**UPDATE: Corrected results of Jessie’s run at Daytona**
I covered American Ninja Warrior last year as a great example of a fair competition with people pitting themselves against a course. A perfect level playing field where people either make it or they don’t. Fewer women run the course than men, and the group of finishers is small, but there were no concessions made for anyone. People have run it with prosthetics, injuries, and even a legally blind man this year. It is the ultimate competition in challenging the human mind and body against obstacles that aren’t easy for anyone. People have worked hard year after year to get farther, overcome tougher obstacles, and reach above their own limitations. Some of the most impressive improvement has been from the women, more and more of whom compete every year, especially after Kacy Catanazaro became the first woman to get up the warped wall. It was like a fire that drove more women to try, and many to start doing very well on the course.
Then this year came along. In the first round qualifiers a rule change was announced. The top 30 contenders would go through, as well as 5 wild card slots for the women who make it the farthest. I get the point, to get more women in the finals, but doesn’t that seem to undercut all the hard work of women like Kacy, Jessie and Flex? They have come through every year, pushed harder, and set the bar but now they’re being told they don’t have to work as hard to move on, just be the best women running the course. Is this the next step before we have two Ninja Warrior courses split by gender?
In the most recent week, with the city finals the new rule became even more confusing. In the city finals it’s the top 15 competitors and the top 2 women. In this case Jessie Graff had an outstanding performance and took fourth overall, being one of the few to make it to the last obstacle. She also took the top female spot so instead of sending 17 people to Vegas it looks like only 16 are going. So either a woman who should have gotten that second wild-card slot got bumped, or one of the guys who would have been 15th lost out. It doesn’t make any sense from a competitive standpoint, only from a ratings one.
Call me old-fashioned but it sucks to see this change. We’ve gone from seeing women set the bar for those watching to them being sort of an afterthought. They showed that they can compete with the men, and do just as well. They’ve inspired young girls, and even boys, to get active in hopes that they can one day compete in something like Jessie or Kacy. Now it’s more like saying we know they won’t be able to make it as far as the men, so to give them a chance here’s two participation slots so you can get to Vegas. Never mind that more women have been making it to Vegas every year already. It just seems like a step backward to me and signs we may see separate competitions before long.
At the end of the day ANJ is a show that needs ratings, and has to make money. I’m sure some execs sat around trying to think how they could get a boost and came up with this idea. To me it’s beyond troubling when they announce the “Top 15 competitors…and the women”. It’s just never been what ANJ was about. I don’t know how the women feel about it, but I know how the female viewers like my wife and coworkers feel. They don’t like it. My wife and I love the show, and we love the excitement when someone is really having a good time. The women who run this course are usually so pumped and it gets the crowd excited. It makes the show so much fun to watch. We want more of that but it seems so strange now with the change. Especially knowing when we get to finals there’s no second place, or wild-card. You beat the course or you don’t. The obstacles don’t care about your gender. There will be one winner.