for playing up the whole "brother fighting in Afghanistan" angle and then taking a giant dump on us. Sideline reporter Angela Sun sticks the knife in admirably when she asks him, "What would you like to say to your brother?" Ouch.

Finally, it's time for Tim Shieff, Curiously, they seem less concerned with his ultimate performance than with the standing of some goofball who calls himself "Captain NBC" (real name Jamie Rahn), who's currently residing in the #15 spot (apparently the major networks are still enthralled when someone dyes their hair green). Rahn is the living embodiment of those people who hold signs up at sporting events making some witty acronym out of the network's letters (No one is Buying ads on this Channel). He's also out of luck, because Shieff lives up to his #1 seed and then some, taking the top spot and becoming the prohibitive favorite from the NE.

After seeing the number of contestants crap out, I wondered if anybody has actually won this thing? Out of 27 competitions held in Japan and four in the U.S., it looks like only four contestants have ever achieved "Total Victory" (all in the Japanese version). I trust these men are now all gainfully employed as corporate ninjas by Goldman Sachs and Walmart.

American Ninja Warrior is, like Earth itself, mostly harmless. The challenges are amusing enough, and the fact that the contest consists primarily of feats of strength leads me to conclude most of the wannabe ninjas involved celebrate Festivus. Just don't ask me to hang around for the Airing of Grievances.


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