Since it debuted in 2009, American Ninja Warrior has kept viewers at the edges of their seats and with their eyes completely glued to their screens. The NBC competition show, which is based on the Japanese series Sasuke, features contestants as they attempt to dominate a physically grueling obstacle course.
Many of the ninjas have overcome personal or professional obstacles in their own lives, which raises the stakes even higher.
After a shortened twelfth season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ANW returned for Season 13 in May of 2021. There are a few key changes this time around, like teenage competitors, and the addition of the Split Decision on the course.
Executive producer Anthony Storm spoke exclusively with Distractify about what these elements do to the show.
Anthony Storm, an executive producer for 'American Ninja Warrior,' discussed the age changes and those Split Decisions.
Though the main format of the series has remained consistent, a few key changes have kept American Ninja Warrior fresh over the years. For Season 13, the minimum age requirement has been lowered so competitors as young as 15 can compete, and Split Decisions allow the ninjas to control their own fate by selecting one out of two possible obstacles.
Anthony exclusively told Distractify that lowering the minimum age was "a long time coming," and that the producers wanted to bridge the gap between the main NBC series and American Ninja Warrior Junior.
"We couldn't justify making them sit on the sidelines for four years," he said about the difference in the age requirements for the two shows. "They had proven they were capable of competing with the adults and handling the spotlight ... Whatever concerns we had about them being underprepared have been proven false. They are more than capable, and they have some interesting stories to tell."
In addition to keeping these young athletes off the sidelines, viewers are now getting to see competitors who have been watching ANW for their entire lives.
"These teenagers have literally been training in this sport since they were 5 or 6 years old," he said. "They're finally getting that opportunity, and we're seeing the byproduct of a decade of training specifically for the television show."
Though the producers anticipated that the teenagers would do well, Anthony said that their prowess on the course has been a "surprise" for everyone involved.
Another unique element in Season 13 is that mental challenges are now part of the course with Split Decisions. In the Qualifiers, the contestants could choose one of two balance options. During the Semi-Finals, the Split Decision will happen in the second-to-last obstacle, and they can decide between another balance challenge or an upper body test.
"We thought it would be interesting if we presented them with a mental problem in the middle of this physical challenge," Anthony explained. "It not only makes them pause and use a different skill set with their brains, it also potentially leaves them with some remorse if they make the wrong decision."
The goal is always to keep the ninjas on their toes.
"One of the biggest challenges for us as producers is to stay a half-step ahead of [the ninjas]. They train all year long and they watch every episode — they learn the shortcuts, they learn the tricks, they build their obstacles in the gym and they practice on them day after day..." Anthony said. "We constantly have to figure out ways to challenge them, and to figure out ways that they haven't been challenged before."
The EP had some tips on how to successfully apply for 'American Ninja Warrior.'
Ahead of each season of the NBC competition series, tens of thousands of people apply to participate. Only a small percentage of hopefuls are selected to compete, and some have submitted applications for multiple consecutive years.
While there isn't one exact formula to create the perfect submission tape or application, Anthony does have some advice for those who are feeling defeated.
"The most important things are to prepare yourself to take on the course, and to prove to us that you're capable of taking it on," he explained. "Show your story with enthusiasm."
It's important for the tape or message to "resonate" with the producers before they make their "excruciating" cuts.
"For the people who have applied year after year and who have yet to be selected, all I can say is keep pushing ... Stick with it. If it really means that much to you, and you have the time and the ability to put together a tape each year, keep sending them in," Anthony added. "Maybe one day, you'll get that shot."
American Ninja Warrior airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
The series is executive produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions' founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed, along with Brian Richardson, Anthony Storm, and Kristen Stabile.