‘American Ninja Warrior’: Good for Kids, Good for the Whole Family

Want a show to watch with the whole family, that might inspire kids to get off the couch and away from video games? Try “American Ninja Warrior,” airing this Thursday on NBC.

Once upon a time, there were secular comedies and dramas that the parents and kids sat down and watched together. Everyone was entertained; no one was scandalized. Those shows aren’t entirely gone, but increasingly they’re not scripted anymore.

One of the best unscripted mainstream-TV shows for Catholic families is NBC and Esquire Network’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

This competition series, based on a Japanese format, sees men and women vying together on a series of challenging obstacle courses, in hopes of advancing to the finals in Las Vegas. Along the way, the show profiles the often-inspiring personal lives of the contestants, spotlighting their hard work, dedication and perseverance.

Some of them have families, and they’re seen training with their kids, while many others are coaches for kids.

When contestants are people of faith, that isn’t entirely hidden.

Among them have been rabbinical student Akiva Neuman, the “Rabbi Ninja,” who competed in a kippa and a tzitzit; Christian Michelle Warnky, who stencils Bible verses on her leg; and perennial favorite and top competitor,  the “Ninja Weatherman,” a k a faithful Catholic Joe Moravsky (who’s also in “Team Ninja Warrior,” airing Tuesdays on NBC’s corporate sibling, USA Network).

I did an interview with him last year for the FFM blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I believe there is a link between athletic discipline and Faith. I always trust in God to provide the path for me … and my job is to be open to any changes (even if I might not like them). It’s hard but it’s important.

It says in your Twitter bio that God is #1 — how does that play out in daily life?

“God is #1” is important because it’s a reminder for me (and my fans) to put God first … especially in times of need!

There’s also Sean Bryan, the “Papal Ninja,” who competes for the glory of God and the Catholic Church. We talked to him at an event this past winter, and expect to see that video right around the time of the new-season premiere on Monday, June 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s a quote from an earlier, extensive interview I did with Bryan, published at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos:

I see the role of all laypeople as that of a papal ninja.

In an analogical sense, think of what a ninja is: a gifted person who stealthily helps to accomplish the mission of the one who sent him. Laypeople are likewise called by Christ to partake in the secular mission of His Church by using their gifts to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.” As such, I am called to simply be myself, and live out the Gospel faithfully in the “ordinary circumstances” of my life, which in this particular case includes trying my best to witness the faith quite publicly.

Personally, I like being behind the camera (filming and editing), but the words of John the Baptist are encouraging, so long as I take them to heart, “I must decrease, that he may increase” (Jn 3:30).

Paradoxically – which is often the case with our Lord – in this situation my decreasing involves being on broadcast television, and growing beyond the discomfort for the sake of my calling, so that He may increase.

You don’t, though, have to wait until June to see “American Ninja Warrior.” There’s a special episode on Thursday, May 25, as part of a night-long event to benefit “Red Nose Day.”

A fundraising campaign run by the nonprofit Comic Relief, Inc. — a registered U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity — “Red Nose Day” urges people to don red clown noses as part of a variety of events to raise funds to support children in need, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“American Ninja Warrior” is joining in.

From NBC:

In the first celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” nine brave stars will tackle the course, all in the name of charity.

Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila serve as hosts, along with Kristine Leahy who co-hosts. The intrepid celebrity ninjas include Stephen Amell (“Arrow”), Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”), Jeff Dye (“Better Late Than Never”), two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, Nikki Glaser ( “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser”), Derek Hough (“World of Dance”), Natalie Morales (“TODAY” and “Access Hollywood”) former New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher (“Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge”) and Mena Suvari (“American Woman”).

Each of the celebrities will be paired with an elite ninja who serves as both coach and cheerleader — helping them prepare mentally and physically for their run.

From the Floating Steps to the Warped Wall, each of the celebs will have to face up to six challenging obstacles that call upon their upper body strength, agility and stamina.

The elite ninja advisers include fan favorites and National “finalists” Kevin Bull (coaching Ashton Eaton); Kacy Catanzaro (coaching Stephen Amell), Drew Drechsel (coaching Nick Swisher), Natalie Duran (coaching Mena Suvari), Daniel Gil (coaching Derek Hough), Jessie Graff (coaching Nikki Glaser), Grant McCartney (coaching Natalie Morales), Meagan Martin (coaching Jeff Dye) and Flip Rodriguez (coaching Erika Christensen).

“American Ninja Warrior” is executive-produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions’ founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed along with Brian Richardson and Anthony Storm.

Also that night is “Running Wild With Bear Grylls for Red Nose Day,” featuring actress Julia Roberts on a trip to deliver life-saving vaccines in Africa; and “The Red Nose Day Special,” with host Chris Hardwick, featuring comedy, music and films about kids in need.

Before you choose to donate money to Red Nose Day, be aware that there has been controversy over it, especially in the U.K., where it began, concerning whether some of the charities supported were also involved in providing abortions (a charge Comic Relief has largely denied, irritating some political progressives.)

Anytime you’re dealing with a secular charity, it’s always a good idea to dig in a little bit and see exactly where the money goes … so, donor beware.

Images: Courtesy NBC

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