American Ninja Warrior Off Course

In the history of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior (ANW), nobody had ever completed the final stage of the competition, deemed Mt. Midoriyama, until this season when two competitors completed the grueling course.

Geoff Britten, was the first to complete the multi-leveled obstacle course, making history. Just seconds later, Isaac Caldiero became the second person to ever complete the American Ninja Warrior course. Caldiero’s time finishing the course was shorter than Britten’s time by merely seconds, leading to the $1 million prize awarded to Isaac.

Here is where the dilemma begins. The American Ninja Warrior or NBC PR team seemingly never imagined they’d be a finisher, as they deemed it “impossible.” Therefore, the finale with two winners was likely a shock for both the audience and the show.

Minutes after the program ended, and the prize money was given solely to Caldiero, people turned to social media to blast the show. People believed that Britten deserved a portion of the prize money too, as he was the first American in history to actually complete the course, regardless of the finishing times. Just days after the finale, a GoFundMe page began in hopes of raising another $1 million to be given to a deserving Geoff and a second site began selling #NinjaBritten T-shirts to raise money for the family.

The NBC or American Ninja Warrior PR team made the mistake of not providing a clear and realistic regulation for determining winners.  This lead to confusion and caused distrust in the brand and the show’s messaging. It is crucial they provide an explanation of what truly designates a course winner versus the winner of the prize money.  This “one winner” idea upset many people as to them the goal set by the show was to complete the course and not to complete the course “with the fastest time.” It was considered an unfair result by many –not something a show promoting an athletic-based family, teamwork and community moral code would condone.

They also made the mistake of building the brand on narrow messaging with the campaign idea of “completing the impossible.” It will be interesting to see how they alter their messaging and continue with the same brand. Caldiero has approached this issue with the network and even challenges ANW to redefine what they believe is impossible. He has been saying since his Season 5 audition that the course is not impossible and that he would be able to complete it (and he was right).

Executive producer Kent Weed responded to viewers’ concerns by saying, “I think it only helps the show and it’s only going to bring more viewers. They’ve done something nobody’s done before, but can they do it again? You’ve seen it before with athletes, where people who have risen and gotten very far, and then disappeared. Will we have a repeat next season? And we’re always adjusting the courses and making them more difficult.”

He did not address the viewers’ issues regarding allocation of the prize money.

What do you think? Will the outcome of the finale improve the show as the producer expects or should they call their PR team to do some damage control, clean-up and rebranding before the next season begins?

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5 Responses to American Ninja Warrior Off Course

  1. Megan Brown says:

    I think this is a very interesting blog post, well done! I personally am a huge fan of the show. However, I haven’t had cable for quite some time and hadn’t heard anything of this controversy. My opinion from what I’ve learned in your article is that the other winner definitely deserved a portion of the price money for completing the “impossible” course. However, I do not think this is going to significantly impact the viewership. I believe the Ninja Warrior PR team is going to work to prevent a lapse in communication in the future.

  2. Breanna Johnson says:

    I am a huge fan of this show, and I did watch this episode. For me, I wasn’t sure how they were going to decide who gets the prize money because they never discussed what would happen if there were ever two winners, and I think they never expected it to happen. However, while watching the show it was made clear what happens when two people win–the person with the fastest time gets the prize money. I would assume this is based on their rule book that was already put in place and, in their defense, they could not have predicted it would happen so they didn’t deem it necessary to communicate this to the audience. They probably figured they would communicate this aspect to them when the time comes (and it did). However, going into the next season, they definitely must address the controversy and maybe even get the audience involved in determining what should happen if something similar transpires in the future. They should take a poll of opinions and then put those opinions to use and adjust their rules based on the results. Knowing that the show is willing to change will keep the viewers around who were against the decision of only giving the prize money to one person.

  3. Lauren Thompson says:

    I don’t think this mishap will do permanent damage to the show, provided that appropriate action takes place. I think they’re going to have to choose one of two paths: rebrand to show that the course is possible, or dramatically change the course itself to make it more difficult. The former definitely sounds less exciting from a TV viewer’s perspective and may alienate the show’s current fans, so I think they’ll avoid a rebrand as much as possible. Based on the executive producer’s interview with Entertainment Weekly linked in your post, I think changing the course is a stronger possibility since they will be adding more to the course anyway.

    As Britten’s prize money goes, I think they could try to find alternative ways to compensate him for his finish in order to make viewers feel better about his snub. Maybe they could hire him to help redesign the course? It would add a layer of credibility to the redesign since a finisher would be there to make it more challenging. While it isn’t the same as giving him prize money, it might win loyalty points with fans, because Britten will at least be compensated and appreciated for finishing. What do you think?

    • Teresa Joseph says:

      I like the idea Lauren! There are many ways that they could make up for this dilemma they are currently facing and hiring Britten to help redesign the course would be an interesting tactic. It would help American Ninja Warrior’s current image as well as bring about a harder course.

  4. Mary Kenney says:

    I think that the outcome of the finale will improve the show because it will force the producer and PR team to avoid this controversy in the future. They need to clearly state what defines a winner. Whether that be the quickest time or being the first person to finish the course. Maybe even look into creating a second and third place with a smaller cash reward. I do not think it will affect viewership significantly. The show may lose some viewers because they are upset about how this situation was handled but they may also gain some curious viewers because of the controversy. I do not think they need to do damage control. The show made a decision on how they would handle this particular situation and they should stick with it. Now is the time to plan for the future of the show because the course is not impossible and they will be put in this position again.

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