Season 12 of “American Ninja Warrior" kicks off tonight on NBC. And what might not be immediately noticeable to the audience at home, is the lack of live audience on the show. This season was filmed at The Dome in St. Louis which normally holds nearly 67,000 fans. But it was completely empty during the ANW filming.
Hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila say the production company and NBC took great strides to make sure they were following COVID-19 filming guidelines.
"Our team really worked hard to find a location. And we ended up going to The Dome in St. Louis where the Rams used to play," Iseman says. "We were at a hotel about a block away, and the ninjas were in a different hotel. We all traveled alone. No friends or family. We were tested before. We were tested when we landed. We were tested every 3 days. Temperature checks everyday. We weren’t allowed to leave our hotels rooms."
Gbajabiamila says there was also a concern about the energy of the show which normally films in front of a live audience.
"We feed off of having the fans and the crowd because they are a great monitor and gauge of what’s going on," Gbajabiamila says. "But somehow having the friends and family virtually, and then piping in a little bit of sound, still created this atmosphere."
Ultimately the hosts say the real atmosphere and energy came from the ninjas themselves. Several first responders including nurses and firefighters are among those who will battle it out on the course this season.
"These athletes are everyday people. They’re us. They are mothers and fathers, teachers and nurses, and lawyers," Iseman says. "And for us to be able to say thank you to our first responders and firefighters like Dan Polizzy and Brandon Mears...we weren’t focusing on what wasn’t there. We were focusing on what was there. We were just grateful for what we had."
Season 12 of "ANW" is also unique because the top 50 athletes were able to bring along two people from their communities to compete with them for a total of 150 competitors. The format has also changed slightly featuring an abridged format with multiple rounds: Qualifiers (six-obstacle course), Semi-Finals (10-obstacle course) and Finals (10-obstacle course). The top eight ninjas will compete in a playoff bracket where they will race head-to-head on the Power Tower. The winner takes home $100,000.
"I think what made the atmosphere even bigger, is that these ninjas are competing in a whole new world. It’s the obstacle within the obstacle," Gbajabiamila says.
Season 12 of "American Ninja Warrior" hits the obstacle course tonight, 8/7c on NBC.
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