The rock climbers stole the show on Channel 9’s hit Australian Ninja Warrior on Sunday – but it’s the program’s creators who are the real winners.
Social media has been abuzz with all sorts of advice about how they could improve the series: replace the hosts with Roy and HG, ditch the pacy editing and lose the sob stories, the armchair critics say. Let it all be about the superb athleticism and fitness.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. This show is superbly made and it appeals to a general audience who want to be engaged, not daunted, by the fitness feats of others.
Sunday night’s episode showed exactly why Ninja Warrior has ravaged the opposition and caused the other networks to rewrite their schedules.
It was awash with characters that a broad audience can relate to, personal struggles which engender sincere support, and three new obstacles to test the best.
There was also a battle of the codes, in which NRL legend Beau Ryan and AFL Brownlow medal winner Adam Cooney had a crack at the course.
BOB (Battle of the Blades) got Cooney, who was on the show because “my wife forced me” to get fit and stop getting fat.
“If I fall in the water, I’m going to stay underwater for as long as I can until everybody goes home.”
He did fall in the water, but managed one more obstacle than Cooney to reach the semi-finals.
Melbourne’s ‘snake charmer’ Jolene Kelly, who has lost 20 kilograms for the show, didn’t make it past the ‘Slide to Box Jellyfish’ obstacle either. Deaf sportsman Paul Cashion was gutted to be disqualified when his foot touched the water at the first obstacle.
Those who did get through included the ‘Man with the Mo’, firefighter Alex Matthews. He had survived a broken neck in a car accident and trained to get himself onto the show.
Hosts Rebecca Maddern and Ben Fordham were shocked when he completed the course.
“This one snuck under our radar,” Maddern noted – no doubt feeding the minor frenzy that their comments, along with those of former England cricketer Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, were trite and clichéd.
But their job is not to be clever. It’s to drive the show, supporting the action – not diverting it with dry wit as Roy and HG would do if they were hosting.
The audience (at home and in the studio) shouts with them as they cheer on the competitors like Andrea Hah, Australia’s No.1 rock climber, who came so close to being the first woman to complete the course.
“Do it for the girls,” yelled Maddern, as the night’s 50th competitor took to the warped wall – the last obstacle.
Watch Andrea Hah’s wall attempt below:
— Ninja Warrior (@NinjaWarriorAU) July 16, 2017
Hah missed by mere centimetres but her fellow rock climbers, boyfriend Lee Cossey, his brother Ben, and Tom O’Halloran all made it through.
As O’Halloran’s wife Amanda joked: “He acts like a monkey, looks a little bit like a monkey and climbs like a monkey.”
It’s that sort of funny observation that makes this show rock for its audience.
After all, it’s not the Olympics. It’s a lot more fun than that.