'Team Ninja Warrior' is back with more teams, three female captains and a whole lot of speed
Spring is in the air, which means sun, allergies and ninjas. Tuesday marks the premiere of the second season of "Team Ninja Warrior" (TNW), the sister show to NBC's summer behemoth, "American Ninja Warrior" (ANW), which will air on USA Network.
"ANW" is an individual sport. The ninjas cheer each other on and some of them train together, but at the end of the day, while anyone who completes all four stages earns the title of American Ninja Warrior, only one person can win the money. "TNW" allows the camaraderie built through years of training together and competing against one another to take center stage.
The 84 ninjas are divided into 28 teams of three (two men, one woman), each one led by a team captain. Last year Jessie Graff was the only female captain, but this season there are two more: Meagan Martin and Jesse Labreck. The captain more or less picks their team, which reflects their personality, training, and region. Graff trains primarily in California and has a rich athletic background, dabbling in acrobatic disciplines like acro-yoga and parkour, so she teamed up with fellow Golden State competitor Nicholas Coolridge and parkour extraordinaire Jesse La Flair. Martin, however, is a climber, so she picked Ian Dory and Dan Yager, who both have similar backgrounds.
"I appreciate the team aspect of it," said Akbar Gbajabiamila, co-host of "TNW" and "ANW," in a phone interview.
"I think it also brings out the best in the ninjas," said Gbajabiamila, a former professional football player. "We're all designed to be accountable to one another, and when you put that together in a team format, it just brings out a different dynamic."
Filmed in August 2016, the teams race down a course constructed in downtown Los Angeles, competing on a mixture of new and familiar obstacles. Each of the first two runs is worth one point, and the anchor run is worth two points. Should a round end in a tie, each team picks a player to run the course again in a winner-take-all tiebreaker. It is a scoring system designed to make each run count, though at times it allows for one player to carry a team through the competition.
"We had no idea what it would be like when we originally put them on the course," co-host Matt Iseman noted. "Every individual heat had these great elements, where the athletes are pushing each other. On 'Team Ninja Warrior,' I feel like they're kids playing."
"TNW" is exciting to watch for many reasons, one of them being that it is substantially faster than "ANW." In "ANW" competition, ninjas move methodically (though some of them are known for speed) so as to complete the course or go as far as they possibly can. A single mistake means the end of the season. The stakes on "TNW" are completely different. A fall is a fall, and though it might make the road to victory more difficult, at least there's still a road.
"I want to get as far as I possibly can during the regular season, so I take a very cautious and careful approach," Graff explained. "On 'Team Ninja Warrior' it doesn't matter how far you get unless you get there first, so it gives me an opportunity to test the limits of how fast I can go without making a mistake."
Because each "TNW" team has a female on its roster, the show provides an opportunity for women to be seen competing in Ninja Warrior in a different way than they might have otherwise. Unlike "ANW," the "TNW" course is meant to be completed, and quickly. This gives women an opportunity to excel and build confidence on the obstacles.
"'TNW' showcases the women well," Martin said via text message. "I think that it's always exciting to watch strong women compete, and what's better than a head-to-head battle?"
Team Ninja Warrior airs at 10 p.m. ET Tuesdays on USA Network.