Behind the scenes with local hopefuls at ‘American Ninja Warrior’ qualifiers in Tacoma

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Behind the scenes with local hopefuls at ‘American Ninja Warrior’ qualifiers in Tacoma


TACOMA, Wash. — When Evening’s Jose Cedeno went behind the scenes at American Ninja Warrior qualifiers in the Tacoma Dome this spring, he asked hosts Akbar Gbajabiamila and Matt Iseman why they came back to the Pacific Northwest.

“I think the Pacific Northwest has a lot of great athletes. But on top of that, this is the first dome we’ve ever filmed in. This is the beginning, this is the genesis of indoor Ninjas. Before it was only outside – to bring it here after the tough 2020 year, I think it’s only right,” said Akbar.

During qualifying for the show’s 13th season, the Dome was filled with nervous Ninjas, like Tacoma’s Jenny Nguyen, who said the course is much bigger in person than it appears on TV.

“But I’m trying to calm my nerves and tell myself you’re here to have a good time. You made it this far.”

Jenny is running the course for her dad, who she lost 4 years ago. She brought a photo of him and placed it on the mat during her walkup to her run, as her family looked on from four screens to cheer their Ninja.

Emmanuel ‘Ray Ray’ Wells Junior is another Northwest Ninja – this track and field athlete from South Seattle has a viral video showing off his hurdling skills – so the crew brought one out as a prop for his run.

“Oh it feels great, to know this is my home state and home is only about 30 minutes away from here, it’s kinda like NBA playoffs, game 7, and your home stadium is a little different from traveling so it’s like, I’m home!” he said.

This season has some twists – players must choose between two obstacle courses during part of their run, and athletes as young as 15 can compete (previously the lowest age limit was 19). There are also some changes because of COVID: Families and friends cheer their Ninjas on virtually via big screens. And everyone who comes on set gets a rapid COVID test. Jose and the entire Evening crew included. It’s all to keep the ultimate athletic competition engaging – and safe.

Because nothing – not even a global pandemic – can stop these warriors.

“I think that Ninjas feel comfortable, we feel comfortable, so we can have this production, so we can give the people what they want, which is…” said Akbar, deftly teeing up the inevitable response from his co-host:

“American Ninja Warrior!” shouted Matt in his best ‘echoing through the stadium’ voice. “In Tacoma! Once again!”

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Matt Iseman
Matt Iseman
I'm the host of American Ninja Warrior and I'm squaring off against 15 other celebrities, all representing their favorite charities while vying for the title of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
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