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Pictured: Abs, but also Australian Ninja Warrior, the most wholesome show on television.
Pictured: Abs, but also Australian Ninja Warrior, the most wholesome show on television.

Pop CultureNovember 7, 2019

Ninja Warrior is what all sport should be

Pictured: Abs, but also Australian Ninja Warrior, the most wholesome show on television.
Pictured: Abs, but also Australian Ninja Warrior, the most wholesome show on television.

Emily Writes gushes about the show she never thought she’d enjoy so much: the endurance-testing, gravity-defying Australian Ninja Warrior.

I never intended to watch Ninja Warrior. I had originally thought it was similar to that show where people get nailed on a course above water. I didn’t really see the appeal of people getting smacked in the face and flying into waist deep water.

I only relented because my son simply would not stop talking about it. He begged me to watch it with him and to be honest, I was just glad to take a break from watching Shark Wranglers. For a show about catching great white sharks, Shark Wranglers just isn’t very exciting. In an entire season, nobody was bitten by a shark. I don’t know what it says about me but I want to see someone bitten.

And so I settled in to watch Australian Ninja Warrior. Within seconds, I was hooked.

Ninja Warrior is wildly wholesome. Each story tries to out-inspire the other – this man only has one leg, this man has a learning disability, this man beat depression and got rid of his ugly dreadlocks.

Like emotional napalm Queer Eye, I’m addicted to reality shows that render me dehydrated from crying. But mostly, I just love how uncompetitive such a competitive show can be. I’ve always avoided sport and growing up with a father who wrote about sport for a living didn’t always make that easy. In an incredible display of nepotism, I even worked at All for a while, reading emails to the team to pass on (and yes, that included the absolute filth thirsty women wrote to them).

I recognise that sport is extremely important to some people, but I’ve always found it somewhat perplexing. Especially rugby. I’ve played along because that’s what you need to do if you’re in a rugby family, but I’m now at an age where I can confidently opt-out of discussions and hysteria about sportsball of any kind.

Just casually hanging off a thing, much like a ninja.

Following the All Blacks not winning the World Cup (I watched no games but I understand that’s what happened) I’ve thought a lot about Ninja Warrior.

No matter how far along you get in Ninja Warrior, you’re celebrated, even if you bomb out immediately. This is because it’s entirely accepted that Ninja Warrior is really hard. This is despite the advice I scream at the contestants as I eat a family pack of nacho cheese Doritos in my pyjamas; useful advice like “lift your legs up!” and “jump with both legs!”

I’ve surprised myself by how invested I am in the journeys of people who spend 30 seconds trying to do the course and then are gone. I’ve also surprised myself with some of the judgements I’ve made. For example, the nerdy doctor who made a joke about how he didn’t need or like big muscles (which I thought was unfair on my favourite competitors who have big muscles) did exceptionally well when I’d been sure he had the confidence of a mediocre white man. Then there was the Ken Doll who looked like he was made in a Ninja Warrior lab but didn’t actually make it as far.

The excitement of having literally no idea whether someone will get through the first stage of the course cannot be described.

Leaping across the water on diagonal platforms, just what one person does on Australian Ninja Warrior.

After watching three episodes in a row and screaming so loudly I woke my child who had fallen asleep next to me after neglecting to put him to bed, I realised I might have a Ninja Warrior addiction. I love the high stakes tempered with the low stakes. Everyone is just so happy to be able to have a go and I feel like we’ve lost that so much in sport.

Ninja Warrior is so absurd it makes you think that even you could do it. I even looked up “Ninja Warrior Training Wellington” while watching and almost booked a ten-trip gym pass (but then I had a nap instead). It reminds me of my childless days when you’d do the walk of shame home and pass people going to church. You just know they have their life together, and you want that, but also nah.

The stories of people who actually said yes to all that hard work (Ninja Warrior involves a lot of swinging) are inspiring. I love that I’m introducing my son to the idea that there are many ways of winning in life. Stepping outside your comfort zone, trying something new, doing your very best – this is exactly the type of life lesson I need, so it’s handy to introduce him to them as I absorb them too.

Many people in this country absolutely shit the bed over the idea of participation awards, yet hyper-competition has been shown time and time again to turn kids away from sport. Maybe it’s time to adopt the Ninja Warrior approach – a half-way stage where your challenge is to beat your own expectations of what your body can do and your mind can achieve.

Surely that lesson is one our country needs more than another World Cup. Don’t we have a few already anyway?

Keep going!