It’s been through half a dozen episodes and the series American Ninja Warrior has had many come and go without a visible victor. The reality TV program was originally an imitation of the Nipponese Sasuke. Scads of seasoned ninjas have visited the platform and had to go through the hoops as it were.
The tough and formidable challenges they face means that few if any make it to the end. And the great tests of American Ninja Warrior are not only physical but psychological to boot. Towards the final stages of the tour of many metropolises, the last phase happens to be the climbing of Mount Midoriyama.
No American citizen has yet claimed the half a million dollar prize that lies as the worthy jackpot money. Among the individuals who have faced the challenge are Olympian athletes, strongmen, mountaineers, parkour specialists and highly skilled men and women.
"It's the stories of the people that separates us: how people overcome adversity to achieve their goals. Whether they're doing it for a friend who is ill, a mother that had breast cancer or whether it's a personal achievement they're trying to overcome -- weight loss, beating drugs or alcohol -- it's personal human achievement, and it's something that audiences can identity with," executive producer Kent Weed tells The Hollywood Reporter during a visit to the Venice, Calif.
The training process lasts for almost a year. Then one day they are given an opportunity to bag the prize. The whole deal is taken on as a dare. "As good as formats like American Idol and Dancing With the Stars are, I think they have an expiration date," Weed notes.
"Every reality show has an expiration date, and at some point, people will say, 'I've seen it. I get it,' and they get tired of it. But something like this is still fresh and new; it's the serious version of Wipeout, and it's very real. You are rooting for these guys to succeed because you want them to. You see yourself on the course."
Many people who enter the competition are fighting their inner demons in the form of narcotic drugs or hard liquor or even obesity. They have made a vow to a mother, brother or friend that they will do the impossible and win that colossal amount of cash for a certain purpose. The reasons range from charity to the terminal illness of a near and dear one who just might be cured and get to live life again.
"The results are with them, and some of the best stories kill us. We've had these amazing stories, and we'll do a three-minute profile package, and they fall on the second step. Your heart just goes out to them, but thankfully it's not like the Olympics, where you have to wait for years. You can come back in a year."
The overall scenario is one that the audience can easily relate to. Everybody likes a survivor. And when the tragic fate of a person who has made an all-out effort is that he or she doesn’t make it to the finish line, people look on with extreme sympathy in their hearts.
"Idol has lots of beautiful people, and the age range is more limited," says co-host Matt Iseman. "With ours, we have Grandpa Ninja -- 55-year-old Kelvin Antoine -- who is out here with his grandkids, doing the course alongside 18- and 22-year-old parkour phenomenons. We have Navy SEALs and pro athletes, but the majority are average people -- milkmen, accountants, schoolteachers -- who somehow find time to have a family and train for this. I think it's hard not to root for them. Once you hear the backstory for somebody, you start pulling for them. Then when they go out on the second quad step, you're bummed."