‘American Ninja Warrior’: Matt Iseman on Big Season 15 Changes

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Matt Iseman on Big Season 15 Changes
Jun 2023

American Ninja Warrior

NBC Sets Premieres for 'AGT,' 'LA Fire & Rescue,' & 'Ninja Warrior'Who Will Win 'ANW' Season 14 -- a Vet or Teen?For those who think American Ninja Warrior couldn't get any bigger or more challenging, season 15 has entered the arena. The NBC competition series is about to test top athletes like never before through its obstacle courses.Adding to the excitement this time around is the fact ninjas will race side-by-side against one another for a slot in the national finals in Las Vegas. In another first, participants must complete all six obstacles in a designated time in order to earn a shot at the $10,000 prize. Of course, that's chump change compared to the $1 million up for grabs to the fastest ninja who can conquer all four stages at the national finals.The journey to "Sin City" begins with the qualifying and semifinal rounds in Los Angeles where they'll meet an even taller Mega Wall at a towering 18-and-a-half feet. As if that weren't enough, joining the ANW stapes are new obstacles ranging from "Pole Vault" and "Kite Surfer" to "Lasso Launch" and "Ring The Bells."One thing that is not new is your longtime broadcast staples Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila alongside their co-host Zuri Hall. Here, Iseman sits down with TV Insider to set the stage for the intense competition ahead.[photo1]Casey Rothschild (Photo by: Elizabeth M

orris/NBC)Can you believe American Ninja Warrior is in season 15? Matt Iseman: I started in season 2 and remember my agent calling to say, "Listen, I think they are going to shoot 10 episodes. We'll see if all of them air." Now we're filming season 15 with season 16 picked up. It has just been the greatest grand slam of my career that has grown so much to the point not only is it a successful show here in the States but worldwide...It has become where those who have grown up watching the show have now trained for it and compete. They make the most of their opportunities. It's remarkable to see.It's become truly cross-generational. You're seeing parents compete with children side-by-side. We had Brian Beckstrand, who started competing in season 6. He ended up having two sons who are competing next year alongside him. Jessie Graff and her mom Ginny MacColl, who is looking to be the oldest ninja ever to get through an obstacle. It's amazing with the longevity to see the stories grow with the athletes. We've seen them start families. Forget The Bachelor. You are finding love here. We have a lot of ninja couples and quite a few ninja babies.[photo2]Pictured: (l-r) Alan Connealy, Ramcis Valdez (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC)What can we expect this season with the ninjas going head-to-head on the courses?Shows are changing and evolving. Ninja had a formula. For casual fans, they may not know our ninjas are competing year-round. They have created their own leagues across the country. They tend to do it in this racing format. It's something they are familiar with. The thing we always felt is seeing people go head-to-head gives you a different energy. A different experience. It's something we haven't done on the main show. We've had the Power Tower, but this year in the semis finals they'll be racing head-to-head. So either go fast or go home. When we watched it, we were electrified by the races.And now the Mega Wall is even higher. How will that impact things? We had the Warped Wall in the beginning. It started out at 14 feet. At the beginning of the show, there was the majority who couldn't get up that wall. Now if you go to any gym across the country you see a seven-year-old running up a 14-foot wall. We increased it to 14-and-a-half and saw them going really high, so we introduced the Mega Wall a few years ago. Going from an 18-foot wall to an 18-and-a-half wall. Also, the only way you get a shot at it is if you run the course in a blazingly fast time. I think NBC didn't want to give away a lot of $10,000 checks this year, yet many ninjas take home the money.What would you say is the overall strategy and mindset now? That's a great question because we've seen a lot of chatter. We follow the ninjas. A lot of ninjas, the more methodical were more concerned. Speed is in the game. You always had an element of speed because you're always racing against the clock...I think the truly great ones are just focused on the obstacle ahead of them. If they stay focused and execute their training, the results will take care of themselves. But I have no idea. I never did head-to-head racing. I was a baseball player. But we got to see some incredible races. We saw some surprises. We saw some people who were crushed they saw their season end a certain way.James McGrath (featured in this exclusive clip) is back for his 11th season. How would you describe his evolution? When he came on, right away, he was "The Beast." He is just a physical freak. James will say he was lacking some direction through. He was a high-level track athlete. When he left sports, he realized he needed that discipline in sports. To watch him find it in Ninja Warrior and finding a metaphorical family and then a real family. [Him and Allyssa Beird] are one of those Ninja couples. He proposed on the show. It has been great to see him back, it's great to see him growing in other ways. As good as his performances are, it's nice to see him have his feet planted....Seeing McGrath out there, I love it.Any new obstacles you're most excited about? We have the "Pole Vault." If you've ever seen the competition in Holland where they run with the poll, stick it, and then try to launch themselves across a river as far as possible. That's essentially what we've done, except you have to launch it over a large pool of water. It's one of those obstacles that are simple. The second you see it then you see these people trying it and realize it's so hard. All these years, do you ever provide input on what might make a great obstacle? I've suggested things but they said first of all we can't have sharks with lasers. One of the cool things watching our ninjas and fans design obstacles. Akbar and I learned we are best in just the reacting business. Because as soon as we think of challenges or think something will happen, we're wrong so many times.Akbar and Matt have built up such great chemistry as the voice of Ninja. Any other sport or event you'd love to commentate on? We had an awesome opportunity to go to the Olympics in Tokyo. While we didn't cover the sports, we did get to have athletes on a show. We did create games. We had the Team USA women's basketball team come on after they won the gold medal ...We had a blast with this game with them. But I would love to do the Olympics again, which is very similar to Ninja Warrior with athletes training so hard. Yet there is almost no return as far as making a living. It's for the purity of the sport. They are doing it because it's a passion. We'll do the Super Bowl when NBC has it next. I may even do it pro bono.American Ninja Warrior season 15 premiere, June 5, 8/7c, NBC