Overcoming obstacles on TV

If the networks all stopped broadcasting sporting events – from major TV draws such as NFL football to more obscure sports like archery – the only way our family would know about this huge black hole in the TV schedule was if we read about it in the newspaper – but it would have to be on the front page because we don’t read the sports section either.

It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with watching sports or that not watching sports makes us more discerning viewers.  Anybody who has voluntarily watched Dance Moms like I have, has no place judging other people’s viewing habits. It’s just that sports aren’t our entertainment of choice.

But one night, after scrolling through Netflix to the point of utter despair – “Are Adam Sandler movies actually starting to clone themselves?!” We went back to network TV and happened upon a sports competition that has really captured my attention.

It’s the unfortunately named American Ninja Warrior. The title gives the impression that the show is geeky guys dressed in black competing against each other in some form of martial arts.  But that isn’t the case at all. It’s people (mostly men but there are a few women) who compete against the clock as they make their way through an obstacle course. There’s no goofy falls into the mud or crude humor. These are serious competitors.

What I like about American Ninja Warrior is that the competitors all have day jobs and they are from all walks of life – chiropractor, construction worker, surfer, teacher, doctor and so on. Around the edges of their lives, they have committed themselves to training for this competition that requires equal amounts agility, upper body strength, balance, and grip strength.  Many of them build their own versions of the courses out of plywood and found materials. One of the competitors from Alaska built a climbing wall out of driftwood.

It is fascinating to see which competitors do well; it’s often not the male model types who are posing and flashing their sculpted pecs and six-pack abs at the camera. Instead it’s wiry guys who don’t look especially fit or have beautiful bodies but are incredibly strong and have an excellent sense of where their bodies are in space – very important when you’re hanging on a spinning spoke and having to calculate when to release in order to land on the mat.

I also admire the courage of the competitors because they are taking on the challenge of doing the obstacles for the first time on TV; they don’t get a practice run at the course. So not only do they have to approach the course aggressively, they have to be smart and strategic. For instance, one of the obstacles is a mini-trampoline that bounces them up to grasp a swinging beam. If they miscalculate the trajectory, they end up splatting face first on the mat.

I find the show totally addictive. “The last competitor made it to the end but how’s this guy going to do?” I’ll probably never be an armchair quarterback but an armchair ninja warrior? You bet.


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