American Ninja Warrior is a show borrowed from Japan’s Sasuke Rising, or Ninja Warrior. It’s a competition show where athletes take on an obstacle course that requires a lot of agility, speed, strength, and will. Sasuke is about to have it’s 33rd season with only 4 finishers over the course of it’s run. The American version, with only 2 finshers, has just completed season 8, and what a season it was. A lot of new faces made it into the finals, and a lot of veterans fell short. More women competed this year, and made it further than seasons past. The obstacles were more challenging, some qualifiers seeing the lowest number of completions of any season. We saw the oldest competitor, as well as the shortest man and woman to compete. We also saw more than one competitor with a prosthetic leg attempt the qualifying course. All the while the competitors cheered and supported each other, unlike almost any other sport, or competition we see on TV or when attending an event.
That’s not to say other athletes show less sportsmanship, and ANW is also a reality show of sorts which also puts it in the category of those types of competitions as well. That’s where the differences are truly distinct. When compared to most sports, like American football, or baseball, of course the entire atmosphere will be different. In sports like that people are usually on teams, competing against each other. There’s still an element of camaraderie, but at the end of the day the players are trying to beat each other in a test of skill, strength and will, often literally pitted against each other physically. Sometimes they fight, talk smack, but thankfully more often they are generally supportive. This shows more during all-star type games, or the pro bowl, where players from different teams are put together to play as a cohesive unit. ANW doesn’t have this direct head-to-head element, though they are all competing to win a prize at the end, and sometimes to beat each other’s times. There just doesn’t appear to be any sort of real rivalry, just good-natured competition.
When compared to other reality shows the difference is glaring. Shows like Survivor and Ink Masters also put people in a competition of elimination, with a cash prize at the end, but those shows see much more drama, back-stabbing, and ugliness. Whether it’s scripted for the show, or just the nature of people in that situation, sometimes we see the worst of what people are capable of without resorting to actual crimes. This is another thing that ANW just doesn’t have. Of course, it could all be part of the show, requiring the athletes to put on good faces for the cameras, but it honestly seems very genuine.
That’s one of the big draws of this show for me. The competition is much like a bunch of friends just having a friendly game. Everyone cheers everyone on, roots for them to complete the course or beat a particularly tough obstacle. Of course they want to win themselves, but even when one competitor knocks another one out of the running, there doesn’t appear to be any bitterness or anger. Of course there’s tears, and the athletes do seem to beat themselves up when they fail, but they never seem to bring each other down and that’s such a great example of the way I know people can be. Now I’m not a biologist, sociologist, or anthropologist, but I’ve read up a bit on these things and a lot of us know that competition is in our nature. We are programmed to want to acquire as much as we’ll need to survive, and survival used to mean fighting for food, mates, and territory. These things are instinctual, and it’s where our competitive nature, and often our aggression comes from. When the human race was getting started these aspects were key for our survival. We had to compete with other human beings for limited resources, band together for protection, form teams of mutual interest to compete, and so on.
Now, we don’t need that so much. While hunger is still an issue, we humans are capable of producing more than enough food for everyone. Why we don’t is another matter, but most people in developed countries don’t have to fight each other for food. Those that do, well that’s an issue for much more influential people than me. We don’t have to actually come to blows over mates, and wild predators aren’t so much a day to day problem. We still fight over resources and territory, generally at governmental levels, but between two average people we know we can both go to the store to get food, buy property based on our income, and meet mates without worrying that he or she might be the only one around for miles. Point is, when we compete it’s generally for fun, but we still have that aggression factor, men and women, that can make us nasty to each other. Not so with ANW, and I think this show is an example of where we’re going. Sure, they’re all competing for the same prize. Only one award for a million dollars, but they’re all supportive of each other. They all want that prize, but more than that they all seem to want to see the other succeed.
Besides the stellar sportsmanship on ANW, this show has true equality. I know, that’s generally a buzzword now for someone about to go on a tirade about anything but equality, but here I think it’s actually true. Instead of telling women and girls, “You can do anything a man can do, so here’s an easier thing separate from the men,” they have one course, and they tell women, yah you can do it now go show them. There’s no lip-service about equality with separate leagues, or closer tees. It is a true test of the human body, skill, strength and agility. In 2014, season 6, Kacy Catanzaro got out there and was the first woman up the warped wall. That wasn’t a feat, in my opinion, because she was a woman, but because she’s 4’11” and that wall was 14 feet high. How many of us can jump and reach almost three times our height, even with a running start? In just two years Jessie Graff was one of 17 people, out of 500 competitors to make it to stage 2 of the finals. There’s no talk of it being too hard for women, and thankfully no talk of making any changes. I can’t speak for them, but I don’t think the women who have competed, or who will compete, would want that anyway. Keep this and make it better. Make more competition like this. Don’t tell someone they can do anything they want, then belittle them with lower standards and expectations.
Now sure, you’re going to say, “Well then you won’t have as many women completing things like this.” Yes, because at the end of the day we’re not built the same. The point is, this is an example of equality of opportunity, not outcome. No one says, “You will be able to do what that guy can do,” they say, “You can do anything that guy can do.” There’s a lot of things guys have to work harder at to do as well as women too, because we’re different. I know some people find that shocking but it’s true. So sure, keep your WNBA, and your lingerie league, but if a woman has the desire and skill to try out for the NFL, let her. For me, I’ll be looking forward to next season and rooting on every one of those guys and gals. Part of me also hopes that Jessie, or one of the other ladies climbs that mountain and hits the buzzer because I know there’s nothing there but pure human desire. No agenda, no pandering, no lip-service, just get out there and fraking do it.