The stars of the hit TV show American Ninja Warrior are ultimately the competitors but there is a lot to be said about the hosts as well. Jenn Brown, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, and Matt Iseman spout off play-by-play, do interviews, and have a repartee that makes them almost as entertaining as watching the ninjas run the course itself. I was lucky enough to snag an invite from Iseman to see the set while they were in Las Vegas (which starts airing September 1st on NBC) and while there, I met and talked to Jenn and Akbar as well. Full disclosure, I didn't know much about the show before I went there so I pretty much asked them all of the same questions about it. When compiling it all together, it sounded a little dry. Totally my fault. Because of that, we decided to cover our asses by flipping the script on stand-up comic and host extraordinaire Matt Iseman for a little friendly competition to see how his answers compare to his ANW co-hosts.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): Real quick, I heard about a hamstring incident involving you running the ANW course. Care to elaborate?
Matt Iseman: Oh god, I failed miserably! They actually banned me from running it again because they thought I was going to hurt myself. They were like, "Look. It's cute that you want to indulge your middle-aged fantasies of still being athletic, but we need you healthy." I do know that they have footage of me jumping from a trampoline to a cargo net, missing it, and doing the Shamu belly flop into the water. It was awful. Coming up wet while everyone was laughing at my efforts, that was the worst part of the video. It was humiliating. I think when it comes time to renegotiate, that video will come up like blackmail.
It probably will twinkle toes. So I asked your co-hosts their thoughts on what they think is the most difficult part of the course and what do you think that they said?
I think on stage one Akbar will say, well, I think that they'll both say the jumping spider. I do think that Jenn will focus more on the size of the competitors because that's what her biggest step would be and Akbar is going to focus on a lot of the upper body agility. So I'd say the jumping spider would be what they would say is the most difficult.
Yeah, you're totally wrong. Akbar said, "I would say the floating boards. I still can't grasp the concept of how you can grab onto something that is less than 6-inches wide and traverse across these boards that are floating while holding up your whole body." And no offence but you were wrong with Jenn too because she said, "I've run a few of the obstacles and couldn't do the quintuple steps. But I was soaking wet so I blame it on that."
Alright, stage three. OK, I'm not going to penalize Akbar for that. [Laughs.] And alright, the quintuple steps isn't in Vegas, there it's called "piston road." But yeah, that is one with height so I could see Jenn having trouble with the leg stance.
Way to explain yourself. Do you think there is an advantage with the men versus women or maybe with people who are trained in a particular field?
Initially I would say that men have an advantage but what we saw from Kacy Catanzaro, women are competing on the same level as men. As far as sport, rock climbers are proving to be the strongest. I think what we'll end up seeing though is that it's going to be someone who has everything. I think we'll see somewhat of a cross-training war.
OK I would say you all played it safe with that one because no one wants to be perceived as sexist. Akbar said, "I used to think so but looking at Michelle Warnky, Kacy Catanzaro, and you look at last year with Joyce Shahboz who was 40…these women are incredible. Sometimes you can look at something and think that they are not on equal playing ground but that's not true here." Jenn followed up with, "What I've learned from the show is that competitors you think are definitely going to do well may not and then vice versa. I think the perception is that the men will do better and I think women have taken that to heart and been bad ass because of it. I think in the end, no matter the age or gender, everyone just has to be well rounded."
Yeah! [Laughs.] The bottom line here is that we get accused of being sexist and ageist, even discriminating on people based on profession. I think we point out the differences because physical differences are important in such a physical sport. I think we celebrate the differences rather than actually point them out.
Well that's just trolls, you know what it is!
It is! That's what is unbelievable! Why can't a guy who is fifty do something that a twenty year old can do? They can!
Preach yo! OK this is an Akbar related question only. What's the worst injury you've seen?
I've been on for five years and Drew Drechsel blew out his knee in Japan. His NCL, ACL, his PCL, he just destroyed his knee. He rehabbed it and was back the following year and performed better than he ever had. Matter of fact, he did so well that the lady who did his PT was so impressed that she decided to try out and became one of our top female competitors. So yeah, that was a bad injury we had. There was a ruptured eardrum, a few separated shoulders, and a broken Achilles. But if you think about it, it's under a handful on thousands of runs. It's a testament of how good the course is designed and how good of shape these people are in. Again, I tried it and I pulled my hamstring! [Laughs.] There should be a lot more injuries but these people are really in shape!
I was going to ask if you wanted to add your injury but I'll just give you a "ding, ding, ding!" Akbar said, "The worst one I've seen is one that I can relate to. I saw a guy pop his Achilles tendon and I immediately got it. I'm not a medic, but I've been around a lot of injuries in football and it immediately took me back to when I popped my Achilles tendon. I felt it, I almost felt like I could hear it." Super gross. What do you think was said when I asked, "What in life would you compare Mount Midoriyama to?" PS- I see you getting shit on all of time for your pronunciation of Mount Midoriyama.
Well they give me shit because when we say Mount Midoriyama what it translates to is, "mount green mountain." It's like listen, we didn't come up with the name! [Laughs.] But yes, we get it! It's wrong! I would say it's most like the Olympics because you have to qualify for your country and then have to come out and qualify for the finals so you get the chance to win the medal. That's like what we have. People have to qualify in their city and win their way to get their shot in Vegas. The big difference in our show is, we've never had a winner. I can't think of any sporting event where at the end of it there isn't someone who gets to be called a champion. I think that's what is unique about our show. People know it's hard. For someone to do it, it's going to be an effort that truly makes history. They'll be the first one. Everyone wants to be the first!
Oh I totally agree. Just an FYI: Akbar compared it to the Super Bowl, the NBA Championship, and the Stanley Cup Finals and Jenn said, "American Ninja Warrior is like X-Games when it first started. People are now growing up saying "I want to be an American Ninja Warrior" instead of a football or baseball player." All sports related. I can dig it. I'll blow the answer on this last one because Akbar and Jenn both said yes when I asked them if they thought this was the year that someone will win.
I do too! I truly think this is the year that someone is going to win because last year, Brian Arnold made it so close. Someone can do it, it possible. It's like when Mike Tyson got knocked out and you realized he's human. This course appears human. Someone's going to do it and I feel like this is the year. It's all about sealing the deal when the lights are at their brightest.
Be sure to tune into American Ninja Warrior Monday's on NBC. For more info go to www.MattIseman.com and follow the whole crew on Twitter @MattIseman, @JennBrown, and @Akbar_Gbaja. You should also do yourself a solid by checking out Matt Iseman's alter ego Matt Heisman on his YouTube channel.